11:28 AM, 5th March 2012, About 10 years ago 12
I’m an amiable kinda guy, the office joker in the roman helmet, more predisposed towards seeing the good in people than the bad. My default approach to dealing with landlord tenant disputes is to go into “Come on people, lets all shake hands and sort this out” mode, as opposed to a Sweeney, kicking in the door version of a TRO, shouting “Alright Tinkerbell, you’re nicked son”.
I have the personality and the remit within my job to do both.
In my many and varied posts on landlord-tenant stuff on a variety of blogs I regularly get accused of being too pro-tenant by landlords while at the same time I get accused by Shelter, and even other TROs, of being too soft on landlords.
The truth, as ever, is somewhere in the middle. I can be the joker you see in the helmet or the other one with the gun. It all depends on the circumstances.
Shelter have for some time been running a very high profile campaign against what they term “Rogue Landlords”. Since Grant Shapps pulled the plug on Labour’s plans to regulate and license landlords and agents, promised by the Rugg Report (pulled the Rugg? Wahay!!!!!) and stated there was enough enforcement legislation in place to allow councils to deal with bad practice, Shelter’s campaign has been working its way into public consciousness.
It all hinges on that previously unheard term “Rogue Landlord”. Speaking as someone whose job it is to take enforcement action against said “Rogues”, I would like to know exactly who my enemy is supposed to be. When do I adopt my genial character and when do I have to turn into one of the four houses of the apocalypse?
Personally speaking, I know the difference because I have been doing this work since 1990, teaching other people how to do it since 1998 and I don’t need to be told when I am dealing with an otherwise decent person just being a bit daft or when someone needs a slap.
When I first heard of Shelter’s campaign I was understandably behind it, after all I see some dreadful things every week but I am constantly troubled by the term ‘Rogue’. So I wrote to Shelter and raised my concerns and the reply I got was this:-
“We’ve talked about a firmer definition, but there are advantages in keeping it vague for mounting political and public engagement – the more people who think they are affected, the more salient it becomes. We can use that pressure to call for more specific policy measures to address the true criminals we are most concerned with.”
(If you would like a copy of the 12 page report I sent them setting out my own view of the problem let me know)
Now this strikes me as collision point between on the one hand tackling the problem on a front-line, day to day basis- which is my job – and on the other, the need to make the issue more widely known.
I appreciate Shelter’s desire to keep this in public consciousness. I know many P118 readers don’t want to hear this but harassment, illegal eviction with violence or with threats of violence are common, widespread and really bad bullying landlords and agents are large in number in densely populated inner city areas. In that, Shelter and I are in total agreement.
But still I ask, what is a Rogue?
P118 alone has carried some interesting stories recently of landlord Sandeep Bhambra who was seriously overcrowding his HMO and having people living in sheds, Abdul Haniff who allowed his tenants to live in dirty and dangerous property without heating and hot water or the Hamilton-Smiths, trading as Property Showroom who did a runner with landlord and tenant client’s money.
I too am concerned with the ‘true criminals’ that Shelter refer to, the ones I have to front-down in crappy south east London properties to earn my living like the guys last year who had sprayed cleaning bleach into the eyes of an elderly Asian gentleman who was having an asthma attack whilst waiting for an ambulance. Or the 14 year old girl I dealt with just last week who was being pimped out of a flat by a Yardie ‘Step-Father’ in the full knowledge of the landlord who changed the lock because they weren’t getting their share of the profits. Or the landlord’s agent who beat a 74 year old man on the shins with an iron bar hidden in a carrier bag to incentivise him about his notice which was about to run out.
These cases turn me into Ben version 2. I doubt anyone would have a problem with recognising these people as ‘Rogues’ but what about the vast army of amateur landlords, largely buy to let, who get into the business without knowing what it really entails or what the regulations are?
Again P118 reported last week of the rise in buy to let as a way of getting onto the property ladder. This is going to introduce me to a new tide of clueless sods, lambs to the slaughter, doing daft things because they don’t know the law. Should I be treating them as rogues and looking to take enforcement at every badly worded notice, late night phone-call chasing up rent, impromptu lock change carried out by desperate people facing repossession because their tenant turns out to be a lemon, who lets them straight back in when they realise their mistake? Are they to be considered rogues?
This was my question to Shelter. Is a Rogue defined solely by acts they rashly carry out regardless of the intention behind the act or the ignorance with which they were performed? Or does the simple act itself make someone a Rogue and therefore a prime target for prosecution?
If it’s the latter then any council would need to employ 10 TROs just to keep up.
This is where campaigning against rogue landlords can actually get in the way of dealing with the problem. No council in the country has the resources to take enforcement action against every Jack and Charlotte, Kuldip and Shipa, Ade and Fola who have taken their minimal savings to invest in a property and carry out some ill-considered act that drops them in hot water.
To chase these people actually drains time and resources that would be better used tracking down the Bhambra’s and Hamilton-Smiths of the housing world.
Government has for the past two years been banging on about the need to build new properties to meet housing demand and deal with the crisis, but new build projects are caught up in an internecine war of bureaucracy, Nimbyism and back biting that is retarding it. We need properties where we can get them and if they come from new buy to let landlords, so be it. Surely better to use what would actually be minimal time and resources educating, supporting and encouraging them than labeling them Rogues when they look at a tenant in a funny way.
As an enforcement officer I have to be allowed to exercise my discretion in these cases, but when tenants don’t feel I am taking their complaint seriously they complain to their MP and emails and letters fly around taking time away from people with genuine problems.
The danger here is that if Shelter’s rogue landlord definition gains political sway, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t. It then allows Grant Shapps to maintain that the problem is for councils to deal with, not government. Then, TROs like me will have to deal with every case reported to us as a rogue one and I end up wearing the hat and gun more than is necessary.
I prefer the Roman helmet to be honest.
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