icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an 

ongoing web column edited and published by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

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If this is a landlord

About public consultations and the home buying and selling process in 21st Century Britain

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2017). If this is a landlord. About public consultations and the home buying and selling process in 21st Century Britain. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 6.12 (December).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2017). If this is a landlord. About public consultations and the home buying and selling process in 21st Century Britain. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 6.12 (December).
Full-text accessible at http://www.brunellalongo.co.uk/

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor

London, 18 December 2017 - Yesterday, the 17th of December 2017, was the last day to respond to the Department for Communities and Local Government's consultation and call for evidence on "Improving the home buying and selling process”. A little sting in the tail for my broken heart: the title reminds an initiative launched in 2010 by the Building Societies Association on “Reforming the home buying and selling process” and at the time I trusted I had everything I needed to go ahead and buy a place as my only home.

These that follow are the thoughts I saved from my rantings. I have seen my right to buy my home slowly fading away from me, day after day, with the shadow of serious organised criminals taking over all my assets in what looks like a deliberated targeted attack not just to my very modest wealth but to my identity, to my strength of character and open personality, because of who I am, and how I think and what I do.

This is what remains of what I think of the buying and selling process in England once the personal sorrow has decanted. No tears left.

Over to whom?

Do consultations bring about change in public policies in this Country? I asked myself.

If the answer is yes, it is worth to put together something and I should respond, because “improving the home buying and selling process in England and Wales” is something I definitely feel is much needed and I have a considerable pertinent experience to talk about.

The answer was “no”. They implicitly admitted that nothing needs a reform and the process just deserves improvements. This is not my view.

Having considered the consultation papers and questions, I judged it just another pretty much unnecessary qualitative survey meant to create consensus in the public opinion and fabricate support for strategies and policies already decided by the current Government.

Neither I could say that previous governments led by the Labour party have substantially changed the housing market and the housing law in England. Not even the recent creation of the same Department for Communities and Local Government has been effective in tackling the problem.

The problem consists not just in a proportion of English population owning their own homes below the EU average. The problem is that the property market in England is structured in such a way that it systematically excludes British citizens and foreign nationals from accessing it, unless they have substantial wealth to waste, usually under the name of fictitious or off-shore companies.

The fundamental issue I see in any policy, market or law review attempted in Britain about housing is the denial of access to land and home ownership to vast segments of the population, and particularly the first or second generation of immigrants the wealth of whom is sought with predatory intentions by serious organised gangs and financial advisors - two categories that may have in common more than we can imagine.

What becomes of the broken hearted

But perhaps it is just me who has now lost faith in the rule of law? I am a broken heart.

Does the home buying and selling process in England and Wales deserve improvements? Is there any hope, space or realistic prospect of improvements?

When I would like to cry, and indeed sobbing out my sorrows into a river of tears, the best I can get is a painful pressure on my eyes and ears. It’s like having a flash hangover. If it is a lucky day, one tear finally goes through and produce a moment of relief. The problem with my meibomian glands is one the symptoms of the Sjögren's Syndrome I developed while I was almost homeless in 2016.

After more than one year, it seems I have eventually come to grips with the disease and learned how to prevent, cope with or numb the innumerable problems it causes - this has been a demanding exercise in cognitive flexibility and change for self-care that deserves additional reflections in another occasion.

Perhaps it is just me but I see the information gathered through consultations, with self reported online surveys, rarely makes any difference in the substance and precision (or accuracy of representations) compared with what is already known and available in the public domain: a plurality of sources and information channels, most of the times framed by major stakeholders and grounded in deep analysis of personal data, have already been harvested and are, more or less, continuously updated. In sum, one can easily guess how and why the public opinion is grossly divided about any question without any further investigation on net details.

On the other side, it is with the freedom of expressing any answer that we identify a certain level of democracy and civil liberties: in that, it is true that public consultations are a good way for both government departments and private organisations (and even SME and single individuals as I myself have often successfully done) to start or to take part in whatever democratic public discourse, around social, commercial, economic policies and more.

I try to remember the name of the author of that little but extraordinary handbook thanks to which I discovered and studied methodology of social research in 1980-81 in Italy. Was it Mumford?

I drop the question for an artificial tear. I donated all my books to the italian public library that first employed me in 1982, a place safer than my mother’s garage, once it became clear I would not be able to move them to London because there was no suitable dwelling. That was after eight years of failed attempts to buy a place where to live I could call home.

What can I say more? The internet has multiplied the possibilities for all of us to test our own influence in public discourse and see how it unravels. But these consultations do not seem to allow people to discover or add anything new to the Government’s agenda or the public debate on policies. Perhaps we can interact with each other, contribute to dialogues, adding voices for negotiations, confrontations or possible compromises. Is it worth?

Eventually, some little changes may happen, in spite of non learning and non discovering anything new, by just opposing inertia and assumptions. Asking and answering questions, giving data and opinions is at the heart of what the democratic process consists of, it is at the heart of what I have done for many years structuring and engineering services for information and communications in government, in libraries, in corporate and professional environments. My broken heart perhaps knows how to rewire itself more than I can remember.

The point is that I have been so personally and deeply touched by issues concerning the “home buying and selling process” in England and Wales that even if I had a reason to have a say in this consultation I feel myself irremediably excluded from the conversation. I do not count. I barely exist.

I feel I have been pushed beyond the edges of what is ethically, socially and economically acceptable. Everything started with the plan to buy a home in London that would be, following the sale of my italian home in Milan and another investment property that I had in the South of Italy, part of my personal pension savings.

I bought my first home when I was 26-year-old. I have built up since then the modest pot of savings of a middle class, independent and entrepreneurial professional, looking ahead step by step.

Now, I do not have anything. Everything is lost. I am 54, nothing left.

Who’s who in building, registering, selling, buying and managing properties

At first sight nothing could be simpler for foreign nationals that trust publicised rules and procedures. If they want to buy properties in England and Wales they can count on a standardised process and the rule of law. That may still be a realistic expectation in a number of circumstances and contexts, where the process of buying and selling estates’ equities is still entirely managed through legal firms as it normally happens among companies.

A completely different type of reality is the one I encountered, walking the walk and talking the talk of the “do it yourself” conveyance or e-conveyancing, in various ways advertised by English institutions since 2001, and particularly by the Law Society in 2009-2011.

The property ladder is full of wobbly and false steps everywhere, exposing people to fraudsters and crooks games. I have English friends that bought defective, inhabitable properties in Spain and found themselves caught up in circles of blackmailing handymen and local traders - not to mention the case of the UK-Italian legal firm that since 2013 has been banned from the Register of European Lawyers for having covered up the sale of not even existent seaside dwellings in the South of Italy (ban totally confirmed with a Supreme Court decision in March 2018).

The fundamental peculiarity of the English real estate market is that the risk is endemic because nothing in terms of ownership or liability is like it appears: the latest bold attempt to transform the property market in a transparent and reliable sector of modern professional practices goes back to 1862 when the Land Registry was created, but it seems that the introduction of a modern registration system has just added more tools for the crooks’ trades and with the tacit acknowledgment of the central Government bureaucracy (the Land Registry is controlled by civil servants that also manage the Insolvency Service and the Department for Business Innovation and Skill competent on trade, commercial matters and industrial policies).

Since the Norman Conquest (1066) the ultimate proprietor of the whole of English and Welsh territory is the Crown - that is also in charge of the entirety of the Civil Service. That puts all the landlords in England and Wales in a condition of essential, technical vassalage and intrinsic risk of exploitation by unknown or known unknown individuals. This is the only certainty.

And yet saying that a fundamental change in the British real estate structure is overdue is, of course, pure truism.

The land in England is virtually divided and assigned to a hierarchy of tenants and agencies that claim interests in the real thing as well as in derivative rights or property rights - from the absolute proprietor or freeholder to the exclusive tenant or leaseholder down to tenants in houses in multiple occupation and lodgers.

Lenders, mortgage brokers, estate agents, valuers, surveyors, solicitors, conveyancers and more can claim charges or vested interests in the land at any time. This fundamentally feudal structure of land ownership, legally sophisticated and financially engineered since Lloyds and Barclays invented insurance and mortgage products at the end of the 18th Century, is in fact subject to a maze of potentially infinite interests and property rights over the same stretch of real land.

Understanding the English law of the Land is almost impossible without referring to such extra-textual socio-economic layer. The “salami slice” nature of the English real estate market is in this respect comparable with the favelas in Brazil or the Spanish soldiers quarters in Naples, where it is impossible to talk about legal ownership and separate it from a dense tick layer of inextricable socio-economic, political and often criminal ties.

This reality is what makes the ownership of a home in the middle to lower share of the market unbelievably risky for everybody in London but for investors that belong to wealthy families, trusts, charities, companies and housing associations. Mediation services, typically offered by solicitors and letting agents, seems in the majority of circumstances unavoidable - and with them, your risks multiply.

Offshore companies have also a role, increasingly critical. They can assure that, in respect of the global expectation of governance and corporate tax, the relevant level of ownership remains unknown or under cover. With compliments from the Inland taxman.

Almost everybody has a landlord to deal with in England - and when nobody shows up for decades, suddenly a solicitor instructed by a mortgagee or building society on behalf of the freeholder, you barely knew the existence of, may decide to claim back the land for other people, for major redevelopments, for other planning priorities, for vested interests that cannot be disclosed and even for national security reasons. It is, in all these cases, very fortunate to have the right insurance policies or the right lawyers by your side: under such condition, the broken hearted people can get adequate compensation for forcely selling or leaving their home (they do not have a choice, but they can still make a profit of it).

For the ordinary, middle-income self employed individual willing to own a home or to invest in the buy to let market (a very common choice for Self Invested Private Pensions portfolios), trusted relationships are therefore of the essence.

Those were the grounds on which the whole of the English legal system had actually worked so well for at least a couple of centuries, making the most - and with a certain degree of intellectual fairness - of an immovable social class system. Nowadays inequalities are not given or taken for granted anymore and a mixed, messy and multicultural thread has taken over the English society: the same citizenship rights have been moulded through legislation, mainly in 1949 and 1983, to configure the class system accordingly. Next step on this will be Brexit in respect of “former EU citizens”. On top of that, trusted relationships are increasingly rare.

What’s in a title?

All landlords in England and Wales are technically and perpetually landlords in name only: even when they have a deed or other strong evidence they own the freehold of a piece of land, they actually own only what is known in legal terms as a “fee simple estate”.

That means they own a freehold title that can be sold or bought on the market, or inherited by the statutory next of kin, as long as such title it is not owned by somebody who has no relatives or as long as the title it is not caught into litigations by third parties claiming interests, charges, other rights on the land. Also primary authorities who are seeking to impose new plans and policies and new regulations can have a say and a right for repossession of land. For instance, in my cases, the freeholder of the flat I should buy from Mrs Brennan decided to give the lease that originally belonged to her brother - she had no valid power of attorney to represent legally - to someone else, not recognising her as the legitimate heir: she succeeded in declaring me bankrupt in a vindictive, bizarre and useless move, but she lost the property and did not get any money from the appointed trustees neither. Is this a landlord? In the second case, Mr Garrick apparently refused to deal with the local authority and make arrangements for a regeneration project (I myself had advocated) following the evidence of breach of planning permission and illegal lettings, although he had provided evidence that all the tenants had been regularly vetted and audited and were either paying council tax or receiving housing benefits. He was said to be fined for over £400,000 and he eventually gave up any right on the converted house for refusal to adapt it according to Council’s requests. Is this a landlord?

The local authority - or theoretically Trading Standards and other agencies - can dispute a wide range of private rights and start prosecutions against freeholders and leaseholders under a number of provisions. If these “unfortunate” circumstances are not resolved, the ownership of the land can either revert back to the Crown or, more practically, it enters the unmarketable world of the commons to become a commodity at local communities’ disposal, through letting agencies, charities, trusts, housing associations, local parties or the same local authorities until it may be taken over again by private mediators for redevelopment. And the monopoly game starts again.

The whole process of managing freehold properties can count on legal provisions and exceptions that seem designed to play around with the existing landlords (or the aspirant landlords) as puppets. Invisible hands can move the bureaucrats, the quangos, the charities and the trusts to get rid of those landlords or tenants who, for some reasons, either become “rogue landlords” or “destitute tenants” or are dispossessed, socially rejected and not considered economically viable in the future.

But even when landlords have no issues in terms of relationships or prospects of financial prosperity, there may always be a way to annoy a freeholder or a leaseholder in England and Wales and put them out of the market, out of the blue, very rapidly. The obvious lever to this extent is of course business rates, a tax conceived in the 16th Century on the occupation of non residential land totally disproportionate and unjust. But I am thinking here also to the housing circumstances and the right to buy their home for immigrants and foreign nationals who have been affected by the changes in British Citizenship legislation over the last Century, in particular in 1949 and 1983 as I mentioned above. These and all sorts of by-laws and internal codes of practice under various schemes and statutes have had the practical consequences of excluding or privileging ethnical groups and communities with no other rationale than an alignment with market and political pressures or multicultural policies of the moment. It is surely regrettable, now, that known wave of evictions managed by Sikh and Muslim landlords against tenants single women but it must have been convenient at some point in time in the past to consent for them to enter the Land Registry as absolute proprietors.

Many freehold titles cannot be freely bought or sold because they have never had planning permissions or because they have unmarketable value or huge defects that make them non compliant with current regulations. Such properties might have been developed over ten, fifty or even hundreds of years into apartments, in such a way that is rarely documented through clear and transparent or unambiguous deeds (if any). The records held by the Land Registry are plenty of very funny registrations and contradictory annotations nobody has any interest in putting right, being these the actual domains in which solicitors and other agencies can make their businesses. And no real estate agency or housing association or trust would ever be successful renting out flats in a semi-abusive converted house publicising the fact that the flats have never clearly obtained planning permissions nor they have been registered as leaseholds titles.

In sum, you can be a landlord in England and Wales, assuming you have the money and are legally represented by the right solicitor and financial adviser at the right time, without having a clue of what is underneath the surface of your assets and the way in which they are represented and exchanged.

'Improvements' to the buying and selling process are occasionally introduced in the law with the noble purpose of widening and make more affordable the housing market for the time being, or facilitate and favour some categories of mediators that need or claim a temporary aid: it happened, for instance, with the introduction of the commonhold form of tenure established in 2002.

Another recent innovation has been the introduction of “rent charges”, an attempt to further slicing or subletting the fee simple estate right, that is now prohibited by law. But politicians and quangos managed to make even the suspension in 2010 of the so called “HIP” (Home Information Packs, essential documentation given to prospect buyers) to appear as a cut of useless red tape and not a loss of rights.

Making more salami slices for huge investments opportunities or create new types of titles or virtual property rights does not seem the way forward to change the ultimate feudal architecture of the whole English property market when compared to other continental European markets. But this, indeed, would be out of scope.

Human beings made commodities, when not ashes

In the 1960s Parliament decided time has come to recognise at least what they called “rights of occupation” or “home rights” in order to protect family members from being diced or minced into the horrific legal game of bargaining property rights, usually acted by solicitors on behalf of the strongest spouses or siblings.

There are, as far as I have understood from my ten years long torture into the English property law mess, a number of positive conquers obtained since then by divorcees, LBGT community members and other minorities. But it looks like the new and positive instruments introduced in the law, such as the right to call a “proprietary estoppel” to regulate the role of financial third parties that contribute to the maintenance or refurbishment expenses of a block of flats, are always double sided: such instruments can serve at the same time to create additional equitable interests that can be managed and mismanaged for scopes completely different from what the right was supposed to guarantee.

If the property market has to be functional to people needs, rights and interests, then landlords and tenants should not be used like checkers in a legal casino.

One of the most common pattern exploited by fraudsters (or very clever solicitors, advisers and letting agents) is the misrepresentation of a title in respect of its registration status and against the existence of a computerised register of all the titles and charges with names of individuals. In a Country that does not have any identity registration scheme in place - an Identity Cards Act was agreed, made and repealed in 2006 - this is in practice an open invitation to everybody to set up or exploit their own bait-and-switch scheme, if they like it, because chances are they will never be caught up.

Until 1887 all the titles were unregistered: the obligation introduced by law in 1925 to register all the freeholds and leaseholds and charges has determined, once again, the availability of more games and categories of players and not at all more social justice or economic controls. Almost a century of experiences in land registration within the current framework should be enough for a major review of the instrument and all its actors.

I mean of course the legal professionals that are at the centre of the market for conveyances. Solicitors have the undisputed and hardly challenged power to produce what is called a “title deed” for the buyer (or wills and other equivalent, enforceable documents). In fact, deeds are the indisputable basis of the whole conveyance process, usually managed as a game of cards between solicitors.

The Law Society has in recent years tried to introduce more liberalism and transparency in the administration and execution of its conveyancing protocol, opening up even to prospect buyers without a solicitor (that trusted protocol is what I naively believed in 2010-2011 would protect me from any trouble) but once again the measure is almost laughable as it fells into the current system of rights and vested interests that has been in place for centuries. Hard to get consent to abolish the solicitors fees.

Only unadvised or illadvised foreign nationals and naive prospect buyers, or disingenuous and dodgy sellers would go ahead into the jungle of land registry searches and assessment of the title deeds' consistency, provenance and relationships themselves, without a solicitor. They may succeed in a reliable assessment of the provenance and understand the whole web of possible interests and exploitations that burden a property title. But who is going to guarantee that they are not buying something on which other unknown interests and undisclosed charges or property rights exist?

This is the magic in the English land law: everything is more or less possible and admissible as long as two or more solicitors agree whatever about a title deed.

Investigating the title is something you can surely do yourself, as I did with my attempt to buy Mrs Brennan’s flat in 2010-2011, in a long desperate journey to protect my little savings pot. If you discover - as it may happen in a vast majority of cases - that there are doubtful, incorrect and messy registrations in the Title you are interested in, it is unlikely that you will be able to fix the problems without solicitors and mediators. In sum, once again, chances are you as a prospect buyer are nothing more than an accessory and a commodity in the market of legal conveyances. Where the winner takes it all.


As I slowly recovered from the devastation of losing everything and risk destitution, I have tried to understand the effect of Brexit on some EU policies and initiatives started in the 1960s by the DG Internal Market of the EU commission, and asked around some questions. Nobody knows the answers. One of this is about the future of the EULIS programme (European Land Information Service, a scheme that should harmonise data held by official land registers in Europe). My message bounced back, it looks like the whole of the programme has been capsized or the like. Well done. It was really utopian and in many respect fostered a “can do” attitude among mediators with a very low level of ethical commitment and data management culture.

The harmonisation of legal provisions, financial instruments and registries in the real estate markets throughout Europe could not be more strategic for an effective free circulation of people and business activities and yet, as the recent crisis on lack of immigration policies and the Brexit referendum have shown, nobody had made a realistic plan for such an ambitious goal.

Experts have even found some models to be followed and some progress has been made in recent years towards the idea of making mortgages exchangeable in Europe: they came up with the idea of a “Eurohypothec”. But the fact is that any financial or legal instrument would fall into a general absence of comparative law for real estate markets and suitable common culture. Now that Britain wants to leave the EU, the prospect of an estoppel to those integration and exchange utopias is quite obvious.

On the domestic side, considering the pace and fortune of innumerable reforms imagined over the centuries, and particularly in the last ten or twenty years, there are few signs that the legal system framing the property market is going to change terrifically in the next coming future, particularly after the UK exits the EU. Good luck to all the landlords, and to the fortunate privileged people that can buy and own their homes! If I will ever be able and fortunate to join one of these two privileged categories, I am sure I will have further opportunities to report other issues.