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