Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord has defended his list of criteria for new tenants, excluding single parents, “battered wives” and plumbers – because he’s said nothing against “lesbians and homosexuals and coloureds”.
Ignoring for a second Fergus Wilson’s use of the word “coloureds”, a turn of phrase that hasn’t been acceptable for a long time, he says his criteria is based on a “sensible business plan”.
While he hasn’t sought to exclude the LGBT community or ethnic minorities from renting his properties, he clearly wouldn’t rule it out, because:
If ever a person came in wearing pink socks and defaulted on rent, and it became a regular problem, then we would stop renting to people who wear pink socks.
The potential for using such thinking to discriminate directly against marginalised people in society is clear. But Wilson isn’t letting that stop him. As far as he’s concerned, it’s “just economics”.
“The big bad world of reality”
Wilson and his wife Judith’s property empire is said to include around 1,000 homes. Like many other landlords in the country, they request that their tenants don’t smoke, don’t own pets and are not in receipt of housing benefit.
But Wilson is going a step further than other landlords – for now, anyway. In Wilson’s 2017 criteria, he specifies that “tenants with children under 18 … single mums and single fathers … low income workers … single adults … zero hours workers … battered wives” and tenants without a rent guarantee are all “unacceptable”.
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And since his list has reached the press, he’s been happily defending it. He tells The Telegraph:
I live in the big bad world of reality, if I do not let properties and do not get the rent then I do not eat, I starve to death… it is the Government’s job to help poor people.
Wilson’s concerns about starving to death will no doubt resonate with all the people in need of housing that landlords like him won’t let to.
The cost of domestic violence
Wilson’s stipulations make perfect sense to him. He won’t let to people on low income because he believes you need a salary of at least £30,000 a year to afford one of his properties – despite the average wage in Ashford being £23,000 a year. And he doesn’t mind that he’s excluding single people, because he doesn’t offer any one-bedroom flats.
He won’t rent to plumbers because they “come up with jobs that don’t need doing”. Single parents, meanwhile, are harder to evict should he wish to sell the property. Tenants with children over 18 aren’t allowed because their child counts as a co-tenant.
And of course, Wilson won’t rent to “battered wives”, he says, because of the damage that their abusive partners might do to the property. He says:
It costs us money and we basically have all the trouble of putting it back together again.
The psychological trauma and physical violence experienced by those women, and the importance of them being able to find a home away from their abusers, is obviously not a consideration that comes into the business plan.
Housing insecurity, employment insecurity
Wilson might be right that the government should be helping poor people, but landlords like him make it hard. Cuts to council services and right-to-buy schemes have decimated the amount of help that local authorities are able to give to homeless people. 2016 figures show that the number of households in temporary accommodation is at an eight-year high – and many must wait years and years before having a hope of getting a permanent home.
Councils are increasingly placing tenants in private rented properties. Landlords like Wilson who own a wealth of properties in a given area and won’t rent to tenants on housing benefit make that significantly more difficult.
And where people on zero hour contracts are left is unclear. Government figures released in September 2016 indicate that over 900,000 people in the UK are now employed on such a basis. Of course, the insecurity of these contracts is exactly what puts landlords like Wilson off. But when they are all that is available for many workers, their choices are severely limited.
But the point is, presumably, that Wilson doesn’t care. He cares that food is on his table at the end of the day, regardless of what the housing crisis means for the people who want to rent from him. And he doesn’t want to have to clean up after any messy acts of domestic violence.
It’s just good business sense.
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