This much we know: prospective tenants undergo multiple, strenuous, onerous, innovative checks and are even obliged to pay for the ‘privilege.’ They provide personal and employer references, credit checks, bank statements: most letting agents and landlords request proof of ID, often kept on file contravening data protection. Soon renters will be obliged to submit DNA samples, and no - I’m not joking.
But you make it through. And there you are sitting safe at home when a burglar enters the lounge. He’s also got convictions for violence, with a talent for fraud. How the hell did he get in? Simple: he used a key.
One pragmatic suggestion currently in circulation would vastly improve conditions and security for renters. Several tenant rights groups have proposed that all landlords and letting agents should be required to undergo Criminal Record Bureau checks (CRB).
Before the crazier landlord trolls comment in a self-righteous froth that tenants should also be checked, hear me out: no matter what they do, tenants never hold a key to their landlord’s home.
The exception is when lodging, and the incoming bedroom tax bomb is detonating, and victims are advised to get lodgers. What if they are single women, perhaps with children? Who’s that living with them, now?
There are many tales, anecdotal, in the press and in law reports of landlords convicted of behaviour indicating they should not have ready access to a stranger’s house. For example, key-holders who have been convicted of rape… not a good sign of being trustworthy with that key, is it?
Cases like the landlord convicted after installing hidden cameras in his female tenants bedrooms, who could have emerged from prison and immediately reconvene his landlording – there’s nothing to stop him. The case below is especially nasty: the landlord was already on the sex offenders register, but raped his vulnerable, fifteen year old ‘tenant’ in return for her being allowed to keep a roof over her head.
One landlord I know let his HMO specifically to models (I sneaked under the wire somehow) and was found creeping into our rooms during the day to sniff our bed clothes. I also have a friend whose landlord offered to ‘go easy’ on her when she was in arrears if ‘she was nice to him.’ (I don’t think he meant baking him fairy cakes.)
And it’s not just the private sector: a housing association once sent round several workmen to renovate a block, and many female tenants, myself included, reported them for grotesquely inappropriate behaviour while working inside flats. No action was taken. It was, they said: ‘our word against theirs.’
All tenants are vulnerable. Sleaziness and intimidation are regular hazards for (especially, but not solely) female tenants. Would CRB checks prevent abuses? Not entirely.
But forcing prospective landlords, housing providers and letting agents to demonstrate a record free of violent crime and sexual offences would at least allow tenants to check their landlord isn’t just violent, abusive and dangerous, but all that whilst holding their front door key. If landlords are to become professional, this is essential. Then we can tackle the harassment.