Hi all I read the following article in the Guardian this week and I thought I would share it with you as I happen to agree with the viewpoints stated by the author Heather Kennedy.
Please take a couple of minutes to read the following….
Is Shelter’s campaign against ‘rogue landlords’ helpful for private tenants?
Law-breaking landlords aren’t the sole blight on the private rented sector, despite Shelter’s eye-catching campaign
How do you feel if I say the words “energy performance certificate”? What about “London landlord accreditation scheme”? Is your pulse racing? I didn’t think so.
The dry and cumbersome language of the private rented housing sector is not exactly the stuff of captivating media headlines. For those of us trying to shout from the rooftops about how bad things are for private tenants right now, this can present a problem.
One organisation that has succeeded in capturing widespread attention is Shelter, with its simple and popular ‘evict rogue landlords’ campaign. The housing charity is encouraging residents to report dodgy landlords to their local authorities, who can take legal action if they are found to be operating outside the law.
The message has gained traction. Across the public debate on welfare and housing, the concept of the “rogue landlord” has caught on fast. It is central to our understanding of what is wrong with the private rented sector.
So if talk of ‘rogue landlords’ has helped to make the difficulties of life as a private tenant mainstream news, what’s the issue?
The problem is that Shelter’s concept seduces us into believing the deep-rooted problems in the private rented sector can be eradicated by punishing a small, malignant minority when in fact large-scale policy overhaul is now urgently needed.
There are plenty of fully legal landlords happy to bully their tenants, impose huge rent increases and end contracts on a whim.
Some renters and their landlords have come to consider this acceptable behaviour, so a rogue is always someone else: someone a friend of a friend told you about, or that one you saw on the telly. Never the landlord you have – or the one you are.
Of course unlawful evictions, harassment of tenants and illegal hazards need to be tackled. But I speak to private tenants across London every day and for most of them, current legislation offers them little or no protection against the problems they face.
For those landlords who are operating illegally, local councils have a feeble track record at prosecuting them, as Shelter points out. What Shelter doesn’t explain is how councils are supposed to find the time and resources to deal with the spiralling number of complaints from tenants, and at a time when funding for local authorities is being cut by central government.
Councils are already overwhelmed by the sheer volume of complaints they receive and can often only hope to provide basic dispute resolution between landlord and tenant.
For Shelter to suggest that we can prosecute our way out of this problem using current legislation is at best naive and at worst disingenuous.
The figure of the rogue landlord as a modern-day folk devil might be media-friendly, but it is meaningless for the majority of private tenants.
We need nuanced debate about the private rented sector, to reflect the diverse and complex experiences of tenants.
Shelter does some excellent work getting housing issues into the mainstream press, but right now its analysis is being allowed to dominate the debate.
Unlike council tenants, who have rich a tradition of self-organisation and representation, private tenants have no collective identity or voice.
This is partly why we’ve found it so difficult to challenge unfair treatment. It’s only now, as pressures on private tenants reach an apex that we’re beginning to speak as one and forge this collective voice.
Not until tenants are allowed to define their own campaigns and solutions will we begin to see the deep rooted change to the private rented sector we so desperately need.
Heather Kennedy is the founding member of Digs, a support and campaign group for private tenants in Hackney
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