This site lets you review your landlord

Which to choose? Image: Getty.

If you're a landlord, you're likely to have the pick of hundreds of tenants replying to your property listing. Once you've picked someone, you can check them out via one of the tenant referencing services which have sprung up over the past few years. 

There are a fair few measures in place to stop your tenant trashing your house, refusing to pay up, or generally acting like the worst house-guest ever. And even if you somehow pick a bad egg, you still have that security deposit to make up for it. 

For tenants, though, it's adifferent story. According to Shelter, there are now over 9m of us in the UK, and yet beyond "looking them up and down" we don't really have any means of checking out landlords before we go live in their properties. Besides, it can be so hard to find a flat or house in the first place that you're likely to brush past initial misgivings ("Bloodstains? No problem!") for the sake of having a working kitchen and some sort of bed. 

One woman, though, is keen to redress this imbalance. Hannah Williams, who rents in London with her two children, launched Rental Raters just over a year ago. The site allows UK tenants to leave starred reviews of landlords and their properties along with a testimonial. As far as she and we can tell, this is the only free site of its kind in the UK. 

Williams tells me by email that she was inspired to create the site by the power disparity between renters and landlords: 

The playing field between landlords and tenants is far from level, as while most renters are credit and reference-checked and required to pay a security deposit, they don’t have the opportunity to investigate their future landlord or letting agent in return

What really broke the camel's back, though, was a friend of hers who was evicted at short notice by a rogue landlord, leaving him and his fiancé homeless. These stories are becoming increasingly common: without any laws on tenancy lengths or rent rises, landlords can legitimately boot tenants out if they want to re-let the property for more money. Meanwhile, a law against revenge evictions has only just been passed, and won't come into effect until later this year. For now, tenants evicted after they complain of bad conditions still aren't protected by law. 

Unsurprisingly, most of the site's negative reviews focus on evictions, deposit disputes, and flats left in poor conditions for months. Here's a one star review for a flat in Birmingham

Among other things, this person found a rat in their bed. 

Then there's this, for a flat in London

These tenants had a hole in their bathroom floor for months thanks to building work in the landlord's flat below, never got their deposit back, and put up with "erratic electricity" for their entire tenancy. One to avoid. 

And this flat in Uxbridge was, quite simply, terrible:

The site is still a little short on reviews – Williams wouldn't tell me how many she has collected, but says "the numbers are increasing all the time" – and is not yet a comprehensive database for would-be tenants. But even in these early stages, it's a useful resource. Tenants with grievances are, let's face it, more likely to leave a review; while would-be renters unsure about a property are likely to Google the address or landlord. If they go looking, they might now get some prior warning via other tenants' testimonies. 

One reason reviewers might be slow to come forward , and why no similar services exist, is that while you can leave reviews under an anonymised username, the site also asks you to detail when you lived in the property. As a result, it wouldn't be difficult for landlords will to figure out who left that nasty review, and they could, at a stretch, affect your chances of renting elsewhere by giving you a bad reference. This is also, one assumes, why most of the reviews are left by ex-tenants, rather than current ones.

While this could be a useful tool for some, the system is still stacked in favourite of landlords (who also made up 21 per cent of the last House of Commons), and against tenants. It'll take more than a ratings site to change that. 

 
 
 
 

Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.


…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.