Sunday, 27 April 2014

Germans Bitten

I recently spent a fascinating few days with a group of artists and designers, some of whom had travelled from Germany. We discussed art, design and vegan food in Glasgow (it’s odd, but we have more vegan restaurants here than anywhere else). Then leisurely we spoke of cabbages (Kohle) and also kings (Konigen).

Since I was present, we naturally compared stories of renting in our respective countries. I have in the past hereabouts cited Germany as some sort of renting heaven, due to their long tenancies and freedom to adapt their home (decorate and provide their own furniture since homes are empty of anything.)

But it’s worse than reported. Not because of the design or nature of the housing (which are often lovely, sometimes mediocre, occasionally terrible.) No; things in Germany are getting worse, it seems because of a newish phenomenon – rigorous, strict credit checks.

Like many Europeans, low pay, insecurity and precarious employment is a major problem. Germans seek what are known as ‘400 Euro jobs’ because to be paid over that amount entitles them to employee health insurance (amazingly Germany has no NHS i.e. universal, free at the point of delivery health care.)

Combine low pay and insecurity with the horror of computers saying no; where tenants submit to legions of strict and exhaustive checks, such as bank references – everything on the usual roll call of exhaustive ‘proof’ that we in the UK long ago learned to loathe.

Intriguingly the response is remarkably similar to our own. Put simple, they fiddle the results.

Friends who own companies or work at larger firms are asked to provide written references on headed notepaper or otherwise support claims of working full time. More extremely, some forge wage slips and conjure up bank statements, or back up invented and inventive claims of long term, well paid freelance contracts.

If Germans have even the slightest red mark on their all important credit rating, as is the case here in the UK it’s fatal to their application. In short, the system here and in Germany encourages supplicant tenants to lie, cheat, deceive, forge and obfuscate (which, when you think about is one hell of an unintended consequence.)

But the problem is the emergence of the usual suspects: those parasitic industries which corrupt a once straightforward process, feeding off tenants who pay for the privilege of their own references, while landlords harvest the benefits (sometimes they pay for references all over again.)

The result is that stricter referencing leads to greater creativity in bypassing the checks. Strict referencing does not end risk for owners – there will always be risk (tenants can die, lose previously secure work, or become ill). Owners are often also charged even if tenants have already paid for checks which take minutes to complete and are palpably oh-so simple to undermine.

Remember when we used to view homes, pay deposits then move in if we liked the place? Those were the days. But just because they’ve checked us over, defaults, abandonments and flits etc are just as common as before, while online credit checkers and inventory specialists are richer. Go figure.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Seven Years Here.

So it’s my blog’s birthday. Rentergirl is still here. Now we are seven, and I’m still furious.

I have enough subject matter; in fact there’s plenty. I thought I’d run out of material within a few weeks. Sadly, renting is still mostly terrible, so I’m still here.

Best news first - there are some good things happening. Tenants who were previously just angry are now getting organised, forming action committees, completing and then sharing their own research. This more than anything else fills me with hope.

These tenant advocacy groups are increasingly professional, with EPTAG IN Edinburgh, and Generation Rent countrywide, with groups in London where renting is woeful if not downright harrowing. There is the heinous rent-to-rent, where cowboys promise rentiers they will have no voids in occupation, but then run away with the money from re-renting rooms. Or tenancies auctioned with sealed bids.

Which means that wise politicians pay heed to, or actively court renters, and the wisest will encourage and facilitate voter registration, concerned with tailoring manifesto commitments to reflect not just our needs, but our power.

The dreams of hopeful renters are simple: rent control, security, longer tenancies and an end to revenge evictions. For the first time, I am relatively confident that one, if not everything on that list will be achieved.

Sadly, there are some truly bad things happening. Rising homelessness is one, caused directly by Lib Dem supported (and lest we forget, Labour endorsed) Tory social security cap, which as I write this, is causing even the mythical, iconic ‘hard-working families’ to be frog marched out of London – where the jobs are - to wherever the homes are.

The UK’s PRS is broken, especially in London. People are moved away from where their support – in the form of child care, education, training and part time work, which could lead to full-time work, is located. It’s cruel, pointless and distressing.

Victims have homes but live in isolation, expected to be not simply glad, but speechless with gratitude. Cue clueless Eton mess.

There’s the fact that people accepted as homeless, but when still vulnerable and poor are no longer placed on waiting lists for social housing, but batted right back to the now infamously dysfunctional PRS, prey to evictions and uncontrolled rents.

The bedroom tax I was dreading last year is every bit as bad as we thought. Apparently, those clueless Tories assumed affected tenants would pay and stay, not fight to remain. Blimey. These plebbish povs must be dining on foie gras wrapped in gold leaf. The first evictions, with babes in arms are imminent.

In other news, letting agents still exist. Just. For now. Increasing numbers of online portals will inevitably replace them. The sooner the better, because they’re increasingly brazen.

One small but important victory – the word ‘landlord’ is being rapidly replaced with the less aristocratic ‘rentier.’

There is some cause for more joy. I rent my home from an amazing rentier, or ‘Landgirl,’ as she prefers to be called. I know she reads this, so I’d like to say thank-you. It’s not all bad. Just most of it.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Who Houses The Homeless?

If ever I wonder what hateful people think, I head straight for my search term counter. Mindful that I cannot unsee the horror, I brace myself for an onslaught of cruel and unusual bigotry in the form of statements such as ‘I force girls,’ or troubling comments on my unintentional SEO bait blogpost about rubber gloves.

Then come the truly hideous questions about how to throw tenants onto the streets without notice.

But sometimes my dwindling faith in humanity is reanimated by questions like this – ‘How do I give a homeless person somewhere to live?’

I’m glad someone out there is so kind, because not many people will house those formerly roofless. This is mostly due to erroneous perceptions about ‘the homeless’. Not everyone on the enormous list of those turning to councils for help are chaotic, disruptive, a risk, nor did they bring the situation on themselves. There but for fate walk you and I.

As for the common prejudice about drug use well… if I’d spent Winter sleeping outside I would hoover up any medication offered to me, legal or not, as, dear reader, would you.

Furthermore, when in the process of setting life back on track, we’d be lacking the litany of references required – employer previous landlord, banks, and wouldn’t have the vital six weeks upfront or months deposit.

Some councils help. They underwrite tenancies, act as guarantors, overseeing tenancies then liaising with owners. The Social Fund and Crisis loans from The DWP are long gone, replaced by pay day loans, so this help is essential.

Hostels are oversubscribed. If you’re recovering from mental illness or substance addiction issues, this complicates housing even more. This time is the most extreme form of gap year – months spent in recovery, or looking for work must be explained away to those who might judge you and so refuse to house you.

The next hurdle is the race for housing within limits set by benefit caps, or local housing allowance, which limit where poor people without problems, not just those with chaotic backstories are permitted to live.

People without homes are no longer given priority in social housing, but sent straight into the hellish private sector badlands and left to fend for themselves. They have just six months safety. Renewal time comes round so fast.

Perhaps some people could share houses with rent paid in return for care or support; I know schemes like this exist, but they need to be patrolled or regulated, so can be expensive. Still; better than a bench.

Yes, I know that some people are homeless after disruptive or abusive or criminal behaviour, but they’re a minority. Most people simply undergo challenges like unemployment or relationship breakdown, then mental health problems – the three horsemen of homelessness.

So we need some enlightenment – more people like the person who inspired this post. Yes, let’s be realistic – kindness is never simple. But since it’s so easy for anyone to fall between the cracks, we need to be more prepared to accept that anyone – literally anyone could end up on the streets.