Here’s a joke: what do you call 10,000 landlords at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.
I pinched that from a reader who was responding to news that a website now lets landlords "name and shame" bad tenants.
Judging by other readers' reactions, tenants feel that landlords already have too much protection, while they have very little. The new site — www.LandlordReferencing.co.uk — aims to protect landlords by giving them information on someone's renting history.
It relies on landlord members — of which it has about 20,000 — uploading details of bad tenants. Landlords who make an online query about those tenants will then be put in touch with the previous landlords, presumably to be filled in on all the gory details.
Landlords who sign up to email alerts will also receive immediate notification of any rogue tenants within an hour of them leaving their last property. The website says it's not a tenant "blacklist," but of course that's exactly what it is. Rival website TenantID offers a similar service and both are free to join.
And surely these sites are a good thing? If a tenant trashes a property, uses it as a crack den or leaves with rent arrears, future landlords have a right to be warned about them, no? Decent tenants have nothing to fear. Or do they? To be honest, I have a nagging feeling that I might have ended up on one of these blacklists if they had been around when I was a tenant. I may have matured into a tyrannical landlord, but mine was once a very different story...
A flatmate and I once left a property without paying the last four weeks' rent because the landlord had told us when we gave notice two months earlier that he wouldn't be able to return our deposit, claiming that the letting agency — which had closed down — had never transferred it to him. We had paperwork from the agency showing that, at the landlord's request, it had paid the deposit into his friend's account, but the lying thief of a landlord refused to accept this as proof, so we withheld our rent.
If sites like LandlordReferencing.co.uk had existed back then, this guy could have claimed (rightly) that I left owing him £450, without mentioning that he'd kept my deposit for the same amount, and — in the absence of an independent judge and jury — that could have prevented me from getting the keys to another property.
And then there was the occasion, such a very long time ago, when a boyfriend painted the bathroom of our rented flat lime green, without asking the landlord's permission. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd done a good job, but he only painted half the walls before getting bored and giving up.
We had it whitewashed when we left, but was that reckless behaviour of ours bad enough for the landlord to blacklist us? And if so, for how long? Would that crime still be following me around today? I doubt landlords will use these sites to bad-mouth tenants willy-nilly because if they do they'll become worthless, much like TripAdvisor, which has so many reviews of each hotel that it's hard to judge in reality whether a place is good or bad.
I'm still not sure if I'll bother signing up to these landlord websites. I told one landlord friend I probably don't need to because I always meet prospective tenants and I'm a very good judge of character…to which she spurted coffee all down her top.
*Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London