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Sancho Panza

The Nightmare Of Renting Started In Westminster

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Guardian 25/8/14

'To get to their rented room in Hendon, on the outskirts of north London, tenants of Yaakov Marom had to crawl up a staircase with a head height as low as 2ft 3in (69cm). True, in parts they could stretch up to 3ft 11in (119cm) – which is just about enough headroom for an Ewok. For the privilege of sleeping in a human kennel, a couple were paying Marom £420 a month.

Blame it on my own frayed synapses, but I can no longer get quite so shocked by such stories. How many versions of it have we seen before? Beds in sheds; lodgers in garages; tiny studios let for huge sums. As this paper reported on Saturday, just down the road from Marom’s palace is another rental, offering a single bed suspended from the ceiling by two metal chains. This macabre cross between a hammock and a torture chamber can be yours, friends, for £760 a month, parking permit extra.

All these dispatches from bedsitland tell us two things. First, the private rental market is red-hot – otherwise, landlords wouldn’t be trying to monetise every patch. And second, the private rental market is badly broken.

Welcome to the new age of landlordism, in which the property-owner has all the power and the renter hardly any choice. This year’s English Housing Survey revealed that the number of private tenants had outstripped those in social housing for the first time in its history.

The disparity between those tenures is like the gulf between day and night, between a home and a rabbit hutch. Council tenants get security of tenure and controlled rents; shorthold tenants pay up to four times as much and under most contracts are only ever two months’ notice from getting turfed out of their homes. Yet the impossibility of first-time buying, and the scarcity of public housing, means the private rental market has taken off. The 2001 census showed 1.9m households renting privately in England and Wales – now there are 4m in England alone.

Report after report shows that homes in the private rental sector are far worse than either council housing or those under owner-occupation. One in three are officially classed as non-decent, while one in five are dangerous enough to present a category one hazard – that is, a severe threat to the health or safety of anyone who lives there. All those tenants’ tales you’ve heard or read about permanently broken boilers or mould carpeting the walls aren’t just anecdotes; they cohere into a statistical truth. One of the richest countries in history is fostering 21st-century slums.

It’s easy to look at this market, with its surveys indicating that 92% of landlords rent out property on the side, and conclude that the entire thing is an epic, ugly accident. Not so: this is Westminster’s creation. Since Margaret Thatcher – at least – successive governments have promised a property-owning democracy, all the while laying the ground for a new landlordism. Thatcher did the most, privatising council homes through right-to-buy, then bringing in the Housing Act 1988 – the big bang for the private rental sector, shredding the last vestiges of rent controls and most protections for tenants. John Major presided over the assured shorthold tenancy and the buy-to-let mortgage. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown refused to countenance the building of new public housing. David Cameron’s contribution has been the Localism Act, which requires councils to put homeless people in the private rental sector: £11bn for build-to-rent, and more right-to-buy.

Whatever the rhetoric, home ownership in England is back down to where it was in 1987. One in three former council homes are now held by private landlords. Tory, Labour and Lib Dems have all taken turns in creating a regime that – as James Meek notes in Private Island, his excellent new book on Britain’s privatisations – “puts more money into the hands of a small number of the very wealthiest people”. To underline the point: this is our money, including the £20bn we pay every year in housing benefit that swiftly goes into landlords’ hands.

That’s the backdrop against which you should judge the current promises made by all the parties to bring in a few extra protections for tenants. None talk of licensing landlords – despite the calls from town halls – let alone guaranteeing more public housing. To do so would be to attack a sector the political classes have cultivated for three decades, and has grown too powerful to hack back – a sector that includes much of the Commons: one in four Tory MPs are landlords, as are one in eight Labour MPs. As for the new housing minister, Conservative Brandon Lewis, would it really surprise you to learn that the parliamentary register has him down as a private landlord?'

'successive governments have promised a property-owning democracy, all the while laying the ground for a new landlordism.'

Too true.

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'successive governments have promised a property-owning democracy, all the while laying the ground for a new landlordism.'

Too true.

Alternatively, 'successive governments have promised a property-owning democracy, but then one came along that wanted to "rub the right's face in diversity" and "sent out search parties to bring in immigrants" and didn't think of the consequences'.

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Alternatively, 'successive governments have promised a property-owning democracy, but then one came along that wanted to "rub the right's face in diversity" and "sent out search parties to bring in immigrants" and didn't think of the consequences'.

Rub the rights face into it. Gotta laugh, as those "lefties" refused to build any social housing and pumped a mega bubble up. We might as well have had the bankers and landlords run the country for the last 30 years, with no end on sight!

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You can tell from the rose-tinted specs that the author of the piece is too young to have rented before 1988.

Or else was privileged to be protected from the 'market' of the day.

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So what's the posited solution?

Allowing people to actually house themselves, I'm sure that one is beyond the pale for the Guardian.

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So what's the posited solution?

Allowing people to actually house themselves, I'm sure that one is beyond the pale for the Guardian.

Make a move to place all social housing tenants into council built and controlled social housing, using compulsory purchase orders, building en masse to keep costs down and borrowing cheaply, instead of using market rates from private sector BTL'ers and banks both looking for mark ups and profit at the taxpayers expense. Shift the housing benefit budget from day to day spending to actually investing in housing to put a lid on HB running away, the BTL'ers can still stay in the game they will just have to compete with each other for renters wages rather than taxes.

I presume housing benefit increases each year by CPI at least? Irrespective of what's happening to wages, which are stagnant or falling which just puts an ever rising floor on rents regardless of wage increases. If my taxes are going to pay for HB at least use it sensibly in a manner which benefits more than just landlords.

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So what's the posited solution?

Obvious innit. More state support for buyers:

'Help homebuyers' call as Cornish property prices soar

An MP has called for more action to help house buyers in the light of figures which show house prices in Cornwall are relatively higher than in London.

Over the last year, the average price of a Cornish home has risen to £223,046 – 12.6 times greater than the average income of £17,633.

Stephen Gilbert, MP for Newquay and St Austell, says this makes Cornwall a more expensive place to buy a home than the capital, where house prices are just 10 times greater than earnings.

“With the average London house price now higher than £400,000, it’s easy to think that Britain’s housing crisis is most extreme in the capital. But this research paints a very different picture,” he said.

“Here in Cornwall, local families are being priced out of the housing market with homes 12.6 times higher than earnings.”

Mr Gilbert said help to buy schemes had accomplished some good work, but more needed to be done.

“People’s dreams of buying a house are fading and many people are faced with the prospect of renting for decades to come. Research from the housing charity Shelter shows that almost a third of my constituents are renting accommodation, many of whom would like to be able to purchase a home of their own.”

http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/Help-homebuyers-Cornish-property-prices-soar/story-22820628-detail/story.html

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I presume housing benefit increases each year by CPI at least? Irrespective of what's happening to wages, which are stagnant or falling which just puts an ever rising floor on rents regardless of wage increases. If my taxes are going to pay for HB at least use it sensibly in a manner which benefits more than just landlords.

Housing benefit rates are recalculated each April based on the average rent in a area.

Therefore it continually spirals higher, as each year the housing benefit rate puts a floor under rents. No landlord in their right mind would charge less than the HB rate. So next year, the 'average' becomes the 'minimum' and the new average is higher.

Housing benefit should be scrapped and people housed directly by the council.

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