Friday, May 20, 2016
Today's keynote address at ALPS is by Dave Cowan (Bristol). David is discussing his project, The Properties of Tenure, which he is working on with Alison Wallace (York) and Helen Carr (Kent).
Cowan (& Co.) take on the topic of shared ownership in their paper with the purpose of highlighting the human narrative that is frequently missing in property law theory, and more particularly highlighting the experience of marginal owners, i.e. those frequently considered property "outsiders." To do so, Cowan interviewed 71 shared owners over the course of one year to get their perspective on their situation.
It is important at the outset to understand what Cowan means by "shared owner." Shared ownership in the UK is the idea, as Prime Minister Cameron recently said, that one can part-rent, part-buy property, all with the aspiration of eventually becoming the full owner. Shared owners buy a percentage of their home while renting the remainder from a landlord, in Cowan's case, a social landlord.
The problem with shared ownership is that despite its aspirational goals, in reality shared owners are simply long-term lessors. Shared owners are rarely able to become full owners for a variety of reasons, most involving a lack of financial means. Because of this, shared owners are in a highly precarious position though they maintain high hopes.
What Cowan learned from his interviews is that even though the description provided for shared ownership is very "neat," the institution itself was very "messy." Shared owners were somewhere between true owners and true renters. They were not in social housing, but they were not in private housing either. Their sense of ownership came not from their four walls, but what was on those walls. It came not from their gardens, but from their movable house plants. Ownership for shared owners was shown through their stuff, their things.
Cowan's research highlights, among other things, two important items for property law. First, shared ownership reminds us that application of the law is messy. Try as we might to create clean boxes in our property law--one owns or rents--those neat, clean boxes do not always translate to the real world.
Second, it is the human experience that people themselves place value in more than the institutions we create. The things, the stuff, shared owners had is what formed their views of themselves as "owners" (however precarious their situation) and what distinguished them from non-owners.
Off to the next panel! More live blogging to follow!