Monday, 11 November 2019


The landlord on the radio is complaining about his tenants. They’ve half-destroyed the house, upset all the neighbours and they’re six months late with the rent.

Of course I feel sorry for him. This is far from the first time I’ve listened to landlords giving out about their tenants from hell, but my sympathy is tempered by a massive omission.

You never hear tenants giving out about their landlords. Well, you do, often and emphatically, in private conversations, but rarely in the mainstream media, and even less frequently to their landlords.

I’ve been living in rented accommodation since 1981, and up until the middle of the last decade, the relationship between landlord and tenant remained mutually beneficial.

The landlords had their mortgages paid by tenants, who in turn lived without the fear of something in their home breaking or going wrong.

Of course there were always areas of contention, usually involving periods of notice and the return of deposits, but the lines were clear and well drawn, with both parties getting something out of the deal.

In Bradford, West Yorkshire, I lived in an attic room with a long window running the length of the building. My view reached out beyond the city, to green fields and the mighty Pennines.

One afternoon the entire window fell out and crashed to the ground.

Within minutes my landlord Majid (who lived next door) had boarded it up, and the next day a new window was in place.

That’s the way it worked. If a pipe leaked you called the landlord, and they had it fixed.

It felt good.

You were paying for their building, but in return you lived without worry of paying for repairs.

Not any more.

These days everything has changed. Despite the valid and furious cries coming from this bloke on the radio, the market presently favours landlords to an extravagant and cruel extent.

The balance of power has shifted so fundamentally that now the tenant is supposed to feel grateful to be given the opportunity to pay excessive rent.

In San Francisco in the 1990s I first sampled what has now become standard procedure in any major city: the queue outside every property at viewing time, each applicant clutching their approved credit rating report and references.

Instead of feeling protected by a symbiotic relationship, millions of tenants are now terrified of contact with their landlords. 

They wouldn’t dream of asking for refunds, in case they’re seen as troublesome tenants, and served notice to leave.

If something goes wrong in your rented home, you now either fix it yourself, or if you can’t afford to do that, you live with it broken.

There are of course laws to protect tenants, and clauses in each tenancy agreement that offer reimbursement and support for tenants, but they are, to a great extent, worthless.

As soon as a tenant demands help, their landlord starts looking for ways to get rid of them.

In the present market, there are always new tenants lining up, eager to replace evicted ones, so nobody demands their rights.

Instead tenants now keep their heads down, paying plumbers and electricians themselves, so as not to worry their landlords.

There’d be hell to pay if tenants arrived to picnic on their landlord’s lawn, yet landlords feel it’s fine to appear, unannounced, at the front doors of tenancies.

There is no escaping the fact that tenants are seen socially and politically as second class citizens.

Our society shows more respect to homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages than tenants who pay their rent each week.

Nobody speaks out. You don’t hear tenants on the news, asserting their legal rights, because they don’t want to be identified by their landlords or blacklisted.

As I grew more mature and responsible (I did. Honest I did!) I started to feel a duty of care towards each home I lived in, so each year at renewal time I’d let the landlord know anything that I’d want to know, were that house my own.

A broken gutter, wobbly roof tiles, anything that might compromise the structure of the building itself. I’d also let them know I’d had the chimney swept, and in return they’d send gentle thanks and a refund.

However, ever since the financial crash, landlords don’t care as much about the state of their rental properties.

Maybe they’re also squeezed financially, but whatever their financial situation, they own a house which the tenant does not.

When homeowners found they couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages, they stopped paying them. Lied to and living a nightmare, untold thousands are still in arrears, but many benefit from mortgage relief.

Tenants have no such support. If we can’t come up with the rent, we’re screwed. If your rent’s several months in arrears, you’re out and that’s that.

Evictions of homeowners makes prime time news, but tales of tenants being thrown out of their homes don’t make the grade, because these days, tenants don’t either.

Thankfully, apart from one excruciating exception, I have been phenomenally lucky with my landlords over the years.

Every tenancy I’ve had here in the west of Ireland was agreed upon in that gentle and benign manner, known as ‘Old School.’

After a cup of tea and a chat, there’d be a handshake.

As my current landlord put it: “Why would I want to read references from people I don’t know, when I’m sitting here talking to you?”

©Charlie Adley

No comments: