How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…
UOWN, founded by Shaan and Haaris Ahmed, is a brand new model for vulture landlordism.
I came across them by spotting one of their ads online and, feeling fairly certain I wouldn’t like it, clicking on through to see what they were about. The basic gist is that they use crowdfunding to act as surrogate landlords for anyone who fancies investing, or at least the (Ahmed) family business the Parklane Group does. So far so unsurprising, the UK housing market at the moment is dominated by profiteering investors whose only conception of their tenants is as figures jiggling about on a bank balance (or minor irritants, if there’s more money to be made by moving them on). What sets UOWN aside though, or at least what initially highlighted them from the rest, is the pawing theft of vaguely left wing phrasing they’re using to frame their get rich scheme. Their website spiel is loaded with terms like ‘city fat cats’ and calls to beat back those dastardly ‘privileged few’ in the name of the 99% – all by making yourself a low level imitation of those exact same people.
Investments potentially start at an affordable £20 which is, seemingly, just about the only point at which their sales pitch tallies with the reality of what they do although it’s a fairly safe bet that such low level investors aren’t going to be reaping much of the promised rewards. And it is all about the rewards after all, while they rattle off mantras of equality, power to the people and ‘democratising’ the process all it really boils down to is a quick shot for the greedy and the gullible to add a further dimension to the sticky fingered exploitation of the UK housing system.
Pretty much the sole mention I could find of tenants on their site was a vague allusion to a property management company that would fix ‘leaky pipes’ – a management company which I’m assuming is Parklane given the family links. And I’m fairly sure that anyone who’s lived in privately rented accommodation can vouch for how reliable agents can be, especially when there’s no direct landlord to talk to but a inaccessible mess of investors who’ll never know or care what happens with the property.
What you do get plenty of mentions of though is the potential returns, with payments guaranteed before a property is even purchased to be let out. And if there’s one thing you can have faith in it’s that tenants will be gouged to a profitable level regardless of all else.
These guys are far from a unique example of the property as detached investment trend and in the way they manage their holdings they may not even be that bad but that does nothing to negate the crappiness of their model. Their ‘for the people’ nonsense is a paper thin front for the company backing them whose profits run into the millions, their equality and democracy lines are a hollow boon to the basic model of greed that they’re operating on and the potential for further alienating and exploiting tenants inherent in it all is, throughout, a barely mentioned side note.
The ‘democratisation’ of housing doesn’t need to come from enabling more and more profiteers, it needs to come from opening up access to people who need it. What the Ahmed’s are doing isn’t serving any ‘99%’, it’s a cheap route for the greedy and the indifferent to try and shunt their way up to the 1% and with promises of returns in the background it’s only going to end as another stick to beat money out of people who just need somewhere to live. Stealing the language of people trying to fight against this sort of parasitism is just the icing on the cynical, greedy marketing cake.