Recent Posts:

Housing Notes: Part 1 - Why There Isn't a Housing Crisis || Phantom Citations and Pregnancy Tests || Does printing crisis line numbers help or harm? || Notes on 'Shadow Work' || Truth In Elections || Rent Control isn't scary when you already live in Worst Case London || Next →

Housing Notes: Part 1 - Why There Isn't a Housing Crisis

Aug 31, 2015

If there's a housing crisis, why aren't we acting like it? Why is the green belt a sacred cow but affordable living not?

Going back to basics:  'crisis' is an old medical work – meaning the last time at which the patient can recover. Current meaning is closer to ‘decline that impairs ability to function’. This meaning can (and is) deployed more often but lacks the urgency associated with original meaning. Each year not building enough houses is creating more work for future people to build more houses than the currently demonstrated ability to do so. There is no date at which housing can be said to have succeeded/failed. Eternal little (or in reality large) failures – but we’ll do better next year. Never said – “this is a permanent failure that requires radical action.”

People are very bad as saying ‘this has failed’ with ongoing processes. We will produce less carbon in future than our current attitude and resources suggests is likely – we will build more houses in future than our current attitude and resources suggests is likely. Tomorrow is someone else’s problem. The poor sap.

I think there's a fundamental disconnect in how people perceive ‘housing crisis’. When I talk about a housing crisis I’m thinking of a situation where:

  • Too many people living in substandard housing – with no political will to improve situation.
  • Too many people living in insecure housing (short tenure, other people with physical access, risk of evictions) - with no political will to improve situation.
  • The prices of living in this undesirable situation is constantly rising – with no political will to improve situation.
  • At a more oblique level – a moral crisis. A rentier class extracts wealth from another group who live in bad circumstances without choice – making money from human misery. This class holds reasonable lobbying power and sometimes as individuals direct political power.

What makes a ‘bad thing’ a crisis is that it is clear it will not just recover on its own. Left to their own devices all the above will get worse.

I think for most people a ‘housing crisis’ is more fundamental than that:

  • You either have a roof over your head or you don’t.

Being on the street is a crisis, rent being expensive is not. This is young people whining about being young and poor people whining about being poor. Change the record. The situation is not bad enough to re-examine fundamental assumptions (individual resistance to new local building, cultural resistance to reducing green belts).

So where is the “real” housing crisis? There’s an idea in climate change that there are ‘carbon sinks’ that absorb carbon from atmosphere but at some point they will decline in effectiveness and rise in atmospheric CO2 proceeds much quicker.  This can be reduced to a metaphor – ‘a device that commutes effect of bad thing but will eventually stop’. What are housing’s carbon sinks? For a few:

  • Private landlords used to house people councils have legal duty towards. Families housed in B&Bs for extended periods, etc.
  • Children living with parents for longer.
  • Unsustainable high proportions of income being spent on rent. Many people on brink of affordability – in crisis will be unable to afford.

First is most obvious give point – there is only so much housing that can be used as emergency housing. To avoid the very bad thing of children on the streets councils are shipping people to less expensive areas. Headlines about people being taken away from their families and lives – but reader might enter fairness paradigm at this point: ‘Why should I pay so much to have a house in London and have the life I want and someone else get it for free? If you can’t afford it you should go somewhere cheaper’ (with even poorer job prospects, etc). So safety valve on housing crisis folds into "poor people want something for nothing" as opposed to “why is there nothing affordable?”

Second point is an obvious frustration to that generation and helps hide full scale of housing shortage but again has obstacles to seeing it as a real problem.

Fundamentally people want to believe in a just world and that people get what they deserve. Children these days are just more dependent on their parents, not like we were. A series of metaphors are deployed to mark this generation as especially unable to cope outside the nest (itself a metaphor for ‘maturity involves leaving home’). ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ is used as ‘kids will be financially irresponsible’ but also interestingly ‘too young to enter real financial world’. A requirement for inter-generational wealth transfers appears to replace the institutions and availability of capital that existed at an earlier time (and of course, family wealth is not available to everyone) – but metaphor is deployed as being between generations and reinforce idea of immaturity of youth – not a comment on the different societies different generations live in.

If a lot of people weren’t working hard to keep homelessness down (by finding enterprising ways to move people around to some form of shelter) or opting out of market (living longer with parents) there would be a far more obvious homelessness crisis. It is a good thing there isn’t! But we’re left with a perception gap.

People who need to believe there is a crisis (because they can stop construction of required housing in the right places) don’t. This is a large part of the problem.

Phantom Citations and Pregnancy Tests

Aug 27, 2015

Quick extension to my Lambert notes: the history of pregnancy tests! Or things we believe that probably aren't true.

Lambert's tendency (and to be fair, we all do this a bit) to view the time of his upbringing as a natural thing to view the future against runs into problems when we remember the modern age is both quick changing and often quite weird historically.

In any case, home pregnancy tests remove the doctor’s office and medical lab from the process. In days of yore, the pregnant woman was not the first to learn of her status ; her doctor’s office called with the joyous (or confounding) news. Now, only the woman herself needs know she is with child. This grants her more privacy and more control. It also transforms what can be a memorable shared event into a solitary encounter with a plastic stick. The epiphany occurs in a silo.

This might be a culture clash thing, but privacy related to your own body seems good. The need for a doctor to be involved here at all is probably historically odd - the quickening was fairly private, while deemed legally significant. Mid-twentieth century isn't 'days of yore'.

This led to some research on when pregnancy tests started to appear historically. Various listicles will give you the fact the first pregnancy test recorded was in Egypt in 1350BCE and involved urinating on barley. You'll then also get told that this isn't actually a bad method! Everywhere I look has a claim that there was a study in 1963 that found this method was 70% accurate.

I'm a bit suspicious of this. I can't find this 1963 study - I can find a review in 1966 that refers to a study in the 1941 which found this test gave results where "75% were correctly positive and 85% correctly negative".

I can't trace it further than this - I can't find a copy of the original article easily accessibly anywhere.  It's possible it's everything the summary says it is - but we can't be sure. Googling the author and keywords gives us this interesting summary which also expresses doubt on the validity of the Egyptian method as "human urine may contain plant hormones which stimulate plant growth, but the level of these hormones does not appear to increase in pregnancy (pg 19).

So I'm sceptical of the whole thing now. Don't trust the internet.

Does printing crisis line numbers help or harm?

Aug 27, 2015

I've reached the point in my suicide contagion project where new research is starting to fit very nicely into the final framework (which hopefully suggests I'm onto something, or alternatively that I've become blind to contrary information - either/or). Today I read some new research by Stack (2015) on if crisis phones on bridges were an effective means of suicide prevention.

What he found was a little unsettling. We know people use them (good!) and that these people tend not to jump (also good!) but did suicides on the bridge increase or decrease after their installation? They rose. Ah, but did the population increase? No. Did the local suicide rate increase as well? No it went down. Ah.

Stack draws attention to a blog that covers bridge suicides (as well as media coverage) that may be responsible in part for people choosing bridge suicide over another method. But he also notes (if we believe that 'suggestion' has influence on suicide) we should look carefully at those phones:

The suggestion thesis holds that the phones, which were installed with signs alerting suicidal people that they offer a link to help, will suggest suicide to vulnerable persons. These at-risk individuals may otherwise not have thought of suicide off the bridge (Beautrais, 2007; Glatt, 1987). The suggestion hypothesis assumes that such signs will affect only vulnerable persons at risk of suicide. It is unlikely that they would impact healthy person.

This last point is important - given we generally hold that at-risk people can be negatively affected by messaging we should consider this even when intentions are good.  Research on other public health interventions show we cannot rule out that things done in good faith to save lives will end up doing net harm.

Klimes-Dougan and Lee (2010) did a study on if suicide prevention billboards were effective - finding negative as well as positive effects. They found their billboard ("Prevent Suicide, Treat Depression – See your Doctor" ) was in general good at getting people to believe that treating depression was a good way to reduce suicide - but also that their high-risk group tended to end up with a stronger perceived link between depression and suicide after viewing a billboard. The worry here is that being too explicit about the connection to depressed people encourages a railroading of their future down that path. Their TV ad by contrast didn't have that effect - it used the phrase "it can even lead to suicide" as an escalation of symptoms of depression, making death one of several possible options.

The billboard group also ended up with lower help-seeking scores than the no-information group (A TV advert did better however, public health campaigns not completely doomed) - directly encouraging people to seek help might not have the results you hope for.

The lesson here is that this is tricky stuff - the words you use matter. A workshop on public messages for suicide prevention made the point that broad campaigns might be bad:

Broad-based campaigns that are likely to reach multiple audiences should determine how subgroups of intended populations (or nontargeted groups of a population) might have different attitudes about suicide, and may respond differently to messages geared towards increasing help-seeking behavior (Cauce et al. 2002).

But also that targeted campaigns might be bad:

For example, certain American Indian nations have very high rates of suicide. A campaign via popular Indian radio stations that highlights the high prevalence may inadvertently normalize suicide and send the message that such behaviour is expected and is inevitable. Groups with high rates may get the message that they have experienced an expected behaviour, and the groups with lower rates are simply "lagging behind" on what is seen to be inevitable.

You might say they're just being risk adverse - but we have to acknowledge that letting words loose into the world with the aim of saving lives is something we seem to know little about. As Beautrais, Fergusson, Coogan et al (2007) put it:

Until there is clear evidence that public health messages about suicide prevent, and do not normalize, suicide, and have no deleterious effects, the most prudent approach to this issue is not to include public health messages as part of a suicide prevention strategy.

This brings us to print crisis lines after newspaper articles in suicide - which are pretty clearly public health messages that are advocated frequently as part of a suicide prevention strategy.   Stack brings up Niederkrontenthaler et al (2010) who found that newspaper stories that printed the phone number of a crisis link seemed associated with an increase in suicide rates. Now for the record, the authors were more sceptical of this result than some of their others (they were checking for so many things and it was one of their least significant results - although still p < 0.05) - but I can't find anyone else who has suggested anything to the contrary. Others have done research on if suicide lines are effective on those they reach e.g Gould et al (2007) (answer: yes-ish - reduction in pain and hopelessness, but not an apparent reduction in intent to die), there seems to be very little work on if the advertisement of the lines is a good idea.

The problem here is the population who is exposed to the advertisement but who will not be exposed to any positive effect of the helpline - if this group contains at-risk individuals (which it does) then there is the prospect of harm. That printing a suicide number could be negative is consistent with research that billboards can have a harmful effect and the idea that crisis phones on bridges might not be universally fantastic.

That certain wordings of these crisis line adverts might be worse than others is consistent with the idea that suicide contagion is more powerful when people can identify (and have similarities) with the subject of the article. If the wording asks you if you identify ("If you're affected..." - "ooh, am I?") it might create or intensify a one-to-one relationship with the subject of the article upon introspection. This suggests that they shouldn't be viewed as a corrective or an addendum to the article but part of the text and so part of any journey of identification.

There clearly isn't enough evidence to say this is something papers should stop doing - but I think it's something we need to think more carefully about.  I find it worrying I can create a hypothesis based on the same theoretical framework the rest of contagion works on - and that's consistent with the evidence we do have - that says we are possibly making things worse.  Even if we take Niederkrontenthaler et al.'s scepticism seriously and move their result to the 'not proven' column it is deeply concerning that we have almost no positive evidence we can point to and say "printing the phone number makes the suicide rate go down" . The idea that the message can never have a negative effect on non-callers needs to have more thought put into it to justify the pre-eminence of this advice.

Stack's main point is that crisis phones are not a good substitute for barriers on bridges (just much cheaper). It's not clear what a more effective alternative to crisis line ads following suicide stories would be. I find the fact that most people who suffer from suicidal thoughts end up not taking their own life a reassuring idea - a disclaimer built around this idea encourages identification with the living rather than the dead (and creates a universe larger than the reader and the subject) could be an approach to explore. But there's no evidence on if this would be a good approach or not.

The final section of my project will deal more generally with how little evidence there is for a lot of suggested interventions - but I wanted to share a glimpse into just how much of an unknown doing anything 'positive' in this area can be.


Stack, Steven. “Crisis Phones – Suicide Prevention Versus Suggestion/Contagion Effects.” Crisis, no. August (2015): 1–5. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000313.

Chambers, David A, Jane L Pearson, Keri Lubell, Susan Brandon, Kevin O Brien, and Janet Zinn. “The Science of Public Messages for Suicide Prevention : A Workshop Summary” 35, no. April (2005): 134–45.

Gould, Madelyn S, John Kalafat, Jimmie Lou Harrismunfakh, and Marjorie Kleinman. “An Evaluation of Crisis Hotline Outcomes Part 2 : Suicidal Callers” 37, no. June (2007): 338–52.

Klimes-Dougan, Bonnie, and Chih-Yuan Steven Lee. “Suicide Prevention Public Service Announcements: Perceptions of Young Adults.” Crisis 31, no. 5 (January 2010): 247–54. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000032.

Beautrais, A., Fergusson, D., Coggan, C., Collings, C., Doughty, C., Ellis, P., Hatcher, S. et al. (2007). Effective strategies for suicide prevention in New Zealand: A review of the evidence. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 120, 1–11.

For quoted sections:

Beautrais, A. (2007). Suicide by jumping: A review of research & prevention strategies. Crisis, 28 (Suppl. 1), 58–63.

Cauce, A.M., Domenech-Rodriguez, M, Paradise, M., Cochran, B.N., Shea, J. M., Srebnik, D,. et al. (2002) Cultural and contextual influences in mental health help seeking: A focus on ethnic minority youth. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70, 44-55

Glatt, K. M. (1987). Helpline: Suicide prevention at a suicide site. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 17, 299–309

Notes on 'Shadow Work'

Aug 16, 2015

Notes on Craig Lambert's 'Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day'. Short: just read the article version - doesn't gain much from book length.



I ADAPTED THIS term from the 1981 book Shadow Work by Austrian philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich. For Illich, shadow work included all the unpaid labor done in a wage-based economy, such as housework. In a subsistence economy, work directly answers the needs of life: gathering food, growing crops, building shelters, tending fires. But once money and wages come into play, we encounter a whole range of tasks that do not address our basic needs. Instead, such jobs enable us to earn money to buy necessities and, if possible, luxuries. That is paid work, not our subject here. This book will identify and describe the unpaid jobs (like commuting) that an industrial economy spins off for its citizens. Such jobs go unnoticed because they take place in the wings of the theater while we are absorbed in the onstage drama of our lives. They exist in the shadows. Yet they are every bit as real as anything in the spotlight.

'Adapted' is probably the right word - the critique of self-help is a bit more fierce in in Illich's original. Illich's definition of shadow work:

I call this compliment to wage labour 'shadow work'. It comprises most housework women do in their homes and apartments, the activities connected with shopping, most of the homework of students cramming for exams, the toil expended commuting to and from the job. It includes the stress of forced consumption, the tedious and regimented surrender to therapists, compliance with bureaucrats, the preparation for work to which one is compelled, and many of the activities usually labelled 'family life'. (p 100)

The false virtue of self-reliance

Yet, unquestionably, it gives us more to do. Minor tasks like returning our supermarket shopping carts to a holding pen or busing our own Starbucks tables have become routine. “Why am I doing this?” asked Daniel, a philosophy professor in western Massachusetts, wheeling his empty shopping cart to the collection area. “What happened to those teenagers who used to collect these things? I kind of liked watching them push about twenty carts, all nested together, across the parking lot.”

A sign a few pages in that I'm not necessarily on the same wavelength. Almost the idea here that tidying up after yourself  (and this being framed as a virtue) is a con so companies don't have to pay people to clean up after you (and selfish of you because you're denying them jobs). Possible I'm just socialised into finding that odd but mechanically, it's only a short jump to the broken window fallacy.

Social Mobility

If these bankers had gone out on hundreds of mortgage appraisals like my dad did, seeing the actual houses for which they were lending money and meeting real, live borrowers, would the 2008 banking crisis have happened?

Probably? I think it's hard to argue that no bad decisions were ever made before people put their own trolleys away?

But how does an aspiring banker work his way up from the teller’s window if ATMs and shadow-working customers have displaced tellers? How does a secretary become the office manager and later an executive if shadow work eliminates support staff— so there are no secretaries?

Here we get to interesting questions about social mobility. I'll come back to this.

For those without education and skills, these low-level positions often are their careers. If such jobs vanish, a throng of unemployed young people will find themselves with little money and too much spare time. This is a dangerous development in any society. Unrest and violence throughout the Arab world have erupted from streets teeming with young men lacking jobs— angry youths who congregate online through social media. Such mobs can become unruly. In 2003, the dissolution of the Iraqi army put 400,000 young men out of work , triggering a bloody insurgency that still continues. In today’s global village, where citizens network and congregate in political flashmobs, we cannot risk creating an immense underclass of idle youth.

De-Ba'athification and self-checkouts seem like extreme companions. Is the issue of this situation no means of support (money can be exchanged for goods and services) or spare time (Victorians standardise football to attempt to control spare time, mixed results)? One is better to intervene in than the other. Are there better solutions than just maintain rubbish jobs?

House Work

Illich argues that this unpaid work is a necessary shadow component to allow wage labour to exist at all and comes back to the unpaid work of women again and again - "The amount of shadow work laid on a person today is a much better measure of discrimination than bias on the job"(p 101).  Lambert takes this to an extent, discussing medical students where female doctors in training were found to spend far more time performing household duties compared to their male counterparts but pulls back from this at the end:

There is a place for amateur work. Those domestic chores ground you in daily realities that sometimes go by the name of life. They connect you with your home, those rooms and furnishings that serve you without complaint. They bond you to your family, because the shadow work of housekeeping can be a tangible form of love. The fact that my mom cooked our meals, washed our clothes, and hung them on a clothesline to dry—even in winter— and kept our home clean and orderly, meant so much to my father, sister, brother, and me. Mom wanted us to have the conditions for a healthy and happy life. Keeping house remains the most meaningful form of shadow work. When a paid cook, laundress, nanny, or maid does household tasks, the jobs may be executed very well, but they’re done for a salary, not from love of family. Inevitably, the work of servants has a different feeling.

Lambert's version of "Shadow Work" is noticeable less biting than Illich's. If we accept that supermarkets tricking us with 'self reliance' to do our own checkout is promoting virtue as a con, it's hard to see how "[k]eeping house remains the most meaningful form of shadow work" is any less so. Shadow work that dents the prospects of men like his father to work up the ladder is bad, shadow work by women that enabled his father the time to do that is good. I don't mind a definition of shadow work where it "just is" rather than being bad (giving free labour) or good (control and privacy)  - but when so much of the tone of the book is "You didn't realise you were doing other people's jobs for them you sucker" bits like this stick out.


The upshot is an army of young people doing full-time shadow work for months or even years, trying to break into the job market as unpaid trainees.

Say there's a good book about that...

The internship juggernaut represents a massive, widespread, institutionalized form of shadow work. The 2011 exposé Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy, by Ross Perlin, offers a biting critique of the internship explosion.

Which Lambert has also read, so just go read that. Accept these are related problems but has to be a distinction between consumers taking on the work of the companies they buy from (doing work that reduces costs for free) and doing a recognisable job for free (internships). Is a definition of shadow work that encompasses both actually useful?

Servants and Service

In the United States, we feel a profound ambivalence about receiving personal service. In this respect, America differs from the Old World, where monarchs ruled for centuries. Europeans are accustomed to royalty, nobility, and aristocracies, settled in their palaces and great mansions with domestic servants. Indeed, hereditary monarchs still sit on thrones in Britain, Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Europe has long lived with an entrenched class structure that included a servant class waiting on their “betters.” Consequently, Old World cultures feel a degree of comfort with personal service.

This is at best simplistic. Lucy Lethbridge's 'Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain' has an excellent running thread on the aristocracy slowly learning to do things themselves. For a bit more historical background on how changes in available labour and funds led the upper-class to "shadow-work" read that (although "Hey what were the rich up to?" is not the point of the book). Small snippet:

Concessions were made towards slightly smaller numbers of household staff but also to a generation that had begun to enjoy some independence and was not quite as deficient in practical skills as its parents’ generation had been. Breakfasts in grand houses, for example, became increasingly self-service, the dishes arranged on the sideboard

Bringing the historical picture into it is exactly what a book on "shadow work" should do (and what Illich does at length with the rise of wage labour). Is "Removing entry level work reduces social mobility" just a modern variation of "but how will people become butlers if there are less entry level servant jobs?" If not, why not? What lessons does the decline of servants have for the decline of a service-economy?

Also Lambert's assertion that tipping is an Americanism resulting from an unease to personal service is obviously ahistorical. It's not only a European import but was resisted by Americans at the time.


This section of the book is pretty clearly padding to reach the word limit, but by extending the concept to dating it completely falls apart:

Traditionally, people met dating partners through family and friends, at work, or through hobbies and social events. Today, various businesses also facilitate linking up. Professional matchmakers introduce their clients for a fee. Printed or online personal ads, singles groups and events (not just drinking and dancing but singles yoga classes, cycling trips, and gardening clubs), and “speed dating” help make connections. The fact that these businesses exist testifies that traditional ways of meeting are no longer getting the job done.

[...]Dating-site questionnaires probe views and preferences to build personality profiles. The data archive that shadow-working customers create for free becomes (like Facebook’s content) a valuable capital asset that the sites can monetize. In one sense, providing this data is just the obvious ante: You have to pony up information to play the game. On the other hand, it’s a task that does not arise when people meet via real social networks rather than virtual ones. In this way it qualifies as shadow work, as the dating site puts it in place.

[...]Late-night OkCupid work can mean sleeping less and finding yourself increasingly fatigued by the shadow work of dating. “Typically I would send messages back and forth via the site three times before one of us would suggest exchanging cell phone numbers to arrange a meeting,” Rachel says. “Once I had someone’s number I would probably exchange another three text messages to decide on a place and time and confirm meeting up.”

This is really, really pushing it. If "talking to people" is shadow-work literally anything that involves effort is now shadow-work. Is this unpaid work that makes wage labour possible? Is it even self-servicing what used to be done by wage labour? If we accept that amateur labour (doing work that others would be paid for) counts as shadow-work, then people match-making their friends is shadow-work because they're doing work that people are paying online sites to do. The concept as Lambert uses it means absolutely nothing.

Rent Control isn't scary when you already live in Worst Case London

Apr 26, 2015

A 2000 Paul Krugman article arguing the problems of rent control was going round twitter yesterday in response to Miliband rent control proposals in the UK. Ignoring the fact the Miliband's rent control is a controlled-rise system rather the the traditional set-up Krugman attacks, anyone who finds his San Francisco example scary doesn't really understand the current problems in the housing market:

On the other side, consider an article that appeared in yesterday's New York Times, ''In San Francisco, Renters Are Supplicants.'' It was an interesting piece, with its tales of would-be renters spending months pounding the pavements, of dozens of desperate applicants arriving at a newly offered apartment, trying to impress the landlord with their credentials. And yet there was something crucial missing -- specifically, two words I knew had to be part of the story.

Not that I have any special knowledge about San Francisco's housing market -- in fact, as of yesterday morning I didn't know a thing about it. But it was immediately obvious from the story what was going on. To an economist, or for that matter a freshman who has taken Economics 101, everything about that story fairly screamed those two words -- which are, of course, ''rent control.''

After all, the sort of landlord behavior described in the article -- demanding that prospective tenants supply resumes and credit reports, that they dress nicely and act enthusiastic -- doesn't happen in uncontrolled housing markets [emphasis mine]. Landlords don't want groveling -- they would rather have money. In uncontrolled markets the question of who gets an apartment is settled quickly by the question of who is able and willing to pay the most. And so I had no doubts about what I would find after a bit of checking -- namely, that San Francisco is a city where a technology-fueled housing boom has collided with a draconian rent-control law.

I find it hard to be too scared by this doomsday vision of prospective tenants at the mercy of strange landlord demands because this is pretty close to what I've actually experienced. I've written about it before but one place we almost moved the landlord, despite the fact the letting agent would do a reference check, demanded to see bank statements and have a meeting with us before accepting our offer.  This wasn't a friendly meeting, it was an aggressive "how do I know you won't leave early", "how stable are your jobs", "you don't have friends and parties right" meeting. You got the impression quickly he was of the "unexpected visit" school of bad landlords and having come from another bad landlord situation we got the deposit back and moved into another place. Here we spent the next year dealing with mould, rats, mice and cockroaches, but the choice we made was absolutely the right one. That would not have been a good landlord to have.

This can't be dismissed as "just one creep". Looking at bank statements is a practice defended on landlord forums because of the "risk" landlords take by being landlords. Another place wasn't even interested in renting a two double-bedroom place to a group of three because they were looking for "professionals" rather than people who knew each other - essentially they wanted people with few connections who would treat the place as a dormitory rather than a place to be lived or socialised in (with the "risks" that might entail).

But London doesn't have rent control - if the landlord had so many offers that they could afford to be picky why don't they just raise the price? Don't they just want money? The way to make sense of this is that the wrong people operate the private rental sector. In 2010 a private landlord survey found that:

  • Eighty-nine per cent of landlords were private individual landlords responsible for 71% of all private rented dwellings, with a further 5% of landlords being company landlords responsible for 15% of dwellings.
  • More than three quarters (78%) of all landlords only owned a single dwelling for rent, with only 8% of landlords stating they were full time landlords.

Small-scale landlords are the major player in the rental sector and they're not always going to be good capitalists. The ones that act like the above are risk-adverse and want their investment bothering them as little as possible. If the amount of money you are willing to accept to balance the greater perceived risk is greater than the difference between the price where you have one buyer and and the price where you have enough choice to chose less risky tenants, you will charge less than you can and screen.  People who will put up with this before even moving in are likely to be less troublesome, less likely to make demands of work that cost money/require attention, less likely to understand their legal situation, etc. This is a better and more comfortable position for the investor-landlord. The rate of return is still ridiculous regardless.

When people say that rent control means that properties won't be maintained and landlords will have invasive and offensive tests of potential tenants I'm not scared of rent control - I'm scared people don't seem to understand the full extent of the problem. We clearly do not live a housing market where tenants are only discriminated against on the size of the wallets - when your uncontrolled situation is pretty close to the controlled bogeyman something has gone very wrong.

Next → Page 1 of 9