Retoxifying the rentier

caras apretadas1The resurgence of private renting is perhaps the biggest transformation in the UK housing system over the last decade.

Indeed, if you put it into a longer historical perspective it is quite remarkable. In the 1970s, in the face of seemingly inexorable growth of owner occupation and local authority renting, housing commentators seriously forecast the imminent demise of the private landlord. The decline of private landlordism went into reverse under the later Thatcher government, but its revival has been propelled more rapidly since the early 2000s by the engines of Buy-to-Let funding, affordability problems in owner occupation, wage stagnation, high household debt, and poor economic prospects.

The change in the scale of the sector has been accompanied by an equally important rehabilitation of its reputation. The 1960s brought us the word Rachmanism to signify exploitative and intimidatory landlordism. In the 1970s those on the political left contemplated the prospect of the extinction of the private landlord with enthusiasm: the landlord was an anachronism of the Victorian age – profiting from basic needs and misfortunes – that had no place in a modern civilised society. Yet from the 1980s onward there has been a continuous flow of policy statements aimed at rehabilitating and legitimising private landlordism.

The current government has sought to stimulate the sector through a range of funding mechanisms. It has sought not only to increase the scale of the sector but also raise its reputation further by encouraging institutional investors to enter the market. Institutions with valuable brands to protect are not, in theory, going to risk engaging in the sort of poor landlord practices – neglect of physical maintenance, harassment, unlawful eviction – that have been seen as endemic in the sector.

It may look like private renting is therefore very much back in business. But there are problems ahead. [Read more…]

Beds, sheds, and regs

She is looking forward to returning to Hyderbad, where the living conditions will be much better.

Amelia Gentleman, Guardian, 10/05/12

This is the payoff line for an extended article about poor housing in the private rented sector in Newham. The aim is to provoke a reaction.  Conditions are so bad in our glorious capital – a global city no less – that someone would rather return to India which is, we had always presumed, at the very least a bit squalid. We should be shocked.

The article covers “beds in sheds” and headlines the instance of people found renting a walk-in freezer to live in. But it is mostly about overcrowded rented properties. And when they say overcrowded they really mean overcrowded. Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham, notes that the record case was 38 people, 16 of them children, living in one property.

We are still one of the richest countries in the world but we have people living in sheds, three generations of the same family living in a single room, or several unrelated adults sharing a room or sharing a bed. And paying considerable amounts of money for the privilege. And all this is happening only a few miles down the road from neighbourhoods in which investors are happy to pay multi-millions for properties they will barely live in. [Read more…]