Thursday, 12 June 2014
Saving time and trouble: new Tory Mayor's activities as landlord criticised by Boris Johnson
*Updated: see below for footage of Mayor's Question Time: Boris happy to support Rayner's tenant ...
Last week, here in Broken Barnet, saw the annual meeting of the council, the first meeting of the new administration, and the making of a new mayor.
It was Tory stalwart Hugh Rayner's turn to ransack the municipal dressing up box, and strut around in the fur trimmed robes of office: an honour all the more relished by him as he came so close to missing his go, during what was a very close margin of victory in the Hale election.
Sadly for Hugh, what he intended to be a marvellous evening of kowtowing and obeisance offered to him from the assembled collection of fellow councillors, and members of the public, became what was generally agreed to be an absolute shambles, and memorable for all the wrong reasons.
What ensued was not a dignified and stately transfer of office from one Tory member to another, but a slapstick, knockabout farce, entirely the fault of Rayner's party trying to force through outrageously undemocratic decisions in revenge for the Labour opposition refusing to be bribed into accepting the Tory's wish for a pairing scheme, so as to safeguard their precarious minority in the case of, as must be expected, their own councillors failing to attend meetings.
The new Mayor became incensed by the reaction to the appalling behaviour of his own party from Labour, and from the public gallery, lost his temper, and furiously demanded that 'respect' be shown to his office.
This suggestion was met with loud opposition from the floor along the line of respect being something that must be earned, rather than enforced by will.
A story has now emerged this week that further compromises the level of respect due to the office of Mayor, and there really can be no one to blame for this but Rayner himself.
Local AM Andrew Dismore went to City Hall yesterday, to attend a question time session with the Mayor of London.
He raised with Boris Johnson details of a case of a landlord in Barnet whom he alleged had behaved unfairly with his tenant, all supported by housing benefit.
These tenants were obliged to sign twelve month contracts which could allow rental increases of any amount, and at any time.
The level of rent for these properties, Mr Dismore claimed, suggested that this landlord was 'overcharging tenants to the detriment of the public purse'.
In one case, it was further alleged, a tenant was visited at ten o'clock at night and pressured into signing the last page of a lease which she claims had already been presigned and witnessed by an individual whose identity she did not know.
Mrs Angry knows the identity of this individual.
Hearing this, Boris Johnson commented:
“There’s an argument in terms of misrepresentation of the lease, it sounds to me as though he has not been fair to the tenant.
It seems to me, to be prima facie illegal.”
Andrew Dismore then revealed that the landlord in question was not only a Conservative councillor, but the current Mayor of Barnet, Hugh Rayner.
There is a real housing crisis in London, as we know, and in Barnet, over the course of the last Tory administration of which Councillor Rayner was a member, a housing policy has been enforced which, as his colleague Tom Davey bragged, is meant to encourage only the 'well off' to live here.
Those who are not 'well off' face a scandalous lack of social housing, with regeneration projects directed at increasing private profit rather than addressing the need of homeless or poorer residents, and a private sector with vulnerable tenants at its mercy, struggling with the new bedroom tax, and desperately short of alternative accommodation at an affordable level.
Councillor Rayner owns a number of properties in Colindale, with his wife, and through his own company, S&H Housing Limited.
Speaking to the local Times paper, Rayner seems to admit he had made errors of judgement in relation to at least some of his activities as landlord:
Cllr Rayner said he “never thought it was necessary” to join the accreditation board but that he would look into it based on our story.
He claims to have removed the clause about raising rent earlier this year as he now “appreciates they are non-enforceable”, but not could answer (sic) when the change took place.
And he no longer asks witnesses to pre-sign contracts – he admitted he admitted it was done on various occasions to “save time and trouble” but now appreciates it is incorrect.
He added that rent renewals or discussions about arrears are dealt with at the tenants home, and where possible, an appointment is made.
But when asked whether he felt 10pm was an unreasonable time to visit a tenant, he replied: “If they say it’s inconvenient for them, I go away. I take the tenants judgement.
No pressure is applied.
Efforts are made to have an English speaker available to translate – often the tenants children.”
He, could not, however, elaborate on the age of the children and said he does not feel this to be inappropriate.
He added: “With regards to charging above market rates, when letting to housing benefit funded tenants, our rents have been in line with the prevailing local housing allowance rates.”
Mrs Angry understands that this is not the end of the matter, and that further details will shortly emerge on what would appear to be a deeply unpleasant story.
Some may argue that the new Mayor should immediately offer his resignation, and indeed step down from his position as councillor.
Others may feel that there could hardly be, in truth, a man better qualified to stand as Mayor of Broken Barnet.
*Updated - here is footage of Mayor's Question Time, and the exchange between Andrew Dismore and Boris Johnson: