A Response To PDPLA's Article 'Do We Need Tenant & Landlord Blacklists?'

We found an article written by a landlord association which chats absolute rubbish. He's our reply.
By Ben Yarrow
30 October 2019

Back in September 2019 PDPLA (Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association) published an article on their website entitled ‘Do We Need Tenant & Landlord Blacklists?’

We’ve copy / pasted the article, with the original being in bold, our comments are injected between each section.
We’ve spent a bit of time dissecting the piece in an effort to show readers why abrasive and regressive articles from landlords associations do nothing than to continue to drive a wedge between certain landlords and tenants.
We’re posting this blog article because in an age when it’s so easy to spread mis-information, someone needs to stand up for truth. If the voices that shout loudest are representative only of old men in landlord associations, then those are the cries we’ll hear over and above everything else.
Small, localised groups of landlords do not represent the vast majority of progressive landlords who embrace and welcome change.
Marks Out Of Tenancy works bilaterally with forward-thinking landlords to improve conditions in the private rental sector.
We’re enabling the market to weed out the irresponsible and uncooperative landlords.

For reference, a link to the original blog post is here: Do We Need Tenant & Landlord Blacklists?

“We were interested to see BBC coverage of a new website which allows tenants to rate and review their landlord. The site https://www.marksoutoftenancy.com/ has all the disadvantages of other ratings sites and probably does little to allow customers/providers to make better informed choices. What is also missing is the ability to ‘rate and review’ tenants.”

We’d love to know what ‘all the disadvantages of other ratings sites’ are. Do you have any further insight to this PDPLA?
Here’s some research we link to discussing the advantages of review websites: Reviewing the Reviews: How does TripAdvisor impact hotels and their bookings?
Here’s a link to a research paper extolling the values of using Marks Out Of Tenancy: The private rented sector in the UK - An overview of the policy and regulatory landscape
And a reminder that a 2015 Nielsen survey of 30,000 consumers from 58 countries found that 70% trusted consumer opinions posted online.

Regarding the comment ‘probably does little to allow customers/providers to make better informed choices.’ - what evidence are you basing this on PDPLA?

What is also missing is the ability to ‘rate and review’ tenants.’ - no it’s not missing at all.
Here’s how the landlord / tenant relationship works: Tenants pay landlords for providing a service.

The tenant is the paying customer.
Tesco doesn’t rate their customers.
Your local chip shop doesn’t leave you a review.
The Manager of your local garden centre doesn’t walk around with a clipboard scoring you while you scour the place for half-price Chrysanthemums. Why not? Because you’re the bloody customer, you’re the one paying, just like your tenants are the ones paying rent to you.
The tenant is the customer.

The ability for landlords to rate tenants is not missing - Marks Out Of Tenancy is a website for the customers to rate the suppliers.
They rate the property you rent to them, and they rate the interactions they’ve had with you, the landlord.
Using this approach tenants now know who to rent from and which property to rent.
This information bridges the gap from one tenant to the next. It’s a wonderful thing for tenants, and don’t get us started on how some landlords and letting agents are using their customer feedback to improve their levels of customer service! If you don’t think reviews help tenants to make better informed decisions, then that will blow your mind.

The cherry on the cake? We’re working with regional and national government, providing qualified departments with data from reviews so they can catch rogue landlords.
How do you feel about Marks Out Of Tenancy now?
On one hand you’ll hate the accountability that reviews bring, but on the other you love that reviews can be used to get rid of rogue landlords.

"In the past, we maintained a ‘black list’ of tenants who had defaulted on rent or damaged property which we shared with members so that they could better understand what they were taking on. We stopped this practice many years ago due to the risk of unfair labelling, potential libel cases and what has since become known as personal data protection. But in its absence our members regularly share ‘If you are thinking of letting to  Mr ABC we recommend you take references from their previous landlord’ messages – effectively code for ‘I had a bad experience, please talk to me before letting to this person so you can avoid the same’."

OK, so PDPLA used to run a system that rated tenants, but stopped it ‘due to the risk of unfair labelling’?
Unfair labelling like ‘the tenant is the customer, what the hell are you doing rating people who are paying you rent?’
what has since become known as personal data protection.’ You must be referring to the ‘Data Protection Act’ as it’s correctly called. It originally came in to force May 1998.
Was Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association on the bleeding edge of technology with it’s tenant rating website but had it’s hopes and dreams shattered by the DPA 1998? No, PDPLA was only incorporated in 2002.
It either didn’t exist or didn’t comply with the Data Protection Act. Those pesky laws, getting in the way hey!
But it seems PDPLA has been sharing information about tenants anyway using coded messages, perhaps by semaphore?

"The same concerns should apply to blacklisting landlords – who can tell whether a review is malicious or vengeful, who knows whether the mould complained about was due to a maintenance issue or an excess of radiator dried laundry and lots of cooking without saucepan lids and windows constantly closed?"

Valid philosophical points, well raised. Who knows? If only there was a publicly available place for tenants to share more of their tenancy experiences.

In our discussions with local authorities, progressive landlord associations, letting agent groups and tenants, we’ve found that clear, open communication between landlords and tenants goes a very long way.
Some landlords have a wealth of experience dealing with issues in properties and know the tricks that can be employed to maintain a healthy home. Passing that knowledge on to tenants is vital so we can work together to make renting better for all parties involved in the process.

PDPLA, we appreciate the shallow lengths you’ve gone to research the rest of the diatribe you’ve spouted, so we’ll do the leg work for you.
Here’s a brief overview of the steps we’ve taken to ensure landlords are equally represented on Marks Out Of Tenancy:
Landlords have the right of reply on Marks Out Of Tenancy, they’re encouraged to respond to reviews and once they sign up for an account they can be notified when a review is written about them.
There are several layers of protection in place on the site including a Bayesian weighting algorithm that softens singular extreme reviews, a bad word filter to prevent swear words, a defamation filter to stop potentially defamatory content hitting the live site, on-site community reporting, and an easy-to-follow defamation reporting process.
In addition to that, if there are any issues with the site you can just email us - that’s free.

"There is also an argument that we need to be allowed to identify serial bad tenants. Whilst laws controlling landlords tighten ever more, there is nothing that stops or discourages a serial bad tenant from trashing property after property and leaving a string of landlords out of pocket. We are asked to provide high standards of accommodation and we are expected to fit our dwellings into the local community such that they don’t impact parking or create additional noise, waste or traffic – yet we are also expected to house the increasingly large contingent of those tenants who just don’t have the skills (or often the will) to fit harmoniously into a community."

There’s lots to unpack here and we can guess where this is going next...

"Over the past 100 years these people were looked after in Social Housing but as the proportion of dwellings provided by local councils and housing associations continues to diminish, the burden increasingly falls on private landlords. Indeed, we have seen cases where tenants evicted from social housing due to their behaviour are inflicted on private landlords and the communities in which they live without any warning or awareness of their history."

Yep, there it is. The ‘burden’ of providing housing to ‘these people’.

"One of our members recently wrote, “Two tenants from a homeless charity, on housing benefit were in our property for two and a half years.  Sadly, they both slipped through the local authority net and lost the support they needed to live independently (one with early onset dementia and the other with dementia related to alcohol). After getting them back in the system twice, and not being in a position to provide the care and support they required we used section 21 (with their agreement) to make them homeless and ensure they were both placed in homes that provided them with the support and assistance they so desperately needed.” In this case, the landlord knew what she was taking on, but often that is not the case due to the lack of tenancy history – perhaps we should ask prospective tenants for their ‘Tenancy CV’."

So let us get this straight. One of your member landlords evicted two of their tenants who both had, by the sounds of it, serious medical issues - one with dementia, the other with early onset dementia - and they ‘agreed’ to be served a Section 21?
Your landlord got two tenants with dementia to agree to be Section 21’ed?

And ever after admitting on your website that you served tenants with dementia a Section 21, you think you should be able to rate and review tenants?
Jesus wept.

"One issue with services like marksoutoftenancy.com is that they need to have large volumes of users to give balance and to show a true picture and they need governance and management – the BBC story highlighted a tenant who left a bad review of a landlord, “He had complained after his then girlfriend was forced to throw away hundreds of pounds worth of clothes that went mouldy because of a poorly-ventilated built-in wardrobe. So the couple felt more than a little aggrieved when their landlord began quibbling over a missing £3 bed cover.”  - An informed landlord will realise that the   mould on clothes in this situation is as likely to be tenant caused as landlord caused – we cannot tell which from the article but for a landlord to be branded as a rogue on the basis of this one review is dangerous and damaging."

One issue with services like marksoutoftenancy.com is this: in an earlier paragraph you state ‘Whilst laws controlling landlords tighten ever more…’. Laws ‘controlling’ landlords tighten ever more because some terrible landlords try to slip through the net. As you’re aware, all landlords get tarred with the same brush. This means that even the ones who do a good job get dragged down with the rest.
Read your own article ‘How Do You Spot A Rogue Landlord’ which states: “you would think rogue landlords had been publicised and regulated out of existence, but we would argue that politicians and journalists are focussing all of their efforts on the wrong landlords, which is why they are not seeing any improvements.” (and then goes on to blame the council.)

Politicians are not tenants.
Politicians care about votes.
Journalists are not tenants.
Journalists care about clicks.
Tenants are tenants.
Tenants are the customers who pay money to live in shoddy, unkempt, dangerous, unhealthy, illegal, and sometimes lethal properties which are managed by irresponsible landlords.

It’s time landlords started caring about their customers.

Is there a solution to this? Yes, one of them is called Marks Out Of Tenancy. It’s a website that for the first time in the UK, on a national scale, is enabling the market to drive improvements rather than waiting for regulation to do so.
You’ll see us in Ministry of Housing’s ‘How To Rent’ guidebook that you hand to all your tenants when they start a new tenancy.
It’s helping tenants polarise the good landlords from the bad landlords, just like TripAdvisor helps people find good and bad hotels.

Does Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association want to play a part in helping polarise the good from the bad?
This is the key issue for us - showing landlords and landlord associations that they can play a key role in changing public perception.

… "- the BBC story highlighted a tenant who left a bad review of a landlord, “He had complained after his then girlfriend was forced to throw away hundreds of pounds worth of clothes that went mouldy because of a poorly-ventilated built-in wardrobe. So the couple felt more than a little aggrieved when their landlord began quibbling over a missing £3 bed cover.”  - An informed landlord will realise that the   mould on clothes in this situation is as likely to be tenant caused as landlord caused – we cannot tell which from the article but for a landlord to be branded as a rogue on the basis of this one review is dangerous and damaging."

You’ve missed out the most important part of the BBC article, and not linked to the original source which is here: The websites helping renters fight rogue landlords.
Please share it with your readers and make sure you include that all-important part that you missed off your scrambled rehash:
‘Founder Ben Yarrow was moving out of his flat when he received an email saying: "I'll be glad to see the back of you."’
The drive to create Marks Out Of Tenancy didn’t come from the lack of air change in the built-in wardrobe, or from the mouldy clothes, or from the £3 missing bed sheet - it came from the disgusting comments the landlord uttered to ‘just another tenant’. Unbeknownst to this ‘informed landlord’, the tenant was willing to stand up to that kind of behaviour and represent tenants who feel voiceless and disenfranchised. And here we are today. 

Next point, the mould on the clothes was caused as the cheapskate landlord had slapped together a ‘built in wardrobe’ which consisted of two swing doors and some MDF on an external, single-skin wall with no airflow leading to the outside of that enclosed makeshift wardrobe.
How do we know? Because our Founder Ben Yarrow was there with an Environmental Health Office when they told him there should be some way of increasing the airflow in such a restricted space. Without it, mould would have undoubtedly built up, ruining any fabric stored in the ‘wardrobe’.

"It is too easy for tenants who do not understand their obligations or who just fall out with their landlord to slag off a perfectly good landlord. There is a system for agents that gives the agent right of reply but to do this fairly is difficult. https://www.allagents.co.uk People rarely put in good reviews so the customer does not get any balance."

It’s always the tenants that fall out with their ‘perfectly good landlord’ isn’t it!
On that note, who decides if a landlord is a good landlord or a bad landlord?
How do you know there are so many ‘perfectly good landlords’?
Have you asked their customers?
Where are your studies on balance in the private rental sector?

There is a system for agents that gives the agent right of reply but to do this fairly is difficult.
You have to click one button on Marks Out Of Tenancy for agencies, how it that ‘difficult’?
You’ve managed to spill your various tirades on your website, we’re confident you can manage to click one button.
Link for reference: Letting Agent signup - scroll to the bottom of the page.

People rarely put in good reviews so the customer does not get any balance.
There are floods of really good reviews for really good landlords on Marks Out Of Tenancy.
Tons of tenants raving about how their landlords have gone the extra mile, really helped them out, made their lives so much easier.
Take some time out of your day to read some instead of spouting this rubbish.
This is the beauty of listening to customers - they have so many positive stories to convey.
We’re working to highlight those great stories and promote the decent landlords.
But maybe renting sucks for lots of tenants in Portsmouth?
Perhaps it’s a regional thing?

"We are not advocating an eBay style alternative – ‘you leave me a good review and then I will leave you one too’, but we do need something that puts balance back into the relationship, whether that is a tenant rating system or something completely different as the tables are too heavily weighted in favour of the tenant and unfortunately, the bad ones take advantage of this and create havoc in the lives of many good landlords."

The. Tenant. Is. The. Customer.
Start treating tenants in a different way, perhaps you’ll have a different response.
If there are so many ‘good landlords’ in Portsmouth, where are the glowing reviews?

Here’s some key points for PDPLA:
Start thinking of your tenants as customers,
Start treating your tenants more like customers,
Don’t misquote news articles which are publicly available,
Don’t spread misinformation about a website that’s taking a stand against the rogue landlords that give your industry such a bad reputation (see your own article here for reference: How Do You Spot A Rogue Landlord),
Buttons on websites aren’t ‘difficult’,
Marks Out Of Tenancy is here to stay, embrace it,
The market is changing, evolve, move with the times,
We’re ready to help you when you’re ready.

One final note - PDPLA is a member of the BPF.
Ian Fletcher (Director of Policy) at the British Property Federation stated in the context of Marks Out Of Tenancy: "Landlords, like any goods or service provider should be seeking to deliver excellent customer service and customers should be free to talk about their experiences, and to have the platforms to do so."


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