Sorting the Rogues from the Ridiculous

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

11:28 AM, 5th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Sorting the Rogues from the Ridiculous

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Sorting the Rogues from the Ridiculous

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.



Comments

12:29 PM, 5th March 2012
About 7 years ago

The dilemma that you face is the seeming inability of Shelter to recognise that aswell as obvious criminal LL there are criminal tenants.
I would suggest as you have intimated that most LL who are new to the game are not criminal, they just need educating as to their responsibilities.
Most of them are good people who are put in terrible positions by wrongun tenants.
They don't know what they are doing and need assistance.
Trouble is, that it  seems to be you by default that is doing the educating!
There must be acceptance by the likes of Shelter that there are major issues with 'rogue tenants';  just ask LRS.
To allow the likes of Shelter to impress on the public perception that LL are the only problem is clearly disingenuous on the part of Shelter.
There needs to be more balance as to the actual circumstances which you have it seemingly tried to advise Shelter of.
Shelter does not make their case any more valid by continually banging on about rogue LL.
Yes there are 'rogue' LL but there are 'rogue' tenants.
Shelter needs to highlight the issues of bad tenants aswell as bad LL.
After all good LL need good tenants.
Somehow we need to match up the bad LL with the bad tenants; they deserve eachother!!

Ben Reeve-Lewis

16:26 PM, 5th March 2012
About 7 years ago

If only the council would let me wear that helmet when I get called out to an illegal eviction in progress I reckon incidents would dry up. Who would argue with a Centurian?

Paul you are right. I know I will again make myself unpopular with my peers but as I said in the article, landlords have simple needs from tenants, pay the rent and treat the property well. The vast majority of harassment and illegal eviction cases are initiated by tenants failing to do either, which makes the LL angry.

Now I dont say that as an excuse for bad LL responses, there is no excuse in my book for unprofessional behaviour but the trigger point is usually the same and I often sympathise with landlords anger, just not their methods of dealing with it.

For what its worth, the true rogues in my experience are the people on the edge of gangster-ism. People who want to make a lot of money quickly who choose property as the way to do it and have no intention of letting anyone stand in their way, not tenants or their rights, or enforcement teams of councils.

They play a calculated game, staying one step ahead of everyone, secure in the knowledge that as long as they keep their contact details and names utside the loop, then enforcement teams, who have to play by the rules, cant keep up.

The other area where I get regular problems is where both landlords and tenants come from the same foreign national communities, where language is often a barrier and the way that the community interacts within itself, often on a casual basis where friends, contacts and churches form a network that has nothing to do with standard housing law.

I just spent the day running a housing advice stall at Goldsmiths University, talking to 18 and 19 year olds looking to move ut of student accommodation and into house sharing as they face year 2 of their course and want to settle in the area. I was amazed at how little they know about renting. Not one of them had ever heard of deposit protection.

The more I look closely at what needs to change the more I am convinced it is education on both sides, I truly believe that enforcement action would be needed less if landlords and tenants understood the renting world.

It wont eradicate the true Rogues but again, as I said i the article it would free me up to be able to go after the real ones.

Mary Latham

20:49 PM, 5th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Ben red is not your colour!

You are of course right there are two types of people who do the wrong thing, not only in the letting business; those who don't know how to do the right thing and those who don't want to do the right thing and knowing the difference is a problem for all of us.  Only though education, formal and informal, will we solve the problem of those who do not know what they should be doing, both landlords and tenants, and once these people have been put aside and shown the errors of their ways people like you can be more effective in using your big sticks against the others. 

I don't think that there is any mileage in worrying about the names that the bad boys are called  "A Rose by any other name....."

I support Landlord Referencing and Midlands Landlords Accreditation Scheme because the first helps to marginalise the bad tenants and the second to marginalise the bad landlords. 

In my opinion anyone who comes into the business of offering homes to human beings and does not find out what the law requires is either arrogant or stupid and neither makes a good landlord.  Anyone who uses a service and does not intend to pay for it or use it as it should be used also falls into one of these cetegories and neither makes a good tenant.

So people like us must just keep banging on in the hope that those who did not know what they did not know will learn.

The good thing about the powers that BE is that they are never around too long and while they are playing musical chairs we are getting on with the business.

As anyone wearing that helmet knows Roman was not built in a day. 

Ben Reeve-Lewis

21:31 PM, 5th March 2012
About 7 years ago

You should see my other helmets Mary honestly (I have a small collection coz I've loved helmets since I was kid. My favourite is a 14th century Pig Faced Bascinet - google it)

Honestly, after 22 years now dealing with landlord/tenant problems I am absolutely convinced that the skeleton of the problem is an educational one. Enforcement stuff is a specialist area, more closely related to fraud.

One of the students I was giving advice to today about a landlord failing to do repairs and not being able to contact them didnt recall the name of either his landlord or the agent who set it up, HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW??????

Also cluless amateur landlords fallin foul of depsoit regs or not knowing what a Section 21 notice is once again HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW????

As I replied to Paul, the willfull landlords are certainly out there, as are the wilfull rip-off tenants but both are relatively small in number and no amount of education will get rid of them.

I also deal with mortgage borrowers facing repossession and you would be surprised how many dont know what type of mortgage they have, or in many cases how much their monthly payments are. And I kid you not, it is not uncommon for people to come with problems on a secured loan for £20,000 who dont even remember taking it out!!!!!!

Mortgage Rescue is a scheme whereby a housing association buys out a borrowers debts and leaves them in the family home as housing association tenants. Last year I got told by someone from the HOmes and Communites Agency who adminsters the scheme that within 6 months of becoming a social tenant with no debts 34% of them are in 2 month's rent arrears

1:24 AM, 6th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Do you not feel sometimes that you are not dealing with adults but effective juveniles witrh no recognition of what or why they have done things with no acceptance of what they have done.
sometimes it must feel like you could give them a damn good thrashing to wake them up and realise they are in the adult world and to accept responsibility for their actions.
I think it could be almost said that the situations people get themselves into is a lack of parental oversight( and yes I am still told off by my mum; and she is never wrong!),and I am 50 odd!!!
There just appears to be a level of immaturity amongst supposed adults which our parents would never have indulged in, they couldn't they had to deal with real world issues, no easy credit for them.
I have too say I think adults today are no way as mature as our parents were when they had us.
There just seems to be a dumbing down of responsibilities to blame everyone else apart from ourselves.
When will we become as mature as our parents!!?

Ben Reeve-Lewis

6:56 AM, 6th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Oh I wouldnt set my parents up an example of how to do things Paul haha although I agree I dont remember growing up around any of my parents friends who believed that someone else would dig them out of the crapper if things went wrong.

My partner's West Indian immigrant family too. Her mum wokred long hours as a nurse and her dad, a Bus conductor, used to hand make furniture in the evenings and at weekends to make extra dosh and when he turned funny on her mum it was the neighbours who took Frazzy in for a while so they could sort their differences, no Social Services, and when her neighbour's dad turned funny Frazzy's mum took their daughter in, so both Frazz and her mate have this weird black and white extended family.

And when I first met her, when she was facing mortgage difficulties because she had just started her own business she worked all day building it up, cleaned houses on a Wednesday afternoon, taught Salsa in the evening, worked as a letting agent on Saturdays and stacked shelves in Sainsbury's from 11pm to 7am, 4 nights a week for a year until her biusiness took off. It never occurred to her to sign on.

I do get fed up when clients tell me they are council tenants and when I tell them I only deal with private they say they have a private lanldord. They consider themselves council tenants because the council pays the rent, and very often they dont know how much the rent even is, because the council pay it.

My parents were council tenants and so were Frazzy's but the mindset was different then. Something has changed. I hate the demonisation of council tenants and people on benefits that is going on but I can sadly think of many who fit the sterotype.

On a more optimistic tip I was listening on Radio 4 at the weekend about the huge rise in entrepreneurs, young people starting their own thing because there arent any jobs, that can only be a good thing, althoguh I would imagine it will be a steep learning curve for many

10:30 AM, 6th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Is this the heads of family gathering round the table telling the children how they should view the world of letting ? Well the kids prefer to view things as part of life not part of some artificial framework built up to perform a pseudo moral impression of life itself. When the dust has settled and HMO and legislation dissappear from our Nanny state perhaps we once again will come to our happy landlord-tenant balance - oh yes the very one Ben mentioned. And by the way Ben you are a very very naughty boy for broadcasting the gubbins and mystique behind techniques exacted on us in the definition of a firmer definition.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

12:28 PM, 6th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Twas a response to an email Gareth not a copywrite quote, if Shelter are so keen on the term they should be prepared to stand by it.

I have said in my article that I agree with Shelter's definition of the problem. It is huge and it is the very huge-ness (is that a real word?) that is part of the problem against the background of cuts in council teams and staff. We dont have the resources to deal with the amount of cases we get. I picked up my third illegal eviction of the week at 10am this morning, that's 3 in less than 24 hours.

But the term Rogue is not helpful to me who has to take action against them and the reasons behind using the term as set out in Shelter's reply to me also worries me because to my mind it creates pantomime villains which simplifies the real problem.

What councils should look at is creating teams of people who work closely with landlords and leave the enforcement stuff to a couple of specialists

14:40 PM, 6th March 2012
About 7 years ago

No, I do indeed agree with such under-airings of veneered words, the like of which you have made on 'rogue'. Not sure if any of mine are real words either!

17:36 PM, 6th March 2012
About 7 years ago

Clearly a less emotional word to describe wrongun tenants and LL is needed.
How about referring to these 'rogues' as
deviant LL and deviant tenants.
Such a descriptor word clearly means not conforming to the norm.
For tenants that is paying your rent and conforming to all the terms of your AST.
For LL it is to meet ALL the terms of the contract and ensuring you supply the services that the tenant is paying for.
Perhaps Shelter could be encouraged in future to use this descriptor word when discussing 'rogue' tenants and LL!?

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