Exactly a year ago, my then landlord told me he would rather sell the house we had been living in for some time than make the changes required, in his words, ‘to make it safe’ for us. He raised some possibility of letting us stay if we agreed to a rent increase to cover the cost of the necessary repairs but we decided enough was enough and got moving.
Those repairs included replacing the windows which were 1980s wooden-framed, warped, mould-ridden inside and let’s say ‘weather beaten’ on the outside. Then there was the garden wall which was a hazard to our children in the garden and pedestrians walking by on the other side. The external doors were also warped and shabby with gaps around them. The exterior featured an antique satellite dish and classy rust stains running down the side of the paint work. There were other issues inside but it’s what others saw of the house that is of interest here.
That’s because, last week I had cause to return to the town we left. While pottering round a supermarket I bumped into the lady who used to live next door to us. After a certain amount of catching up she went on to tell me how upset she was because the house we left is still being rented seemingly without any of the repairs having been undertaken. She believed the house to be inhabited by a number of tenants, not a family, so suspected it was being let out as rooms. Though apparently not difficult neighbours, being quiet and out from early in the morning until late at night, their impact is felt since they seem not to have got to grips with the community things like rubbish collection days so the front garden and drive is covered in black bags pretty much constantly. The garden wall has collapsed a bit more; the window frames have crumbled a bit more. An external pipe leading from the washing machine out and down to the drain under the drive has broken so black soapy residue covers the shared drive (that pipe was a problem when we were there too but in our usual ‘make do and mend’ manner we fixed it with a well-positioned brick). The front door has lost more of its paint. ‘It just looks so run down but he [the landlord]won’t do anything about it’ she complained. I reminded her that it had been that way for some time, ‘But’ she said, ‘at least when you were there it had a family trying to make it and this area their home and that helped.’ It was enlightening to find that the things that are important to me as a private renter seemed just as significant for her well-being: that the house is of a ‘decent’ standard and a tenant should feel able to settle enough to become part of a community. My discomfort which I felt I bore alone in that street of homeowners was, if not equally, then similarly, hers.
I suppose we are interconnected on the housing front whether we like it or not. Plenty of people get affected by the actions or neglect of a bad PRS landlord, not just tenants. I wonder whether and to what extent those other groups support the campaigns to improve conditions in the sector. After all it seems to me it’s not just tenant vs bad landlord- it’s tenant, surrounding neighbours, better landlords and local councils vs neglectful landlords. Actually, doesn’t it just come down to decent fellow human being vs unacceptable unfair conditions generally?