It’s easy to caricature Fergus Wilson as a villain. He’s a cartoon of a man, and if you need an example of how Victorian values persisted into the 21st century, Mr Wilson is the person you should look at.
Like a Dickensian miser, he turfs people out on the street for little or no reason. He’s racist. He’s sexist. He has no sympathy for battered wives, and for some unknown reason, won’t let to plumbers. He wears the sins of gluttony and greed on his pudgy face.
Rent.works has mentioned Mr Wilson before, when we used his refusal to let properties to Indians because they smell of curry, as example of blatant and unlawful discrimination.
And now, he’s refusing to let to pregnant women, single mothers or families. If a tenant becomes pregnant, there’ll be a Section 21 notice nailed to the door before the lines even appear on the stick.
But he’s right.
Possibly not from a moral or ethical perspective, but from a business point of view, we back Mr Wilson 100%.
The problem is that Ashford Borough Council, in an effort to safeguard the health of children and young people, have decreed that landlords who allow a heater or boiler to go unfixed for more than four days can face a fine of £30,000 if there is a child on the premises.
It’s a lot of money.
Currently, Britain is in the grip of a record-breaking heatwave. Most heating engineers are enjoying a leisurely summer without too much work, and are able to spend the money they accrued over the winter months – which lasted until April this year.
If your boiler broke down right now, you could have it fixed or replaced before close of business today.
Not so in the winter months.
There more canny among you will be thinking of British Gas Homecare, which offers 24/7 boiler repair, 365 days per year. If you’re a landlord or homeowner, you may already have it. But have you ever tried to use it?
British Gas boasts that it has 6,000 gas engineers on standby, but that simply isn’t enough. In March 2018, British Gas shut off its customer service phone lines because there were too many calls for them to cope with.
Backlogs averaged at five days, but were sometimes longer.
Other heating engineers and companies were fully booked, too.
It’s not the landlords’ fault that the heating is going to be off for more than four days, and they may be braving hell and high water to get it fixed. But if the property is in the Ashford area and there’s a child in the house, that’s a £30,000 fine right there.
And the boiler backlog will happen again this year if the winter’s cold (it will be)
Mr Wilson, who is not someone we would like to emulate, has, in this particular case, made the right decision – the only decision which makes financial sense.
Do not, under any circumstances allow children into the property.
Image credit: Andreas Nilsson