Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Property in the UK 5: Caught in the Crossfire

I never intended this blog to simply be about houses, I expected a mix of politics and some personal observations, favourite films and books and things. However, I suppose the political and the personal are coming together in the latest instalment of my housing woes. Every time I encounter a problem, I think it must be tough for me, but there must be hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of UK citizens who are suffering this and worse and have less cash and family support to ameliorate it. I am solidly middle class, I earn 50% above the national average salary and yet I am being kicked around as if I was some homeless person. I am grateful that I am not homeless, but, maybe though, you will say I should not expect my comparative wealth to protect me from the harshness of people and the marketplace. This was the mistake the middle class made in the 1920s and so when all their money disappeared in the Depression they resorted to dictators like Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, etc.

As I have noted before, when you feel powerless you turn to despair or anger and this week it has been anger. With my car having broken down last week I was fortunate to get a lift from my boss who lives about 10 miles away to where I was working, about 46 miles away. I could have gone by train but in the rush hour it would have literally cost me as much as how much I spend for the family on groceries each week. Whilst in my bosses' car, as I have outlined in 'Property in the UK 4', I was telephoned by my landlord's lawyer father telling me the house we have been renting for three-and-a-half months is now going on the market. As landlords now have to pay council tax on empty properties they keep tenants in them until the week they sell the property and it seems clear now that it was the landlord's intention to sell the house as soon as he could. So we have to deal with people walking through our house looking at us as if we are zoo animals and for no personal benefit for us. We will effectively be sold on as part of the fittings of the house. The sale will likely to be quick, fortunately, it will probably go straight to another landlord. However, we have no guarantee that we will be allowed to stay because with 2 months' notice we can be kicked out (we can leave with 1 month's notice).

Now to complicate matters the letting agency who are supposed to run the house on behalf of the landlord rang to say that we did not have allow people to view the house and in fact our contract is one of these unbreakable leases (these are increasingly common in the UK and mean you are liable for 6 or 12 months rent even if you give notice and move out after one week). He wants us to refuse to let people see the house. It seems clear that the agency and landlord have fallen out. The agency are angry they are not sole estate agent on the property as selling it would earn them £5000 (€7,300; U$10,000) compared to £840 (€1225; US$ 1680) if they continue renting it (they only charge their landlords a 7% fee rather than the 13-16% which is usual among UK letting agencies), so being a small company are seeking to deny the sale fee to a rival company. The agency say no-one will be a family house with sitting tenants anyway.

So, now we are in the crossfire. Do we go with what the landlord says and face being moved out in a couple of months (the third move in 23 months) or go with the agency and deny the landlord ability to sell the house meaning he will move to kick us out anyway? We are just a football in the argument between the two sides. No-one considers that this is our house where we have put in work keeping it clean and have lots of crops coming up in the garden. It is clear we are counted as nothing by either side, despite paying £1000 per month rent, we are just here to be disposed of as fits with the plan of the landlord or the agency. Despite my income and status I have absolutely no power over what happens to my family this year. Each time we move it costs us about £1000 and we have already paid that this year just moving four streets to this house in February. Everyone thinks about their profits and squeezing a few thousand more, what about our basic cost of living? It counts for nothing.

People keep saying to me: 'well why don't you just buy a house?' as if I had never thought of it, but with a good salary like mine struggling to afford to buy a two-bedroomed flat let alone a family house, that is just getting annoying. An increasing number of people in the UK are becoming tenants and it is clear we are just counters in some economic game, not perceived as humans trying to live a quiet life in a half-decent house. I have never started a campaign, but I feel someone should to give tenants some rights.

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