rigsbyIn the last year of the twentieth century and the first couple of the twenty-first, I rented the ground floor of a house from an elderly landlady whose deceptive ‘old dear’ demeanour masked a not-so-sweet disposition that assumed owning the property entitled her to let herself into it whenever she felt like it. I once caught her by surprise when she imagined I was out and I heard her turning the key in the lock; I retreated to the bedroom and waited until she strolled in before emerging and inquiring as to the nature of her intrusion. I can’t recall the explanation she offered up on the spot, but her cheek was characteristic of a Rigsby-like nosiness where her tenants were concerned; and I wondered how many occasions had taken place when I hadn’t been present to witness this illegal action.

Granted, I had a dog and a cat, neither of which were allowed (but then they never are when you rent), and having to hide them whenever she came round in person to collect the rent every Thursday evening was a perennial headache, for she didn’t simply stand in the doorway and receive the money whilst jotting the exchange down in the rent book; she had to come into the flat, sit down, natter and nose. Eventually, she sold the property (which consisted of five separate apartments) and we the tenants were given notice of eviction. I found somewhere else up the road and have never had those kind of problems with a landlord or landlady ever since. It seems I’ve been fortunate.

According to a new survey by the housing charity Shelter, there are over a million tenants living in privately rented accommodation in the country today who are experiencing the same problems I endured over fifteen years ago – and worse. 7.5% of the ones interviewed for the survey said they too were familiar with the owners of the property entering it without giving their tenants a week’s warning, which is the law. More extreme cases of abuse on the part of so-called ‘rogue landlords’ included intimidating behaviour and threats as well as cutting off gas or electric, the kind of tactics reminiscent of ‘Pop’, the repulsive character from ‘The League of Gentlemen’, who sits down of an evening to watch secret CCTV footage of the tenants he bullies and rips off with relish. One landlord even went so far as to hold a replica gun to the head of one of his tenants as part of a campaign of intimidation.

A lack of awareness when it comes to their rights is something that makes many tenants ripe for exploitation at the hands of the most unscrupulous landlords, though the Shelter survey does point out that the worst offenders are relatively small in number and the majority of tenants are content with their landlords or letting agents. Moreover, the National Landlords Association claim that their own survey shows ‘82% of tenants say they are happy with their current landlord’. Without wishing to cast stereotypical aspersions, one cannot but wonder if the least content tenants are either newly arrived immigrants or students, both lacking worldly-wise antennae when confronted by an evident conman and therefore begging to be fleeced in the eyes of the rogue landlord.

The separate research undertaken by the National Landlords Association also takes into account the other side of the situation, whereby landlords have encountered antisocial tenants, with 3 out of 10 landlords in the UK reporting verbal or physical abuse from those renting. So, it does cut both ways. In the case of the latter issue, the buy-to-let landlords who have capitalised on having a sizeable amount of spare cash by buying houses and then renting them out as a means of paying the mortgage have equally played their part in the housing crisis. An Office of National Statistics report released this week revealed the depressing fact that the average age of a first-time house-buyer in London today is 34. It’s no wonder renting is booming and that some are taking advantage of the climate.

An unforeseen bonus is that rogue landlords can sometimes unite tenants, who come together as a community when one of them is threatened. A private tenant and her five children in Bristol this week was poised to be evicted from her home of 12 years simply because she had repeatedly reported the damp in her house to her landlord. However, when the bailiffs turned up to evict her, other residents of the neighbourhood formed a human chain around the property and succeeded in preventing the eviction from taking place. The action was promoted by Acorn, a local organisation that fights for the rights of tenants, and the chain was a 30-strong barrier to making a mother and her children homeless due to the fact that she made a legitimate complaint to someone whose duty it was to resolve it.

Having lived in rented accommodation for all of my adult life, I have been witness to both the good and bad sides of the arrangement and, never having been in a financial position whereby I can purchase my own property, I’ve had no option but to make do with renting as best I can. A decent landlord or letting agent will respond promptly when any of the fixtures and fittings have ceased to function and need repairing or replacing; as long as the tenant pays the rent and doesn’t flagrantly and repeatedly stretch the patience of their fellow tenants, there’s no reason why the arrangement shouldn’t work.

I know from experience the kind of tricks private landlords can play on their tenants, though I also know from experience how some tenants take the piss and can make life miserable for their fellow tenants as much as those they’re renting from. About five years ago, I and the man in the flat below me had to combine forces in order to persuade the agents letting our home to evict the noise polluters on the ground floor who were wilfully disrupting the harmony of the household beyond a tolerable level. Tenant can on occasion be as bad as landlord, and with no glimmer of hope on the horizon for affordable housing at an age younger than mid-30s, the likelihood of the rented sector increasing means the balance between the two has to be one that benefits both rather than either or.

And on a lighter note…

© The Editor


  1. …….. but the governmint have a lovely ad on the telly that tells all of the myriad of ways people can buy an ‘ouse of their own … chipper in fact!

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  2. I’m sat writing this in a ‘new’ apartment after our landlady of 8-years (50.000€ paid…) decided to offer us the chance to either pay more rent or sling our hooks. She gave us less than three-weeks notice.

    Back in the UK I also experienced the best & worst of the landlord – mostly the worst if I’m being honest. However, I was aware of my rights as a tenant & went into battle whenever they tried it on. I never ‘lost’, but whether the stress of ‘winning’ was worth it is another matter.

    Being in Spain I had to defer to my girlfriend’s knowledge (and that of a couple of her friends who are lawyers) and I was amazed to find that we really were at the mercy of the monster’s whims (for reasons too complicated to explain); amusingly, despite this apparent lack of protection the Spanish worker is entitled to two days off when they are moving home!

    Luckily, we found a better apartment for far less money (even before the planned raise) and I needed a change anyway, so…
    But the handing over of the keys/receiving of the security deposit didn’t go smoothly as the psychopath told us that since six or seven years ago (!) we’d been using too much electricity/water (many rents here include bills) and that she’s added up all these transgressions leaving us with a BILL as large as the deposit we were expecting (and entitled) to receive!

    It was patently bullshit, but when you’re in a foreign land it’s not always easy knowing the best way to proceed… so I pretended I was still in UK and fought accordingly. Two and a half hours later and it was resolved in our favour but not without some edge-of-the-seat moments (when she went as if to call the police to have us forcibly removed after being told that that was the only way she’d be getting the keys if we didn’t receive the deposit, etc.).

    Anyway, it was an ‘experience’ coming face to face with a functional psychopath… they live as if in another world, yet move amongst us unnoticed. Grrrr…


    1. I confess I’ve done a ‘moonlight flit’ from all of the rented properties I’ve lived in, just in case I get charged for the cigarette burns in the carpet and so on. Mind you, the one I speak of in this piece was hardly all mod cons, being crammed with old tat you couldn’t give away at a car boot sale. When given notice of eviction, the tenants had just a month to find somewhere else to live, even though the law is two months (I think, though I am going back a few years now). I’d like to believe that kind of old-school landlord/lady belongs firmly in the past, even if the evidence suggests they’re still clinging on.


      1. I’ve done the same myself – but only once the rotters made the first move.
        “I’ve never looked for trouble, But I’ve never ran…”

        Remember one place in London that belonged to a group of Portugese builders – they’d buy places, convert them into tiny studios & rent them out. Every time a tenent moved on – even if after only six months – they’d quickly repaint the place and replace the sofa-bed & treated people with a bit of respect. Then the building I was living in was bought by another firm and things quickly went downhill: I had to change the locks and leave a note on the door expressly forbidding them from entering or even trying to contact me except by post. I ‘won’, they ‘lost’, but the toll it took on my nerves… ouch. The last time I lived in London…

        Silly thing is that the landlord loses too; the landlady mentioned above will already have lost a sum equivalent to the ‘extra’ she hoped to squeeze out of us during a year in having the apartment empty/having to do necessary repairs before re-letting (we’d been waiting 8-years…).
        Sod her. I hope her karma catches up with her quickly, and everyone else who sees the less well off as nothing more than ‘investment opportunities’.

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  3. Despite claimed machinations of government, housing remains a pretty standard supply & demand market-place. When demand is high, prices rise in both the purchase and rental sides of the equation, similarly quality can drop as the desperation of the home-seekers allows both sellers and landlords to get away with manifold sins and wickedness – everyone needs somewhere to live, so that drives the deal.

    I’m sure isolated examples of the Rachman-type still exist but, fortunately the worst excesses of criminal landlording seem to have been addressed. I’ve never rented, but those friends who do have never reported undue issues, although they are a small and probably unrepresentative sample. Same is probably true with tenants, most of whom just want somewhere to live, looking after the place and paying the rent on time. The rogues will always occur on both sides of the deal, whether the volumes of either are greater than 10 or 20 years ago is hard to define objectively.

    What is easy to define is the demand problem. If we accept that there is a numerical correlation between total population and housing need, then for the past 30 years that issue has not been addressed, indeed at has been actively avoided. Successive governments have presided over major population growth whilst, at the same time, invoking planning systems which militate against creating enough extra housing. It matters not a jot whether they are houses for sale or for rent under private or council ownership, it’s not the type that matters, it’s simply the volume available not matching the demand.
    Some would say this has been about cynical vote-gathering – on the one hand generating more tame voters but, on the other, pandering to NIMBYs by preventing development anywhere in their line of sight, so that’s pretty much anywhere. Unless some brave political soul grabs hold of this poisoned chalice and solves it soon, there’s no prospect of ever returning to a situation where most young people have a chance to buy a home or even to rent one in a sensible deal. Sadly, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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    1. Since those great social housing building projects of the 50s and 60s – though primarily instigated to replace wartime bomb damage – the issue appears to have been on a permanent backburner with governments of every colour whereas, as you point out, a consistently growing population has made it more of a necessity than ever over the last couple of decades. Perhaps the ultimate failure of the high-rise experiment has made governments weary of committing themselves to something similar since; but I would have thought this issue should be a top priority, whoever happens to be running the country.


  4. I rented in London in the seventies and had many experiences similar to yours. I remember once taking a landlord to the Rent Tribunal (does it still exist?) whose role was to decide on a ‘fair rent’, usually quite a bit lower than what was currently being charged. It was a pyrrhic victory of course. Deprived of a bit of his super-profit the landlord took it out on me via harassment that was difficult to prove, e.g., mail delivered to the communal pigeonholes downstairs started going missing, promised repairs were ‘forgotten about’ and so on. At the end of the letting contract I moved out for a quieter life elsewhere, and soon found out that the new tenant was being charged, incorrectly, at the old pre-Tribunal rate. Moral of the story – whenever there is a housing shortage, house owners tend to win.

    Nowadays I am a buy-to-let landlord myself (boo, hiss) but I have only two let propertes, which I bought to top up my pension. I choose my tenants carefully and keep the houses in good order. It’s a win-win.

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    1. A friend of mine couldn’t sell his house even when he’d bought another, so he rented out the old place and experienced the downside of tenants, as they buggered off and left it in a bit of a mess. He’s subsequently found the right kind of tenant and has had no trouble since. As a renter, I’ve always found it only takes one tosser to disrupt the harmony of the household, though the current crop of tenants where I am now seem a genial and considerate lot, which hasn’t always been the case here.


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