In May 2018, my business was doing extremely well. I woke up to a beautiful morning with birds singing and freshly made coffee and breakfast. My day took an unexpected turn, however, when I discovered an article in The Guardian titled “The Lettings Club Where Tenants are Fined £90 for Leaving Dirty Dishes.” For the first time in my life, I was left genuinely speechless.
Upon reading the article, I was surprised to find it littered with mistakes and false information. British legislation did not cover the reality of the flatshare industry in London at the time, so they called our business model a “grey area”. The article also suggested that we charged £90 per person, which was not accurate. In fact, we charged £90 for a group of 10 people who lived in the same property, which meant it was less than £10 per person and included cleaning services. The article conveniently failed to mention this fact.
The article describes the trials and tribulations of a tenant called “Mister Paolo Sanchez,” - who is not a real person. I assume the author was trying to refer to me, Gian Paolo Aliatis, in an abstract way by using a name similar to mine. This fictional tenant apparently suffered through the use of our services because he did not have a tenancy agreement. Mister Sanchez supposedly lived in fear of our company because staff members would access the property without consent. In reality, no one cares if a cleaner or property manager can access a property, especially in shared accommodation.
As another injustice on the poor Paolo Sanchez, he apparently paid £200 for a non-refundable joining fee, but what they fail to mention is that no letting fee was refundable from any estate agency at the time and you would still have to pay an admin fee that is also non-refundable. But of course, the article made sure to highlight the fact that the fee was not refundable for the fictional Mister Sanchez.
The “club” also supposedly refused to refund a deposit to a member and instead terminated the agreement and used the deposit as the last payment. I have never seen or heard of this, and we still do not know the truth because the article talked about an abstract person. But they relayed the words of this made-up individual as fact.
They also criticised our terms and conditions, which were readily available on our website and presented to members for their signature when they join. Though the article conveniently failed to mention that 98% of our members had no issue with our terms and conditions. When this issue eventually went to trial, the prosecution failed to find more than three or four people who complained about our services, and the majority of those complaints were about the locking mechanism on their doors.
Our company offered a much more flexible and straightforward relationship than traditional letting, allowing members to use our properties when they needed them, not when they were obligated to. This confused the authors of the article. They discussed our business model and concluded that it was unclear if our members were tenants. In practical terms, this made no difference to their stay in our properties because we offered flexibility, which was the reason why they chose our service in the first place.
They then mentioned Green Life - an estate agency that rented properties with licenses instead of tenancy agreements. The article aggressively criticized this approach, suggesting they should go to jail for life. It seems to me that Green Life used licenses instead of tenancy agreements to create more flexibility. Perhaps they could not let the property to those who failed credit checks, so they gave them the option to let the property with a license instead of a tenancy agreement. In any case, this was not considered in the article, which exemplifies how one-sided it was.
The article ended with the statement that “many of us are students and losing our home will leave us struggling to survive.” It is hard to imagine how a person in their 20s, living in one of the richest cities in the world, could fear struggling to survive. It was also ironic that they invoked the poverty of tenants while criticising out more flexible approach to staying in London.
So I invite you, my readers, to consider: who was truly committing heinous acts?
Trial by media is the real pandemic. One must not get caught up in what other people think or say about you. Anyone who defines you by your past mistakes fears your future.
Onwards and upwards,