‘When we look at people, we make lots of assumptions.'

‘When we look at people, we make lots of assumptions.'

Gabriel joined our project working with landlords back in April 2020. At the time, the pandemic was getting worse and some landlords began serving eviction notices to tenants they thought would not be able to pay their rent during this unprecedented time. But at the same time there were many landlords who spoke out on social media about how they were going above and beyond to support their tenants as best as they could through the crisis. This is Gabriel’s story.

My name is Gabriel. I’m a father, musician and an ex-Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot with many hobbies and interests that range from hang gliding, kung-fu, electronics, metalwork, psychology, engineering, physics, music – and the list is growing daily! I am also a landlord and I rent out five properties in three countries.

I became a landlord largely because I used to travel extensively through work.

I’ve lived and worked in over 20 countries. Instead of buying a house, then selling it when I moved on, I simply kept it and rented it out.

Some of the tenants I have in my properties – their homes – have lived there for over a decade, so any time I have considered ‘selling up’, I simply cannot bring myself to make these people homeless.

I appreciate that not everyone thinks as I do. For many landlords their property is a means of making profit, and some landlords give too little back. But I am proud to march to the beat of a different drum. As landlords, we have a very strong duty of care to the people for which we provide a home.

The reason I feel so strongly about this: I was once homeless myself

I fled my home at the age of 15 and have never been back. I couch surfed all the way up until a relative helped me to join the RAF.

I’ve toyed with telling my own story of homelessness, but it’s important for people to understand, especially through the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), that homelessness can happen to anyone.

No matter what we’ve achieved, where we’ve been, what we are doing now or may do in the future – none of us is immune. We are all vulnerable.

Shelter’s Landlords for Good project

I joined Shelter’s Landlords for Good project because I believe there is an awful lot wrong with the housing system in a country where people can be treated so very cruelly. As the pandemic unfolded, it became clear to me that coronavirus was going to affect us for many months to come, and it was at this time I started to see landlords responding to the crisis in different ways.

When you train to be part of something like the RAF you learn quickly that food and accommodation are an absolute must. But what I was seeing was a lot of inexperienced or what we call ‘accidental landlords’ start to act out of fear and confusion, and this was putting tenants at risk of losing their homes causing another crisis of homelessness on top of the pandemic.

Through this project I want to encourage other landlords to not only behave differently towards their tenants, but to see their tenants differently: as human beings rather than to a means to a profit.

As the pandemic hit

On reflecting on how landlords have been behaving during the pandemic, I understand that there are landlords who really rely on rent as a significant part of their income, especially now that so many are not working at all.

I feel tremendous sympathy for the good landlords who are stuck between a rock and a hard place; wanting to do the right thing but not being able to is a thoroughly unenviable position.

However, landlords have also been voicing very negative opinions about their tenants, using derogatory words and at times expressing the most utterly heartless intentions towards them. You see this a lot on social media which can often make for a toxic environmentthat I have no interest in.

How I’ve been supporting my tenants and friends

I have been offering help and giving advice to tenants who find themselves in a tricky situation with landlords. Specifically, I mean those who are being threatened with illegal eviction by their landlords despite the global crisis. I’ve often directed people to Shelter’s advice pages for help and I’ve been doing supply runs for some of my elderly, disabled and vulnerable tenants and friends too.

At the height of the pandemic, I was taking over a hundred calls a day and my voicemail was permanently full. Any time that I didn’t spend on the phone, I spent driving around, delivering food to some of the most desperate people I’ve ever met.

I’m still quite stunned at how so many people ended up falling through the cracks, and heartbroken when I think of their desperate situations.

If I’m honest, trying to support so many people can take its toll, and the pandemic isn’t over. I’m focusing on taking care of my family right now.

The thing to remember

When we look at people, we make lots of assumptions. Some of them fair, many of them not. But whatever their life experience, people have a right, a fundamental right, to be treated with respect, courtesy and as a bare minimum, not to have their lives made any worse by thoughtlessness.

Tenants deserve to be treated well and the duty of care we (as landlords) have for them is a serious responsibility.

I hope that through the Landlords for Good project, we can work together to support each other through this incredibly difficult time.