This Londonista lives on a 'block' with 15 properties. Amongst those living there are a musician, a photographer, a teacher, three social workers, a business counselor, an actress who played a small role in The Empire Strikes Back, a technical manager and production manager for two well respected London theatres, a guy who runs his own cleaning business, a long distance lorry driver, and a river pilot. Apparently even Caroline Quentin lived here once. We pay our taxes, we pay our council tax, we tend our modest garden spaces. Most of us have broadband now and we even know each other's names!
So what is it that makes where we live so very different from what we would guess would be pretty much where the rest of you do? Well, we have NO security of tenure. We have no long term leases on our rental agreements, we have no safety from arbitrary rent hikes (hikes of 800% are not uncommon for many), we have no guarantee of services and are open to sudden contract changes, harassment and eviction without notice (although thankfully, none of the above has happened to yours truly, our landlord is a decent chap). We have almost no protection under law, even the 1977 Protection From Eviction Act, and no recourse to the regulatory authorities open to standard tenants or home owners. This in turn makes it harder to sell our properties, since there are no guarantees of long term safety, and has forced many who share this way of life into losing their homes and being treated like third rate citizens.
This is all because we are part of the estimated 23, 000 plus residential houseboat owners within the UK, and although it's hard to determine how many of those reside within the M25, we're told that it's likely to be well over 1000 boats. And we are an anomaly in the law (The Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC KCMG), because we are the only dwellings in the UK not covered by protective legislation having been left out of the 2004 Mobile Homes Act.
But all of this could change because today is the last day for comments upon a consultation paper issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (and there will be no gags here) to see whether there is a need for legislation to protect boats at long term residential moorings. Considering the last time anyone tried to raise similar legislation was 25 years ago, then about time too. And by the way, anyone still reading this who thinks 'no' will be paid a visit from some swan friends of ours who seem to have developed the snuffles...
Only kidding folks. All's well down here on the river with us and the locals; other than that pesky legislation, if and when it ever arrives. However, response so far has been good, especially from MPs with moorings in their constituencies. The GLA has also thrown their full support behind providing full legal tenure for houseboat owners, seeing, quite correctly that houseboats and improved mooring facilities provide one, if small, answer to London's housing problem. Consequently they're also wary of the way the navigation authorities that control the waterways hold an almost monopolistic role in looking after the rights of their tenants (the mooring operators) and their tenants' tenants (us). Guess who's going to come off worst in a fight? To tell the truth, sometimes the underdogs do come through! And even the Mayor has plans for the river.
Now we're not going to give you the spiel about the joys of houseboat living (you can get some general FAQs on life as a 'liveaboard' here, but bear this in mind next time you watch a canal boat snake it's way along this great river that flows through all our lives. Houseboats are an affordable way of living in a city where those two words now seem mutually exclusive. It's hard work we grant you, but a peaceful way of life that promotes environmental awareness and generally cleaner living, a diverse and sustainable use of London's waterways if you will, and a tonic to the stresses of city life.
Oh, and the views are great!
With thanks to Clive Wren, author of the RBOA briefing on the consultation paper.Image taken from author's front door.