One of the most common practices with London landlords is buying a rental house as an investment, then using that to buy another, and another and another. A flurry of activity had

preceded the peak of the housing market at the end of the eighties. Following this

period, in the slump, it was more profitable for landlords to rent to higher paying

tenants than to sell. The process of bribery was additionally linked to buy-offs to

avoid court cases;

“at the end of the other day what I would say is ‘money talks’; what you find is

that a lot of prosecutions disappear because a landlord comes along and says

here’s six thousand if you disappear or six hundred, if your poor enough you are

going to take it.”

Rather than being a form of compensation what is actually happening is the landlord

is taking advantage of the situation of the tenant. Many such tenants being bought out

were elderly, of whom staggering proportions were being induced to leave by their

landlords; in Camden 33% of elderly regulated tenants were facing harassment or

inducements to leave. It may well be that tenure security accounted for such a high

figure but this is only where secure rents linked to ability to pay are left low in

relation to wider rates. An inducement was described as “an offer of money but if you

don’t take it your life is going to be made a misery, its an inducement with a threat

behind it”, in other words it is harassment whichever way one looks at it.

It might be argued that displacement by being bought out is no displacement at all

but such inducements are offered with threats being made if refused making such a

view untenable. Logic dictates that inducements would only be offered where the

landlord imagines that the tenant would not normally wish to leave so that an offer of

money is effectively a form of harassment. Emphasis should be less on how much is

offered in the form of ‘compensation’ by the landlord and more on whether tenants

are going to be able to remain in an area of their choice.

While latent threats often lay behind the offer of payments to leave more direct action

by landlords was not rare in the effort to get rid of unwanted tenants in order to get

better paying tenants or to sell. Predictions were made about the re-emergence of

various unpleasant methods in order to move people out of accommodation, especially

since the housing markets in these areas had seen a massive revival since the early

nineties; a point borne out by conversations with estate agents in the area. The process

was described in the following terms;

“some of the people who were got out were evicted; they were got out by fairly

unpleasant and in most cases illegal methods. There were a lot of people

displaced from that period (late eighties). More recently it has been more an

income related thing, its been ‘we don’t need to resort to illegal methods all we

do is basically keep upping the rent’ until they cant afford it”

When it was suggested that at least this meant that violence was not being used the

TRW indicated that, while not desirable, where violence and threats had been used

there were stronger remedies available to prevent harassment than where prices rises

were used since these forms of displacement are not viewed as such and are largely

seen as acceptable or tolerable forms of exclusion in the wider community.

Asked whether there had been harassment of secure tenants in order to get them to

sign assured shorthold contracts (a point mentioned in Burrows and Hunter, 1990) it

appeared that harassment had been more often used to get rid of, rather than

persuade, tenants. In tandem with tenure of security is the issue of attempts by

landlords to drive up the ‘fair rents’ of secure tenants. Another problem for these

groups occurs where tenants have low incomes but which are too high to receive

benefit;

“elderly people in the mansion blocks are classics for this, people with private

pensions and some capital. It does drive some people out or others to use their

capital…the only way they can stay in their homes is either use up their savings

or they simply give up and look for somewhere that is cheaper outside this area”

Harassment was particularly prevalent in all of the areas for elderly tenants, especially

where they were secure tenants. This was occurring particularly where market rents

and values of property had increased dramatically and/or where fair rent tenants lived

adjacent to market rent tenants. In Camden the view was taken that many of the older

tenants were now feeling vulnerable to this form of abuse;

“there were certainly illegal forms of harassment in the past, now of course what

they do is go to the rent officer and say they want to double the rent they are

getting at the moment, and the rent officer has to look at market rents and arrive

at a figure which he says is fair which bears some relation to those market rents”

Such assessments are strongly affected by the surrounding market, if the area has

changed dramatically and there are cafes, restaurants and delicatessens the landlord

will often use these to make the case that the area is now much more desirable and

that a greater rent should be paid.

Another significant factor relating to harassment and eviction in Brent was through

the mechanism of landlord mortgage default which has led lenders to seek vacant

possession for resale through the eviction of tenants. Tenants are only protected from

eviction in these cases when their tenancy agreements were drawn up before a

mortgage was taken out, usually a minority of tenants. While this is not gentrification

in itself the result might well be the gentrification of the property following resale – it

may be, then, that mortgage default has provided a cheap market of suitable

accommodation for young professionals in these areas; gentrification by default.

Eviction, though legal, may be considered an injudicious abuse of power where it is

used against tenants who are quietly enjoying property in order to increase revenues.

Eviction was being used to get old tenants out and new ones or to sell the property.

Such activity is now at record highs and yet court cases appear to reflect on the tip of

the ice berg while prosecutions form a low part of such cases .

Of course, for many tenants there was no longer any need for harassment or eviction

because of the landlords ability to terminate assured shorthold tenancy agreements

after the initial six month period. This makes it very easy for landlords to have a

relatively quick, easy and perfectly legal turnover of tenants and was identified in

Brent where, if there was a problem, it was invisible to the agency’s monitoring.

 

If people drop out of the rental or homeowner market it may be extremely difficult for

them to maintain a hold in the area, as observed earlier. It may be that the move alters

their situation to one of benefit dependence which will also mean that they are often

unlikely to be able to approach an agency for help;

“the bigger problem now is that benefit won’t cover the rents and that does create

problems because they know they are not going to get the rent. If you went to an

agency on income support you wouldn’t get anything”

The result of displacement from areas by exclusion from overpriced markets will

result in the barring of the next generation of communities in these areas, except

where they are so poor that the state will lend a hand in getting them accommodation.

These are the ‘local service workers’, the low paid workers and people who provide

services like rubbish collection and the kind of person that estate agents admitted were

highly likely to be priced out of areas like Netting Hill. One can only conclude that

some form of intervention is required to maintain affordable and middle income

homes in these areas or to prevent such distorted markets from occurring.

In one case a perverse reason for displacement appeared to be to achieve greater

charitable resources. This appeared in the form of the;

“Henry Smith estate which has been gentrified to hell in order to make loads of

money and the money that is made is then used for charitable purposes, which I

think is hilarious, because these charitable purposes are being paid for by driving

people off the estate. Henry Smith trustees are under a duty to get as much

money from the trust fund as they can…so what they have actually done to do

that is to drive people out who were previously paying rent which was set by rent

officers.”

The Church Commissioners provide a slightly different example of equally insidious

ways in which the desire to secure greater rental returns has lead to gentrification and

displacement. On the Kings Road they evicted artists from dwellings in order to sell

the property and there have been other examples whereby charities have had their

tenancies left un-renewed so that higher paying tenants could come in.

15The Church Commissioners are charged with getting the maximum return on the assets of the Church

of England and face pressure having lost hundreds of millions of pounds through property speculation

losses between 1989 and 1992