Saturday, 04 June 2016
by Andrew Toye
It has been the mantra of modern times: an unquestionable article of faith – “The customer is always right”. We are all supposed to be “on the side of the consumer”, against big and powerful vested interests that would rip us off given half a chance.
Given that the Customer is King, I wondered why, in His realm, that there is one huge gaping hole that the free market is failing to fill? By this I mean housing.
Despite all the rhetoric, the consumer of private rented accommodation is being ripped off mercilessly. Rents are going up well above inflation, but the quality of the product that they pay for stays the same (and in some cases deteriorates). Powerful vested interests (landlords) even have the law on their side. You want to double your money? No problem; as long as there are people who are rich enough (and stupid enough) to pay the rents, you can. Some local authorities have a landlords’ licensing scheme, and often serve correction notices on those whose property is sub-standard, but there is no consumer watchdog as in other markets - the customer is always wrong. It all goes back to Magna Carta: wealthy barons protecting their property interests from bad King John. (Democracy came later).