The Grenfell Tower Tragedy and Why Now is the Time for Action on Scum Lords

I want to start by saying how my heart goes out to each and everyone, either resident in the block, fire fighters who tried desperately to get people out, and the everyday people who stopped what they were doing to try and offer whatever help they could, who have been directly affected by the absolute horror of the Grenfell Tower fire.

I am utterly bereft that despite promises that “lessons were learned” after the Camberwell Lakanal House tragedy, we are here, yet again, with a fresh batch of politicians standing, with faces set to suitable look of sadness with their hands ringed, next to a smoldering building,  next to another appalling incident that could, with the easiest processes in order, have been prevented.

I also want to say how much I admire, yet again, just how us normal folk answer a tragedy, by pulling together and raising funds, and putting collections of clothes, bedding, toys and other essentials for the victims, how places of worship opened their doors to those who have lost all their possessions, and cafes and restaurants fed them in their hour of need and beyond. We are masters of taking control in a crisis, and no matter how bad the situation, someone, somewhere, will see you as right as they can, will give you their last ten pound note, and will try and make things a little more manageable.

Now, I am angry. I am disgusted that we live in, maybe not the richest country in the world, but we’re not so bad that 300K for a sprinkler system wasn’t obtainable. Especially when the same people who refused this most basic request was allowed to wrap 10 million pounds worth of toxic plastic that went up like tissue paper round the exact same block. To make it “look pretty” and appease the people in the more gentrified homes down the road who weren’t happy their view was obscured by sub standard poor houses. That poverty was on their doorstep in pleasantville so they had to put a metaphorical screen round it so they could feel better whilst sipping their lattes and eating their Waitrose dinners.

Don’t let the government tell you different.

The residents had been tirelessly warning that this could happen. That it would cause mass amounts of avoidable death. That they lived in piss poor conditions and you know what? They were ignored.

They wanted to bring a lawsuit against the people responsible for the block- both Kensington and Chelsea council (which until last week was a Tory stronghold) and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. They couldn’t. People in the block, despite living in what is a very well to do borough, were not in a position to pay for solicitors to bring their case. Nor could they- as people could previously- get Legal Aid to bring their case, because Legal Aid is now largely an outdated institution that was removed for “costing too much”.

I have long said, as a longterm renter since the age of 17, that there are simply no rights for tenants. If you can’t buy your own gaff, you are beholden to a person, or group, to take your rent and pay you the courtesy of keeping you safe, of doing repairs in a timely manner and with registered tradesman, of not cutting corners and of giving respect.

Whilst volunteering with the Salvation Army, I was shocked and appalled at some of the stories fed back by service users.

Of Landlords who refused to give the standard 24 hours notice before entering a property. Who let themselves in when they saw fit. Riffled through cupboards. All sorts for no reason.

The intimidation I have heard about- and sadly experienced myself- is unreal.

The power balance for tenants is unfairly pitched towards the Landlord.

Yes, you will hear politicians and Councillors say that Tenants can complain. There is the Environmental Health. They can give notice and move somewhere else. They can go on the council list and get a new home that way.

All utterly wonderful if not totally inaccurate.

Twice we have had cause to complain about substandard, unsafe property. Twice, as a result, we were threatened, abused, and then given notice to quit. One Landlord refused to allow us to put a handrail up the staircase, and, as a result, one evening- thankfully and mercifully after I put Mini to bed and before I was pregnant with Littlest- I fell down and over the side of the staircase and am still suffering pain in my back and neck ten years later. We complained and on that occasion the Environmental Health team came out. They found several high level faults with house, and placed an order on the owner to fix things- things we hadn’t even been aware of. That cost her a lot more than the £50 that we wanted to pay ourselves to fit a handrail.

And I’m sure those of you who have read this blog for years will remember the Landlord who left us, for five years, living in a frankly inhumane dump after promising verbally to fix the home swiftly after we moved in.

The water feature indoors, the black and white thick mold that made us all ill, the staircase that collapsed under Littlest (and which he left with no banister on the landing for months before we paid for it ourselves despite him telling us we weren’t allowed to without his permission). The windows we couldn’t open as they were literally falling out the wall. The electrics that were unsafe and had no trip switches, and the boiler that was twice condemned and leaked gas and continuously had to be made safe by British Gas.

We went to the council then. We went to the Housing department, who refused us help as we were “adequately housed”. Their budgets are such that no new homes are being built, so those in houses- even shit shows like that one- are housed and not in need.

Refuse to pay rent as some charities tell you to and that leads to a notice to quit. We tried that with the Handrail Landlady and all that happened was a Magistrate told us we were out of order and to leave- siding with her and her unsafe home. The councils will then say they find you “intentionally homeless”- meaning you have done something which has made someone kick you out and thus they wont even offer temporary accommodation.

The lines on “Intentional homeless” are blurred by borough too.

In Maidenhead (Theresa May’s Constituency), if you leave before you receive a Bailiff Order, they will not help. You have moved out in their eyes before you should. What they don’t mention is that this leaves you open to court costs into the hundreds of pounds levied by the Court. And more costs associated with the owner going to Bailiffs to get you out. You wont know exactly when these Bailiffs will come either- leaving you in danger of losing your worldly goods.

In Reading, when our last Landlord out the blue decided- despite signing new contracts months before- to kick all seven families including ours from his properties to place them for sale, we asked where we stood should we not be able to find new Private housing, expecting to be told to not move until the Bailiff order.

In this borough, you are expected to go no later than the last day on the notice to quit or guess what? No help for you!

And what if the Landlord wants you gone because they’ve screwed up financially and the Notice you have is no fault of your own? Tough. Deal with it and move.

What if they put the rent up by a ridiculous amount you can’t afford? Tough. Deal with it and move.

The only safety net now is the much lauded “DPS” or Deposit Protection Service.

This is seen as fairer to Tenants and Landlords, but when you leave a property, you need your deposit to secure the next one. All fine if you are lucky and have a good Landlord or Agent who knows fair wear and tear and who doesn’t argue the toss unless you’ve wrecked the place. Then you should receive it within days of moving on if not on the day.

Enter into a disagreement though, and it’s 30 working days of to and fro until the DPS makes a decision. How many people have time to take photos in case of when they move in and move out? Not very many. And once you’ve left the building you can’t then gain evidence that the owner or Agent is lying through their teeth.

It is a warped system.

For years, action groups, charities and, dare I say it, Jeremy Corbyn himself have campaigned for improvements and legislation to protect the rights of Tenants. But very few have made it through parliament.

In fact, the last bill that went up for consideration was outvoted by 312 Tory ministers (and none from other parties).

It is this self serving attitude that is yet another reason why this out of touch party should not be allowed to be the decision makers.

The very fact that May couldn’t give a few scant minutes to speak to the victims says it all. Yes, they would have shouted at her, they would have been angry. Quite right too- they’ve just lost their homes and everything they owned down to negligence and poor planning. Did they not deserve that outlet? This is the Political figurehead of our country, and she hid. She took the cowards route.

That suddenly there are unsubstantiated stories relating to the owner of the fridge said to have started the blaze tells you that clearly the party machine is in full whirl to stop blame going where it should and corporate Manslaughter charges being brought against those who damn well deserve them.

This latest showing of May’s ineptitude, her lack of care for the many again, now with the people living in these substandard hell holes due to a lack of money, and previously with the electorate giving her a strong message that we don’t want her mandate, not to mention the people of Northern Ireland and their now shaky peace treaty, its time for her to resign. In fact, the time for her to bow out was last Friday.

May those affected in the blaze find peace and strength, and my prayers go out to those who lost their lives.

And this time, please, will lessons really be learned.

#LifeSchool: All You Need to Know About Renting

I like helping you guys out, and following from my usual tongue in cheek #BlogSchool series, I thought I’d bring you #LifeSchool too.

My intention with #LifeSchool is to give my hard come by advice from experience of dealing with the type of crap they don’t teach you in school. Yes, we get told about teen pregnancy, drugs and the like, but how many times were you taught about your rights when renting, or who to complain to about Appeals or School issues, or crap Doctors?

Exactly.

As I am a moaning bastard, who hates being ripped off or having my nearest and dearest treated like rubbish, I have long since gained a few tips and tricks on dealing with the stuff liable to make you turn grey.

Starting off today with Renting.

I’ve rented since I was 17, and have had a cavalcade of every type of Landlord and home in different areas you can find. The good, bad and money grabbing fuckwit, if you will.

If you know your rights though, you will, like me, become every dodgy Agent or Landlords worst nightmare.

MOVING IN

Moving in is stressful enough- there’s the packing, the unpacking, the breaking your back moving thousands of sodding vinyl when you could just have a sodding iPod (oh, wait, that’s just our house), but there are things to remember straight away.

Even before you pick up the keys, make sure you get a full and frank run down of all fees and expenses you are expected to fork out upfront. So, if your Landlord or Agent asks for £1,200 as a deposit, ask if there are any non refundable fees such as a key fee, a holding fee, or a credit check fee. Yes, all of these can and will possibly apply, as sadly no rules are in place to stop Agents or Landlords charging whatever they like. There is nothing worse than finding a home you love, only to find out that there is an extra £800-£1000+ to pay which you will never get back.

Be aware of the state of the property too. If possible, before you move even a rug in, go around your new home, with a trusty camera or phone, and take pictures of all the fixtures and fittings which aren’t your own. Damp patch on the wall? Log it. Marks on the carpet or lino? Write it down and take photos.

Some Agents will already have taken an Inventory, which they will send you a copy of to sign and agree, but always, always read everything before you sign. Add in any notes of items or breakages you can find, however minor. In our old house, we were told the walls in one bedroom were green and the carpet, cooker and fridge freezer were all as new, but actually the walls were cream and the other bits far from new.

It may seem petty, but at some point you will need to leave, and again, that free reign to charge what they like comes into play again.

If you  have wrecked a carpet, then make inquiries on how much like for like carpet will cost, get a quote and receipt. Think that will never happen? In one home in Maidenhead, we were told to remove a carpet by the owner, and did so, varnishing the floor. All fine right? NOPE.

On moving out, they wanted to take our entire deposit to replace the carpet. We had nothing in writing saying we could remove it and our Landlord had sudden amnesia. We visited our local carpet fitters, found the same very cheap carpet and got a quote, minus a percentage due to “Fair Wear and Tear” We only had to pay a tiny amount as we could prove the amount they wanted to scam us for was by far too much.

THE BEST ADVICE FOR ALL THINGS RENTING OR OTHERWISE

That’s another thing to always remember, no matter who you are dealing with- GET IT IN WRITING.

Its so easy to contact most people we deal with these days via email. You can then have a file system and drop all emails in it, however minor the issue.

This helped when we moved from our last property two weeks back. We had a dispute over our deposit and, as it was in a DPS (Deposit Protection Service- a government initiative to stop unscrupulous Landlords from holding your deposit themselves and holding it to ransom), we were facing months of arguments before it was released- something we couldn’t stand for as we had to hand our deposit to our new Agent. Now, Landlords know this, so they will hope you cave rather than lose a home you’ve found.

Hell no.

Our (stupid white and not new on moving in) upstairs carpet was bollocked. Not by us. We paid money to clean it, but, when we first moved in, dodgy workmen fixed our roof and dust and dirt of some 30 year vintage was able to get indoors with gay abandon. Luckily, I still had my email where I told the Agents this, and could quote this to them along with their Tenancy. Funnily enough, within 24 hours they gave the full deposit back and shelved their £90 check out fee too!

IF YOU SIGNED IT, MAKE SURE YOU READ IT FIRST

That’s another biggie which may seem dull and annoying but is worth it in the long run- make yourself aware of the major points of your Tenancy.

Has it got a break clause? These are handy for you if you hate your new home and want to move as it gives you the right to give two months notice within a Tenancy. However, as just happened to us, even if you paid £90 to resign a new Tenancy and this doesn’t run out until the end of May, if your Landlord decides, as with ours, to sell up all his properties, he can give you the same two months regardless.

Look for clauses on extra fees- like the resign fee, or maintenance fees. Got a problem that needs fixing? Many tenancies include a fair fixing period which, should your problem not be sorted in this time frame can save you money (as with the three months we waited for a new door, which gave me a £30 reduction on the aforementioned resign fee). You can also withhold rent, but this will not be popular, and its worth knowing that if a Landlord can prove you are in debt with rent, they can have your removal from their home happen in 14 days rather than taking months.

MASSIVE COCK UPS AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM

What can you do if things go very wrong?

Got a house that’s really unsafe? Then if you’ve spoken to the Landlord or Agent (over email, of course), and they still wont do anything, you can go to your local Environmental Health team at the local council. They can, and will, for free, inspect a property and can if need be take a Landlord to court and give out fines if they don’t do work to make a home safe. This costs you nothing, but bear in mind the Landlord will possibly not be best pleased and could give you notice.

HOMELESSNESS DOESN’T HAVE TO HAPPEN IF YOU’RE SMART

If you are facing homelessness, contact your local council straight away with any paperwork you have, including your eviction notice. If you have been good tenants and don’r have rent arrears, then they will give you advice, and can help with the cost of a deposit to secure a new home.

That’s a big thing to remember- keep up with rent and get receipts to prove you’ve paid. If you act responsibly, you will get more help than those who don’t pay up or wreck a home- if this is the case you will be classed as “Intentionally Homeless” and will not even be given Temporary Housing in a B&B, let alone allowed to join a Housing List.

Don’t let me worry you! Not every Agent or Landlord is a scam artist, but if things do go wrong, be polite, quote law and your rights, and you should do fine.

WHERE TO GO FOR ADVICE

If you do get stuck though, you can always contact agencies such as The Citizens Advice Bureau, the DPS Service, or Shelter- not to mention your local Housing team- for free, impartial and up to date advice.

Got a question for #LifeSchool? Get in touch, if it’s not something I’ve come up against, I will know someone who has and am always happy to learn new ways to not get scammed so will find out for you!

Next on #LifeSchool, dealing with Appeals and School related issues. How not to get your little darling turfed out of a place.