The Landlord Referencing Service (LRS) run by Paul Routledge reveals just how far out of control landlords in the private rental sector have become in the UK.
Not content with soaring rents and one of the least regulated private rental sectors in Europe, now some money grabbing landlords want to further line their pockets by using the threat of blacklisting to increase their power over tenants.
Paul Routledge (@Paul_Rout) claims he began the blacklisting service after being seriously injured by a former tenant. This has led him to embark, vigilante style, on a war on all tenants by investing a large amount of his own money on a website where landlords can name and shame tenants amongst themselves. Routledge’s ambitions were not just financial – the stated aim of this blacklist is to install landlords as the ‘Gatekeepers of the Community’. The community was not asked what they thought.
It is clear his motives were not deliberately malicious despite the harm this blacklist could cause. Routledge thinks that him and other landlords are the good guys, cleaning up the streets of Weston-super-Mare. On reading through his website’s extensive forum, Routledge comes across as sincere in his attempt to be what he considers is a good landlord. Others may not be so kind, as Routledge himself admits, it is unlikely several of his former tenants would give him a good reference.
But it is fair to say that whilst elements of his site may be legally questionable – and those questions are now being asked – he encourages other landlords to stay within the law. He sounds like a tight old bastard, but that goes with the job. Routledge is far more Rigsby than Rachman.
And like Rigsby, the landlord from the Yorkshire Television sitcom Rising Damp, he shares the same conservative world views that often descend into plain bigotry. His vile attitude towards people on benefits – despite a significant portion of his wealth being derived from those benefits – and his casual misogyny reveal a truly nasty streak that should make prospective tenants think twice before moving into one of his properties*.
His views on people smoking cannabis, an offence which is usually punished with a warning under the legal system, have led to at least one tenant being added to his blacklist just because an allegation of drug use was made. Routledge is pursuing his very own war on drugs boasting that his registered landlords “tell one another about their druggie tenants to stop them getting a home in our communities”.
It’s not just people who may smoke the occasional spliff that Routledge has in his sights. One landlord on the site advises a tenant should be blacklisted because they got a dog, another landlord blacklists a tenant because their breath once smelt of alcohol and they were £15 short in an agreed payment.
There are many more examples of tenants being blacklisted due to financial disagreements with their landlords. On one post tenants who have a dispute with their landlord over heating are called ‘scamsters’ and blacklisted, whilst another tenant is called is ‘lazy sponging immigrant’ and blacklisted for seeking advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. One thread, tagged with the phrase ‘lazy Greeks’ seems to suggest a tenant has been blacklisted for being ‘lazy and rude’.
Routledge defends his blacklist with the dangerously naive notion that landlords are all wonderful, honest people who would never unfairly harm a tenant. This means he believes anything a landlord says – so if a landlord alleges a tenant owes them money, or damaged property, then they go on the list, with little or no questions asked.
This gives the very worst kind of landlord a terrifying power over tenants. Even tenants who have alleged landlord harassment and illegal eviction have been added to the list with seemingly no thought given as to whether they might be telling the truth.
Whilst the blacklist only really seems to hold any sway in the South West of England, it can still be devastating for those who find themselves on the list. One former tenant, who is quite open about former drug and alcohol problems which left them in debt and homelessness, pleads with Routledge on his forum to take him off his database now he has recovered. According to this former tenant he has been rejected by a letting agency due to the blacklist and is homeless as a result. Routledge is unrepentant and tells him he will remain on the blacklist for another 6 years.
Another landlord on the forum is more direct:
“Life is ALL about choices and YOU have made the wrong choices.
You are clearly of a weak disposition to turn to drink and drugs.
Such weakness could easily occur again.
I would wish people like you were NEVER again able to rent off a LL.”
And it is the comments made by this particular landlord which show that despite Routledge’s pleas that he has a vetting system in place to stop rogue landlords, this doesn’t appear to extend very far.
The landlord who made the above comment and calls himself Paul Barrett says elsewhere on the forum that he will not let to Roma immigrants. Another landlord agrees later in the discussion. This is clearly an illegal lettings policy under the Equalities Act. Barrett also says he would not let to disabled people on Housing Benefit, again almost certainly illegal, because “as a LL I can discriminate against who I like”. The days of ‘No Blacks. No Irish. No Dogs.’ are still very much in existence on the Landlord Referencing forum.
Yet these rogue landlords, who are not just happy to break the law, but boast about it, are welcome to add tenants to Routledge’s blacklist.
Elsewhere Paul Barrett recommends to another landlord that they ‘get the boys in’ to illegally evict a tenant. Now this tenant, if the landlord is to be believed, does indeed sound like a landlord’s worst nightmare. But we only have the landlord’s word for that, a landlord who refers to her as a “nasty dirty foul smelling bitch”.
A similar case involves the aforementioned Paul Barrett and his ‘tenant from hell’. This tenant accused Barrett of serious sexual harassment. As usual Routledge took the landlord’s side and blacklisted, and named the tenant.
The truth behind these desperate tales is impossible to know. But there are two sides to every story and we only ever hear one. The implications of this are chilling.
If this blacklist becomes successful – and it is in all tenant’s interests to try and prevent that – then any form of redress for tenants will disappear. How many tenants will take on a rogue landlord knowing they could face six years enforced homelessness as a result?
Tenants can be added to the list whilst they are still renting from their landlord. This means an abusive landlord could trap a tenant in their property by making it impossible for them to find anywhere else to live. Landlords could threaten tenants with blacklisting because they demand repairs be carried out, or threaten to make a complaint about them to a local authority. And landlords could blacklist tenants simply due to the nasty and petty personal prejudices which litter his website.
Routledge will no doubt claim that none of these things could ever happen because landlords never do anything wrong and “as long as we all give honest references how can anyone be libelled”. But Routledge himself cannot know if these landlords are being honest and there is no clear way for tenants to challenge his decisions – in fact they may even be unaware they are listed. The attitudes of some of the landlords who post on his forum – where misogyny, racism and contempt for tenants on benefits is commonplace – tells a very different story to the one Paul Routledge presents. Are these people really fit to be ‘gatekeepers of our communities’?
*Routledge also has some nasty views on people with learning disabilities which seem dangerously close to eugenics as spotted by @claimantnetwork.
Watch the video where Routledge explains how his system could be used to blacklist people with mental health conditions.
For every landlord who has a difficult time with a tenant there are probably dozens of tenants abused by landlords. Please feel free to share experiences of bad landlords in the comments. Unlike Routledge I’d rather people who comment here (or myself) are not subject to libel or other legal actions, so please do not identify them.
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