I am lucky, because my landlords are good people.
They are honest and genuine. When they first heard that a group of adults (five at the time) with no familial connection wanted to rent their property, they were initially skeptical - but after meeting us, they decided to take the risk.
Whenever there has been a problem, we have felt we could talk to them about it. And to be clear, those problems are sometimes with the property, and often with the letting agents - not our landlords themselves. They are fine people, and we are lucky to have them.
There are two million private landlords in the UK, according to research conducted by several organisations. There are over four million private tenants, too, though that number may actually be slightly conservative. I know plenty of people who rent or have rented, and I consider myself lucky, because the majority of them have found themselves in (sometimes repeated) problematic situations with their landlords.
Letting agents aren't without sin, either. The amount of cash they demand for even simple tasks - even tasks that don't strictly need to be done - can be astounding, to the point of extortion. Three times, they have actually made errors in regard to OUR rent, and we have temporarily been blamed for it - something which goes away very quickly when they realise they forgot to carry the one.
Again. We are lucky.
Our landlords are concerned with our safety and security. Regular checks to our fire alarms, gas, electricity and water supply - adherence to the rules and regulations that keep us safe and help us live with as little risk as possible - it all takes time and money, but they do it. In part because it is implicit in their role, but also, because they are responsible and considerate people.
Again. We are lucky.
Others are not so lucky.
One of the real highlighting factors of income and wealth is how one thinks of houses and homes. I am currently at the "I will probably never be able to afford my own house but it would be nice" level. I know others who are on their way to their own home, others who are just moving in, others who have been in for years, others who are onto their second and yet others who own two and rent one - and others who own two, but keep one empty so they can go on holiday in it. There are those worse off than me, too - having to rely on social welfare, for whatever reason, whose shelter is actually directly reliant on the state.
There was a huge push to get everyone into houses back in Maggie Thatcher's day. The reasoning for this is multiform, obviously, but everyone owing money to a bank gives it a lot of leverage to swing around its newly-deregulated investment schlong. Owning property became the way we should all want to live, and renting became undesirable. There were those, of course, who already had homes - and those, of course, who could already afford more than one.
If, via income disparity, one is forced to rent - and had little hope of actually affording a home to move into, so it isn't so much a choice as it is necessity - then one is at the literal mercy of landlords. That is a power dynamic that Europe actually addresses - Germany has a solid renting culture, and thus has better protections and guarantees for tenants, and more strict regulations for landlords and the properties they rent. Perhaps if the UK had such a culture, then how we view the relationship between landlord and tenant would be different, too.
It is literally an investment in human living conditions, but with the option of increasing your profit margin if you reduce those living conditions; and where income inequality means that people are forced to rent, the ability to avoid those landlords who do compromise those living conditions is severely hindered.
Over four million people rely on their landlords being decent human beings who won't cut so many corners that the entire edifice starts to roll away. Rely on those who are already wealthy above and beyond their own means to care enough about their wellbeing to sacrifice greater income to increase their safety and give them somewhere half-decent to live.
Well, the attitude toward that somewhat shows through.
Just ask any student that has had to rent privately in their second year, who get scalped for thousands and denied the return of their deposits because they are students and probably can't afford legal assistance. Just ask anyone living in a shitty tower block, wherein if you call maintenance to fix something, you may as well roll a die to see if they show up. Just ask anyone whose landlord simply refuses to fix things, important things, like that dangerous external cladding or that faulty electrical system or the lack of fire alarms and sprinklers.
The thing is, there are legal protections. There is a raft of health and safety legislation, specific to rental properties. We are just so used to them being ignored - to corners being cut at every single turn - that we count ourselves lucky if our landlords just obey the law.
It doesn't help that the current "government" - the Queen hasn't ratified them yet so they earn the quotation marks - have been directly responsible for tilting the balance of power yet further. Attempts to further deregulate the responsibilities of landlords have been partially successful. Laws on this topic are primarily voted through by Conservative MPs who not only claim expenses to maintain their own homes but also rent out properties to others. Yes, that is a conflict of interest. No, nothing got done about it.
There was a debate about whether or not rental properties should be fitted with smoke alarms by law. There was a debate about whether or not a rental property should be considered fit for human habitation, before someone is moved into it. Let me repeat that: a swathe of the Conservative party, many of whom are landlords, wanted to make it legal for a landlord to rent a property that is not fit for human habitation. Yes, that is a conflict of interest. No, nothing got done about it.
To further the gap, legal aid has been cut, and the access to council housing and housing benefit has been reduced. So if you are lucky enough to earn enough to get into a rat-warren without fire alarms, then you discover that this rat-warren doesn't have fire alarms, then good luck finding anywhere else to move and good luck actually mounting a legal challenge. You already have to rent. You probably can't afford a lawyer.
Again. We are lucky.
We are lucky because our landlords are not scalpers. They are not cutting corners. They are available if we need to talk, they fix problems (often physically themselves), and they intercede on our behalf when the letting agency becomes problematic.
We are lucky because they aren't a large private concern, who decided we didn't need smoke alarms. We are lucky because they ensured that our electrical system was reliable and worked properly before we moved in. We are lucky that they didn't fit a cladding on the outside of our building to make it look nice for the rich folk that live nearby. We are lucky that the cladding they chose wasn't fitted at a slight discount rather than making it actually fire resistant.
When enough corners are cut, the edifice rolls. The people making the money don't care about that. It probably won't be them who actually suffers the crushing calamity of it rolling. They will probably be able to skip away clean, because the people who make the laws about this kind of thing are just like them: contemptuous of human life, especially of people who earn less than they do.
Again. We are lucky.
We are lucky because our landlords see us as human beings. They talk to us, they are polite to us as we are polite to them. We have a mutual respect.
The name of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation should indicate to you just how much they see their investments as human beings. Tenants are things to be managed. You put them in a box and they give you money. To hell with the fire alarms. If they go away you can just get more, everyone needs somewhere to keep their stuff. So what if Grenfell Tower burns? KCTMO manages 9,500 properties - there's always more tenants to extort.
The same "government" that wished for landlords to be able to house people in inhumane conditions, to endanger their lives and to limit their access to legal recourse and housing support, also defunded fire and emergency services across the country. Reduced staff levels, closed fire stations, you name it. All in the name of saving money, though how that has helped anyone is still up for debate - it certainly hasn't reduced our national debt at all, or reduced how much we pay in tax.
Both groups of people - and I am unsure if there is any overlap, but as I already mentioned, many Conservatives are also landlords - show through their actions that they don't see tenants as human. If you don't have the money to afford your own house (regardless of the increased price of houses, which is a whole other blog) then you aren't worth listening to or caring about.
The dehumanising of the less wealthy started with those who had nothing. Painting the homeless as a nuisance and a bother without considering them people. Then there are those who almost have nothing, people who need to claim benefits to survive - we've all seen the hatchet job done on them. Now we're onto those who have enough money to live but not enough money to own a house or secure a mortgage.
The line is creeping up, people - but by the time the line is high enough that the very wealthy turn on the not-as-wealthy, everyone else will have been churned under.
It is this callousness, this total sociopathy, that has led to the edifice rolling. Too many corners were cut. The profits have been pocketed for years, and now, it is time for the real price to be paid.
This is what income inequality does to us.
It makes us look upon individuals who are following the law and protecting their human investments as the law calls upon them to do, and call ourselves lucky.
Of course it isn't just housing that this sociopathy rears its ugly head in, either - but then more than one of my blogs have pointed out the negative impacts of right-wing greed-based policy the world over.
If only there was an alternative.
Wouldn't we be lucky.