Letting agency fee crackdown

So I posted this link from Medium user James Plunkett about the new policy on letting agents charges, which led to some discussion and I thought I work up one of my responses into a blog post.

So, like a stopped clock being right twice a day, I do occasionally agree with something the Tory Government do, and I very much welcome the policy around restricting the ability of letting agencies to charge fees.

Now I think it goes without saying that this sort of stuff is just rearranging deckchairs on the titanic. And that the only real solution to our housing crisis is to embark on a large scale program of building affordable housing for ordinary people to rent, or buy at reasonable prices, in the places where the housing is needed. However the perfect should never be the enemy of the merely better, and this policy does I think makes things better, albeit by a very small increment.

I posted the link from the first paragraph and my friend Lynn commented, perfectly reasonably, that she felt it would make little difference because the cost of these fees would just be passed onto the landlords, who would in turn pass them onto tenants.

I however think that this is wrong on a few grounds. Firstly, as the original piece argues, that tenants seldom make these fee’s a price consideration meaning there is little in the way of competition for agencies on the basis of fees they charge to tenant, and certainly chimes with my experience of renting through agencies. It is always an added cost I didn’t expect when deciding on the house.

Secondly because I rather suspect that most landlords have very little understanding of, or interest in the fees the agency charges the “other side”. There is likely to be little visibility of this. Furthermore for your average landlord I expect that punitive fee structures to potential tenants is likely to be something of which they would active disapprove of. Given that it might put of potential tenants and make it harder for their property to be let.

Because neither tenants nor landlords are giving much thought to agency fees for tenants then letting agencies have few checks and balances on ever inflating their fee structure. Something that has clearly been happening. The fee structures are utterly obscene, (and don’t get me started on guarantors, my hellish experience with my step daughter, a letting agency and an utterly ridiculous guarantor agreement is probably a topic for a whole other blog/rant!).

So anyway back on topic, if landlords start factoring the exorbitant fees agencies currently charge tenants, then their properties will go much less quickly than those that don’t as potential tenants will be less likely to view them because of the higher rental costs. And I am sure it goes without saying that one thing all potential tenants pay most attention too is the headline rent figure.

And more than that whilst renters are likely to be price conscious about the monthly rent first and foremost (with fees at best an afterthought) landlords considering who to use will be very conscious of any and all charges and fees payable by them that the agencies want to charge them.

This should create deflationary pressures of letting agents fees for tenants. Which is a market working as it should and a good thing.

Also it is pretty outrageous that agencies charge from both ends. At the end of the day they are providing a service to the landlord, in some respects I think it is a conflict of interest when agencies are making money off both the landlord AND the tenant. Heck in football they banned agents working for both player and club for exactly this reason.

I get that it isn’t unreasonable that the variable cost on a per potential tenant such as a pre contract credit check might legitimately be the responsibility of the prospective tenant… Though the rip off charges that agencies use to do this needs to be reigned in. A credit check costs about £15-£25 quid on the open market. The referencing fee I got charged by the agency for my flat was £175 quid! I’d suggest that if this remains the responsibility of the tenant then tenants ought to be able to shop around for cheaper referencing.

But the majority of the fees, paid once, are really part of the service that agencies are offering to the landlord. And it is only right that it should be the landlord that pays this. And therefore not inflating these costs for a quick buck will actually form part of how agencies make a competitive offer to potential landlord clients.

One of the many problems with private renting for relative poor working class working schmucks like me is that private letting is the wild west. There is virtually no regulation, everything in the deck is stacked against you (and I realise it can often be difficult for amatuer private landlords too, but that is a different topic).

Agencies get away with what they can.  Most of the time when private tenants are moving it is out of necessity, most of my moves have been due to the place that I was currently living in being no longer available. Then you are over a barrel, if the clock is ticking to homelessness one isn’t really in a position to get picky about fees.

Anything that levels the playing field a little for tenants is a good thing if you ask me. This move is baby steps, but it is better than nothing.

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01. December 2016 by Ralph Ferrett
Categories: Activism | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Marvel films and bad guys.

So I went to see Dr Strange last night. I have to say I enjoyed it without thinking it was great. A solidly mid ranking MCU film if you ask me. I’m not particularly familiar with the character so I didn’t have a lot of preconceptions.

I struggled a bit with just how unlikable Steve Strange was. I realise that was evidently the point. Arrogant selfish man becomes hero….. Blah blah blah. But he just didn’t seem to have any redeeming features whatsoever. And his conversion just seemed tacked on to me. Without giving a spoiler warning at this point there didn’t seem to be anything real about why Steve changed.

<aside> I frequently this these days. I moan like hell when films are too long (who really wants to sit in a cinema for more than three hours?) but I often complain about these sort of films being rushed. Particularly the “origin” stories. I wonder if this is a symptom of the rise of high quality long form TV storytelling. The HBO and AMC type shows just have so much more time to tell their stories and establish characters that film often feels overly rushed to me know </aside>

Having said that the film looked great, glad to see they found a use for the leftover CGI from Inception! I laughed quite frequently, and the magic side of things didn’t feel out of place in the context of the MCU. And despite just moaning about the lack of time, the pace of the film otherwise felt just about right.

If you like your comic book films, then I’m sure you will at least enjoy this one even if you don’t feel the need to rave about it.

But the purpose of this blog is to talk about the villains, so from here on in THAR BE SPOILERS. You have been warned if you haven’t see the film that I might give away the occasional plot detail (though only things relating to the backstory of the villain, of which there isn’t a great deal!).

It has long been a problem for the MCU films that whilst many of the protagonists are interesting and layered characters, the villains are almost universally bland and onenote.

Only Loki has actually lit up any of the MCU films. Loki is great, and I struggle to understand why they don’t follow the process. So with Loki we got a few things when they established the character.

  1. We got to see him not as a villain. The character was initially established as someone with whom we could have sympathy.
  2. He was fun, charismatic, interesting. Even once he started being bad you actually enjoyed his time on screen.
  3. He had some legitimate grievance. I mean I’m not saying that he reacted appropriately but between being the clearly less favoured “second son”, and then finding out he was the stolen hostage of what he thought was his family’s enemies mean you can kinda see why he had the hump.

Understanding his grievance, and being able to empathise with him meant what he goes on to do in the rest of film, and the MCU, everything he does has more meaning. It also means he feels like a real character and part of a living breathing universe.

Contrast this with…. Erm… two seconds while I Google this…. “Kaecilius” apparently. Having watched the film I still have no idea really why he was so cross. He wanted to live forever or something.

I certainly have no idea we he had followers, he seemed totally charisma free; not inspiring in any way whatsoever. As far as I can remember I’m not sure that any of his acolytes even had a line in the film.

Nothing established him, or his reasons for turning bad. The stakes therefore were pretty much meaningless. He could easily have been the generic non descript villains form Guardians of the Galaxy, or Thor 2, and it would not have made the slightest bit of difference to the plot or how the film panned out.

A little bit of time to establish who he was, why he had gone bad would have made the stakes in the film that much greater. Also I think we were clearly supposed to be drawing some parallels between Kaecilius (who looks a bit like Tim Minchin on stage I thought!)  and Steve. But because we didn’t see any of his fall, or the reasons for it that whole element fell flat.

I didn’t care in anyway about Kaecilius, didn’t understand why he was mad, didn’t know what his goal or plot was, didn’t see any proper connection between him and the protagonist. He was just a cardboard placeholder to move the plot on.

And because of this the films was ultimately weak and forgettable, albeit fun and pleasant to watch.

Trouble is most of the above could be written almost word for word and all of the villains in the MCU. It is the biggest weakness in almost all of them. And it does mean I often get a little bored even though I am a huge fan boi.

I wonder as well if it is any coincidence that it was Kenneth Brannagh who directed the only actually good MCU villain. A bit of shakespearean pathos is what they could all do with.

The best villains, in film, books, comics or games, are ones you understand. Or ones that somehow reflect the protagonist. Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin. Ditto Holmes and Moriarty. The villains have some depth, some shades of grey. Pantomime villains with no motivation just are not fun or interesting.

Kaecilius should have been a dark reflection of what Strange could have become. Strange should have sympathised with him before realising he was wrong and in rejecting that he then does become the hero.

Basically the MCU has to make the villains feel as real as the heroes, otherwise what the heroes do will feel ultimately meaningless. I’ll still watch them, but if they keep churning out identikit boring unimaginative villains like Kaecilius, Ronan, Malakith etc I’ll keep finding them pretty average and forgettable.

I want better.

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12. November 2016 by Ralph Ferrett
Categories: Comics, Films TV & Video Games | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sovereignty, Judges and Brexit

So before I get on to the more substantive topics can I just take a minute to bask in the reaction yesterday and today from the hard core Brexiteers and the Daily Heil (et al). People, and publications, who have dedicated for a generation or more themselves to the ideal of “Parliamentary Sovereignty”. People who have treated any act, suggestion (and more often figment of the imagination) that Parliament isn’t, and shouldn’t, be the ultimate decision making body, the first and last word on any matter of significance in this realm.

Them, spitting teeth and feathers, at a court ruling that BACKED UP EVERYTHING THEY HAVE BEEN SAYING FOR YEARS. It is hilarious, actually side splittingly funny. I have been genuinely LOLing in real life at the absurdity of it. If you backed Brexit because you believed in chucking the darkies out  sorry Parliamentary Sovereignty, and you are now annoyed a court has upheld that a Sovereign Parliament will now have the ultimate say on the most significant political, legal and constitutional change the UK has underwent in at least a 100 years, then congratulations you have managed to up the bar on hypocrisy to levels I never thought possible! Bravo bravo bravo!

Ha hah ha hah ha hah ha!

So anyway now I have got that out of my system onto more serious matters.

I voted remain, and did so wholeheartedly. I think the decision to leave is a huge mistake that is going to have very long lasting, and negative, consequences for our country and beyond. I think we will all be poorer for a very long time to come. Britain has already become a nastier, more shameful place. And I rather think that the breakup of the United Kingdom has become a matter of “When, not If”. Furthermore I believe it was sold to the British public on the basis of deliberate knowing lies (£350 Million to the NHS) and deception by a rabid, lying, right wing press. Unless these things are proven wrong I’m not going to change in these opinions.

But…. I believe fundamentally in democracy. That means sometimes you lose, sometimes the other side wins; and it is essential that that is respected. Unless it is clear that public opinion has substantially shifted (and changing of the public’s mind and decisions is another facet of democracy) then the British public have voted to leave the EU and that decision needs to be respected.

How we leave the EU, what sort of relationship we have thereafter, hasn’t been decided though. It wasn’t on my ballot paper what we do if we vote leave. And none of the parties have outlined their negotiating stance, or priorities, in fact none of the national party leaders have fought a general election for their mandates, then someone, somebody needs on our behalf to have a meaningful say of how and when Brexit happens.

And it seems pretty straightforward to me that in a parliamentary democracy where parliament is sovereign, that parliament should be the body to do so. This is pretty elementary stuff, constitutionally. The High Court clearly agree, and I suspect that the supreme court will also agree. I’m personally of the opinion, however disastrous it would be for my Party Labour, that we probably need a general election to determine a democratic mandate for the Brexit priorities and negotiations. But failing that it is absolutely right that Parliament should have oversight.

Sorry I have just dissolved into laughter again about the thought of people who have been fighting for parliamentary sovereignty, being annoyed that a court has ruled that our parliament is in fact sovereign… ha ha ha ha ha ha…. Don’t mind me!

Anyhow back to the topic. So given that Brexit is going to happen I think that this is probably good news for us on a couple of counts.

Firstly because rushing isn’t really in our interests. Cameron did not expect to lose the referendum and both Government and our Civil Service are woefully under prepared to undertake these seismically massive negotiations. Time for us to prepare. Time for us to determine our position, our fall backs. Time to sound out the other side so we can go into negotiations knowing where we agree and where we don’t. Time to get the French and German elections out of the way so the start of negotiations isn’t being conducted on the basis of playing to other nations elections and particularly so that these negotiations are not being used to counter LePen in France.

Time, time is a useful thing when you have a massively important and complicated negotiation to do. Time is going to be in very limited supply once Article 50 is invoked. And despite what the Narnian fantasies of the three Brexiteers and Tim “Al Murray” Martin will tell you these negotiations are harder for us than they are for the EU. At the end of two years we are the ones in a very precarious position if a successful negotiation isn’t concluded.

Really it is in our best interest for as much of that negotiation to have been successfully concluded as possible prior to us invoking article 50. Once that is done there is a ticking time bomb…. A gun to our heads…. That really doesn’t help us do “The best deal for Britain”. We have had our legal, political and economic systems hitched to the EU for 40 years, untangling that in a way that doesn’t have disastrous consequences shouldn’t be rushed. That is surely common sense?

I don’t, BTW, for a second buy that Theresa May doesn’t realise this. I don’t much like her, or her policies. But she has always struck me as a canny operator. Announcing both the timetable for Article 50, the UK Government’s priorities (and the order we hold them in) in a conference speech was clearly to me at least far more about internal party management (a majority of 12 no proper personal mandate is a bitch) and dealing with a rabid right wing press that a sensible and considered approach to something difficult.

I’d be in no way surprised to learn that possibly May, and likely Phillip Hammond and the Treasury are secretly quite glad the court ruled how it did. It gives them some wiggle room to actually do stuff in a more slow and considered way, and gives them a convenient scapegoat for why it is taking longer (”And I’d have gotten away with it to if it wasn’t for those pesky meddling Judges”).

Taking the mechanics of Article 50 and Brexit through Parliament makes a nice little trap for Labour too. You have a Labour leadership who are pro brexit, but a parliamentary party and wider membership overwhelmingly anti brexit. Setting up Labour in the Commons and Lords as the enemy of democracy and frustrater of the will of the people most sound nice to Tory election strategists.

It is also very difficult strategically for Labour. Most Labour voters voted to remain, and many of those will expect the Labour party to be articulating for the 48.1%, but doing so would run a real risk of even worse electoral problems for Labour in it’s heartlands.

If May is smart about things she could have her cake and eat it. Delivery a better Brexit, in her own terms, at her own pace, and put the blame for delays and problems at the feet of others. As a politician, I’d be happy with that.

One thing though I think is pretty clear though the decision  yesterday will have no bearing on whether or not Brexit happens. But it will have an impact on when it happens and how it happens.

I suspect most of my small audience shares with me a belief that Brexit is emphatically not in the national interest. But if it is going to happen then a considered, patient, well thought out Brexit is infinitely preferable to a rushed, botched one taking place on a schedule designed primarily to placate the swivel eyed loons in the Tory party and the Daily Heil.

Whatever happens 2017 is shaping up to be just as cray cray as 2016….. What a goddam horrible thought that is huh?

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04. November 2016 by Ralph Ferrett
Categories: Activism | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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