Roger and his views > Landlords
Gales View - 29th January 2014

As I write I have on the desk in front of  me two communications from constituents.  The first raises the issue of rents in the private sector and the second attaches photographs of a privately rented flat in very considerable disrepair. The pictures reveal damp, a broken window, shoddy furniture and leaking plumbing. Given the rents charged for properties such as this even in East Kent  I can see no excuse whatsoever for the latter.
There are, in both Thanet and Herne Bay, very many excellent and caring private landlords.  They have invested heavily in the properties that they are letting, and furnish and maintain them to a high standard. They carry out all of the necessary and regular safety checks upon electrical and gas appliances and they respond swiftly to tenants` requests for repairs. They are generally resident locally themselves and without intrusion make sufficiently regular visits to their properties to ensure that their tenants are happy and comfortable and that all is in order. They provide good quality accommodation and value for money and without their services a housing situation that is already under stress would probably collapse.
Unfortunately, alongside these responsible people there are those others who could not, frankly, care less about the conditions under which their tenants live, regard those people with disdain and contempt and are in it simply to milk the system for every last penny of housing benefit or hard-earned cash that they can screw out of the system. Very frequently these are `absentee landlords` who live in London or Birmingham or Manchester or some other distant conurbation. Working through managing agents they instruct their representatives to resist any and every possible request for even the most modest investment in repairs or refurbishment.
The net result is that at the bottom of the housing  pile there are people, very often young and not infrequently with babies or small children, who are living in grim conditions. This is not just or even an inner-city problem. There are places, and I know this because from time to time I am invited to visit them and to see for myself, in both The Bay and in Margate and the adjoining villages coastal villages, that none of us would choose to live in or to have our children live in or our grand children brought up in.  They are the last resort for those with no roof over their heads at all and
who are, therefore, wide open to exploitation by the unscrupulous .   Perec  (Peter)  Rachman, the infamous Notting Hill landlord, died in 1962 but his ghost  is abroad and walking a street near you.
What makes this appalling  situation still worse is that you and I are footing the bill that lines the pockets of the greedy. We are paying, through the taxes that fund housing benefit, to keep young families under conditions that would never be tolerated at all in the social housing sector.  While public-sector housing may on occasions leave a lot to be desired, be overcrowded and itself in need of renovation there are, in the privately rented sector, flats and houses that are barely fit for human habitation. Over the last fifteen or so years far too few homes have been built to meet the housing need and that is an issue that, both through help-to-buy and the stimulation of the building of good quality homes to rent or acquire on a shared-equity basis, the Government is seeking to address.   The ending of the spare-room subsidy, unpopular though it may be, is also  designed to release under-occupied homes for family use and is having some modest effect. To play catch-up, though, takes time and in the meantime the rip-off has been allowed to continue and  children and their parents already suffering from social deprivation are having to exist in what can only be described as squalor.
It is more than time that the owners of rental properties that are not fit for purpose were held to account, made to bring the homes for which they are being paid large sums of money up to scratch or, in extreme cases, have their properties compulsorily-purchased, renovated and either let as social housing or sold on  to responsible landlords.
There are, of course, bad tenants also. I know of property owners who have tried to do their very best by those on whose behalf housing benefit  is being paid by the local authority only to find that the occupants have left with rent unpaid leaving a trail of wreckage and damage to furniture and decoration behind them. That is heartbreaking and costs money and rental income that will never be recouped.  Nevertheless, I believe that it is in the interests of both tenants and good landlords that the cowboys and the sharks should be brought to book. If that requires fresh legislation then so be it. There is plenty of parliamentary time available before the next General Election for this present government t show that we mean business and that we will no longer tolerate the exploitation of the vulnerable. We have to serve an eviction notice on the slum profiteers.

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