Private tenants are so scared of eviction that they’re putting up with dangerously cold homes

This is actually a trappist monk who built his own cathedral, but he looks like his house might be cold. Image: Getty.

Struggling tenants living in private rented accommodation are enduring dangerously cold homes and high heating bills. Our new research has found this is largely because they fear that asking their landlord to make improvements – such as installing more efficient heating or double glazing – might lead to rent increases or eviction. The Conversation

The private rental sector in England is the fastest growing type of accommodation in the country, as home ownership becomes increasingly out of reach for young people and social housing more scarce. The sector also houses a higher proportion of poor and vulnerable households than any other tenure and these groups are among the least likely to speak out against poor conditions.

But living in cold accommodation that is difficult to heat can be a threat to health. Evidence to a 2012 parliamentary enquiry from the National Private Tenants Organisation suggested that 15 per cent of private rented properties were so cold that they posed an immediate threat to health.

Rationing the heating

My research, with 50 people in England, found that rather than lobby landlords for improvements, tenants try and cope with cold homes by rationing heating, sometimes to as little as ten or 20 minutes a day, wearing outdoor clothing inside, spending extra time in bed or more time outside the home. The majority of the people I spoke to were employing a combination of these coping mechanisms. One person I interviewed in Hackney, north London, said:

It’s [expletive] cold, I put the duvet round me and just lie in bed, it’s not productive.

While tenants continue to tolerate cold homes, landlords will feel little pressure to address poor energy performance. But tenants are scared to speak out.

Among those I spoke to, private renting was no one’s first choice. An overheated rental market is leading tenants to compromise over the quality of the homes they choose, with many forced to accept the first place that they could afford. One tenant in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, told me:

It was the first one I looked at and it was horrible, it was freezing... but they were the only landlords that I dared go to cos I think I would have failed a credit check.

In the scramble to find somewhere to live, tenants overlook the signs that a property would be cold and difficult to heat. This leaves them with little bargaining power as in a buoyant rental market, low-income tenants are in a weak position to make demands of landlords. Tenants in London are particularly aware that their landlord could replace them tomorrow with someone willing to pay more rent than they could. So they often try to avoid troubling the landlord for anything, in the hope of avoiding rent increases or eviction.

Scared of what might happen

We found the relationship between tenants and landlords was characterised by fear. Pre-payment meters which require advance payment for heat and energy, are a case in point. Over half of those I surveyed lived in properties with these meters, but because paying for energy via this method costs more than paying monthly or quarterly, some tenants wanted them a removed. But this requires the landlord’s permission and most people who wanted their meter removed were too afraid to ask out of fear that their rent would go up.

Despite widespread dissatisfaction with living in cold homes, 47 of the 50 people I surveyed had not sought any help or advice. This was due to both a fear of having to involve the landlord and not knowing where to turn. They were rarely aware of schemes which provide subsidised energy efficiency measures to landlords, such as the Energy Company Obligation.

We found that there were emotional consequences of living in a home that makes you unhappy and where you feel insecure. Participants were stressed about meeting high heating costs, and were eating poor quality food to free up money for heating. Yet dealing with the consequences of this was considered preferable to the prospect of eviction.

Improving the experience of low-income private renters will require a greater understanding of what drives landlords’ investment decisions. A combination of tougher regulation of the sector is needed, coupled with carefully targeted incentives to compel landlords to invest in making their properties more energy efficient.

Aimee Ambrose is a senior research fellow and expert in domestic energy efficiency at Sheffield Hallam University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.