We’re not loving it

We’re not loving it

We’re not loving it

First Published 04 September 2016

Penny Anderson fears that the entrance of ‘Mclandlords’ into the private renting market could be bad news for tenants.

Britain needs more homes, but who’s going to pay the bill? Councils can’t fund the building required to house everyone on their elongated waiting lists. Meanwhile, hedge funds and other massive corporate investors suspect that there’s money to be made in rented housing. The government is keen, of course, but I can see problems already. The mega-landlords are coming, so are they a good idea?

Would you fancy a huge, unwieldy, faceless corporation as the master of your home?

It’s likely they will retain the methods and morality of the business world, as companies answer to investors, rendering the following inevitable. Draughty window-frames? Sorry, the stockholders say, there’s no money this year. Unless there’s a threat to health or safety, repairs will be de-prioritised, despite the low-level misery endured by shivering tenants. Oh right -councils already do that…

You might have noticed that corporations are obsessed with uniformity. Supermarkets make a good comparison here -they like customers to be met with a standard greeting, and sold identical products in matching surroundings.

New homes are already like little boxes. Corporate newbuilds will not meet the needs of tenants, but satisfy the cost related, corporate aims of those enormous McLandlords. Someone, somewhere has already assumed that tenants yearn for minuscule boxes with filigree walls (and somewhat incongruously, a bathroom for every bedroom.) So there is potential for evil, but once again it’s all been done before.

Then there’s the constant threat of insolvency, dangling over us like the Sword of Damocles. Push too hard for redress or change and mega-landlords will disappear or merge with rivals, only to reappear with a new name. Builders do that already, so McLandlords can learn from the masters.

Disregarding the influx of so-called ‘forced’ tenants, many renters are by their very nature unemployed, poor, on short-term contracts, or vulnerable to redundancy under LIFO (last in-first out.) If they fall into arrears, will the McLandlord help?

We have just witnessed how banks and mortgage providers cared so tenderly for those in financial difficulties. If you are evicted for not being able to pay the rent, where do you go afterwards; to another mega-landlord, perhaps? Well, it’s not like they’d operate a bad tenant database is it. Except… construction firms hired a snoop to compile an illegal blacklist of bolshy employees, so once again, business got there first.

Property developers are unable to offload much of what they’ve built in urban areas, and are already landlords by necessity. It’s not a role they relish, and reportedly they intend to offload property as soon as possible. But are they be any worse than housing associations?

I’ve heard the horror stories, and have personal experience of the tougher attitudes of certain larger, unyielding social-housing providers. People imagine them to be fluffy and kind. They are not. Housing associations are the perfect role model for granite hard McLandlords.

Inevitably, mega-businesses will get their way. They’ll siphon off the wealthiest, most compliant tenants for their own portfolio, leaving smaller, amateur landlords to house marginal renters. Eventually we’ll notice people stigmatised as sub-prime tenants, then charged over the odds to compensate for their poor credit history and low wages.

So welcome to the future -increasing acres of instant, unsuitable, Identikit flat-pack housing, designed to nurture profit, not tenants. Mega-landlords will adopt the scruples and ruthlessness of fast-food outlets and debt-collectors, rather than the responsible, socially conscious imperatives of eco-businesses. For tenants, this is yet more bad news.

Penny Anderson is a private tenant and rentergirl blogger.