9:06 AM, 27th October 2011, About 12 years ago 5
I decided to write this article as a companion piece to Mary Latham’s recent article “I will not say sorry for being a good landlord”.
I originally conceived it as simply a reply but I thought I had too much to say on the matter.
Mary’s concern is a common one that I hear. “What have I ever done to them?”. And it is one that I completely understand. I think I have an insight on it, an insight born through having once been a landlord, currently being a tenant and being a person whose job means I get stuck between landlords and tenants in disputes and allegations, I think this gives me a uniquely rounded perspective.
Mary’s argument was that she is a great landlord and that many landlords go way beyond the job description providing safe housing for people that often even the council won’t touch. One thing Mary said that I thought was brilliant is “Landlords offer homes to human beings not buildings to tenants”. I think that very succinctly marks the difference between great landlords and not so great ones.
When I was a landlord I thought that way. It never really occurred to me that the flat that my 2 tenants were renting was anything other than their home. When I split with my girlfriend at the time (girlfriend number 306) I ended up sleeping for 2 months on my best mate’s settee. Although I owned a property I didn’t want to foist my problems onto my tenants.
Eventually one of them moved out and I moved in with the remaining tenant who not only became one of my closest friends but who also later became my live-in landlord, when I split with girlfriend number 307.
Now I am with girlfriend number 308, the wonderful Frazzy Cox and we rent privately. This is not a lifestyle choice you understand. She owns a house with her mum and can’t get a second mortgage, I can’t get a mortgage on my own because my ex, who ran away with a Rastafarian toy-boy……..(I’m not bitter you understand), is in negative equity so I can’t get my investment money back and so we are stuck renting, and I have to say we both loathe it with a vengeance.
But why? Are our landlords evil villains? Do they harass us? Do they threaten us? No! I’ve never met them. We haven’t so far had a repair that needs to doing so I can’t test their response times. We pay our rent on time every month and they leave us alone.
So why do we hate renting privately?
I think this goes to the heart of the matter, the reason why people so often hate landlords and it has nothing to do with anything a landlord may or may not do. It is entirely in the realm of the perception of landlords as a species.
I have been a bit obsessed with this for some time now. Every day I hear people complain to me about their landlords. Around 25% prove founded and their landlords have done dreadful things but the rest are perfectly OK yet they are still resented by their tenants.
It is a control issue.
When I was a home owner I could do what I liked with my home, I could decorate it with garish colours, I could put up shelves and nobody could take it away from me unless I defaulted on the mortgage. I had control over my environment. If I wanted to put I shelves, I could.
As a tenant, that power isn’t there. Frazzy and I love our flat, we love the area we live in too. We are proud of our home and were made even more proud when the letting agent did a recent visit and said he had never seen the place looking so good. We are old school like that and think it is our responsibility to be clean and neighbourly. But the thing is, the decision over whether or not we stay isn’t ours.
The control over this most basic element of living is not in our hands, we are only here on somebody else’s whim.
Our 12 month contract is up in March 2012. I would imagine, given the way we occupy the property and the fact that we are never a day late with the rent would make the landlords happy to continue the letting but if the landlord wants to bung £200-£300 a month on the rent, which is what is happening around our manor, then we can’t afford to stay and will have to move.
Frazzy tells me that she feels she is just house sitting someone else’s property all the time. We don’t put up pictures, because we don’t want arguments about damage to walls and we don’t buy any furniture we really like in case we can’t find anywhere to re-home it. We are constantly aware of our March deadline and gearing ourselves up for the next unwanted big move.
I never had that when I was a home owner. It has nothing to do with the actions of our landlords, it is simply the lot of the tenant.
Now here’s the rub, and my response to Mary. Whether it is the result of the job that I do or the fact that as a Buddhist we are really hot on self-responsibility, I can acknowledge how I feel, living the tenuous and temporary life of a tenant, without having to blame my landlord for it.
Most of the tenants I see on a daily basis can’t do this. They feel the same way that I do but they blame their landlord for the insecurity they feel.
This is why I say that landlord hating has nothing to do with the actions of an individual landlord but it resides in the perennial problem that tenants have no control over the most basic element of their lives, their home.
Fine if this were a lifestyle choice, but despite what various government angles take, with their obsession with ‘Mobility’, for most it isn’t.
I don’t pretend to have a definitive solution but I am working on it, in fact this for me is my big calling, the thing I am stumbling towards, the reason why I blog incessantly for no financial benefit. I want to find an answer. The areas that I think contribute to the problem, and therefore the landlord hating situation are:-
If things are going to change between landlords and tenants it aint gonna happen at a level of housing law, it aint gonna happen by people like me prosecuting more landlords, it is gonna happen through landlords and tenants finding a common humanity and a way to understand each other’s needs and expectations.
This is why I champion people like Mary and HMO Landlady. People who see what needs to really happen. None of us has a winning political or legal manifesto but I think we are at least looking in the right place, which is more than can be said of most politicians and even campaign groups like Shelter.