Thursday, 21 June 2007

Property in the UK 5a: Treated like a Football

Well, new twists in the latest saga of our landlord seeking to kick us out because we are simply an obstacle to his desire for money. I know you ardent capitalists out there argue I should simply accept my role in the economic system and allow myself to be manipulated by market forces and the people who embody them. However, it causes problems for my day-to-day life and I think I have a right to protest about that. After all, I am only asking to be treated with respect and be left alone. I fulfil my obligations but that is not enough apparently, I have to recognise my role as nothing more than an element in a bigger economic process and I should be grateful that someone deems to rent me a house to live in.

Anyway, it turns out that everything the landlord's representative told me and my housemate on the telephone was a lie. He is apparently well known in my town. He has never been a lawyer only a clerk (in the UK sense of the word, someone who does low level administrative work, not the US sense of a shop assistant), in a legal company. He does not own 47 houses, at most he owns 1 and maybe not even that. He said that there would be a 2-week pause in putting the house on the market while he was in the USA and that he would come and discuss it with us when he returned, but that turned out to be an immediate lie as the estate agents turned up after the weekend wanting immediate access to photograph everything and start bringing people through our house, when we told them to slow down, they got angry and telephoned the representative immediately. In addition, we were told that there would be 2 companies selling the house, our current letting agents who we know quite well (they are not very efficient but are not as nasty as these other people) and one other company. In fact this second company that we do not know has been given sole rights to sell the property.

The landlord's representative (who said he was the landlord's father but given he lied about everything else in his almost 2 hours of whining at us on the telephone I cannot even believe this) said that he could have us removed from the house in 2 months by giving proper notice. This is a lie too. As is increasingly common in the UK we are locked into a 12-month contract which we cannot break even if we wanted to; if we leave the house we are still liable to pay the rent on it even if they get new tenants in there. I encountered this kind of contract in Milton Keynes and got advice from the Citizens' Advice Bureau and they confirmed you can do nothing about it, even though it means paying thousands of pounds for a property you no longer live in.

Now we are anticipating that the landlord's representative will start playing all the tricks landlords do such as changing the locks and causing other problems for us; accessing the house when we are out and breaking or taking possessions of ours. Anything to force us out quickly, because he knows that a house (as opposed to a flat to which different economic rules seem to apply) with sitting tenants is unsaleable and even if it was not, we are not willing to have people tramping through what is our home, at any hour of the day. I know as tenants we should not become attached to a property, but in that horrible American phrase we are very much home-makers (and garden-makers) and treat where we live as a home, not a hotel room. I think we are going to suffer both emotionally and financially but my housemate has taken the lead and is challenging the landlord's representative. She has taken legal advice from Shelter (a charity to help homeless people, but it gives excellent free legal advice on issues around housing in an effort to stop more people being screwed by landlords and becoming homeless. Most people in the UK who are homeless do not live on the street, they are families put up in cheap hotels by local authorities) and so is ready to challenge what the landlord is trying to do to us for simple economic gain.

In contrast I am certain that we cannot win. The UK law is always on the side of those with money and power. An ordinary UK, even middle class person (we are not citizens in the UK apparently, just subjects of the Queen) has little chance of getting a fair deal, so I think we should cut and run before the landlord and his henchmen start doing nasty things to us. I think standing up to him will just make it worse and we will lose even more. It is increasingly clear that you have no rights as a tenant in the UK (unless you have the money to employ lawyers; one quoted me an hourly rate of £800 (€1184; US$1600) and now unless you are really poor you are no longer entitled to legal aid to fight cases of this kind). The difference in view on what to do is obviously causing arguments in the house and I was called 'Judas' today for not supporting the more aggressive policy towards the landlord.

I accept that my job which comes with responsibilities and my reasonable income have fooled me into thinking that I have some power over what happens in my life. This incident has proven me entirely wrong. I have no power even to decide where I live and for how long. Contracts are worth less than the paper they are written on when you face those with money and influence. So you will not be surprised that I feel like a football (for US readers, I am thinking of a soccer ball, unless the landlord starts thinking he is going to pick me up and dump me down somewhere like the river) on the pitch of the UK economy, feeling every kick that is layed into me.

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