One of the more challenging aspects of my job so far has been persuading our clients that because of the housing benefit caps, and changes to the way the Local Housing
Allowance is calculated, they have to accept that the properties we find them will probably be in zones three or four, will almost certainly be a lot smaller than they are used to and likely to be fairly basic.
We do however give a firm commitment that all of the properties on our books will be of a decent, habitable standard, clean and in a good general state of repair.
One of the more encouraging and unexpected revelations of my work has been to find that there are landlords operating at this end of the market who do indeed pride themselves on providing comfortably furnished, well maintained accommodation, they do this because they are decent human beings I’m sure, but it must also make good commercial sense to have contented tenants who stay for long periods.
At a viewing in North London this week the studio flat I was shown was small but immaculate, with a new wooden floor, a fresh coat of paint, and a tiny but well planned kitchen area. The agent readily agreed to buy a new sofa bed with drawers in it for extra storage , (our client was clearly concerned about the restricted space), but the flat was in Cricklewood, zone 2 and perfect for her work. She will be moving in on Monday, and on the telephone today the agent promised that the property would be thoroughly cleaned before this, even though it looked sparkling to me .
At the other end of the spectrum there are sadly many landlords who seem untroubled by the systematic exploitation of desperate, vulnerable people, and who take full advantage of housing legislation which is grossly biased in the favour of the landlord, and offers little in the way of effective protection to the tenant.
In Newham, East London, a couple of weeks ago I spent a hideous afternoon being driven from property to property by just such a Landlord (in his gleaming brand new Mercedes SL coupe). One small terraced house he showed me had six people living in it, sharing one shower and two toilets. I was shown a room about six feet by four, a stained, lumpy mattress on the bed, a makeshift wooden cupboard screwed crookedly to one wall (there was no available floor space for it to stand on).
When I asked the landlord if he accepted housing benefit he said yes he did, but he added that he then expected the tenants to top this up with their own money. “By how much?” I inquired, “100 to 200 pounds a month”, he said, “How” I asked “did people on £71 a week JSA, manage this?” “I don’t ask questions” said the landlord, “Just as long as I get my money”.
More than 50 years after the scandal of the notorious Notting Hill slum landlord Peter Rachman, his spirit has, it seems, returned to haunt us.