Tenancy 1
A.J.E. Terzi, 'The larva of the lesser house fly Fannia canicularis', drawing, c 1919. Courtesy Wellcome Collection

The tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your landlord. It may be written or verbal. The tenancy agreement can give both you and your landlord more than your statutory rights, but can’t give you less than your statutory rights. If a term in the agreement gives either you or your landlord less than your statutory rights, that term cannot be enforced.

A tenancy agreement can be made up of:

Express terms: these include what is in the written tenancy agreement (if there is one), in the rent book, and what was agreed verbally

Implied terms: these are rights given by law or arrangements established by custom and practice—they don’t need to be written in your tenancy agreement. [1]

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Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow plays host to a number of cultural and artistic organisations known as Cultural Tenants. [2]

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A tenancy is the temporary possession of property owned by somebody else, though it can also refer to the property held or occupied by the tenant, as it does with farmland. Tenants pay rent; tenancy is a condition of indebtedness. Over the past two decades, with social housing sold off and demolished, and austerity violently restricting the average wage, the number of people renting privately in the UK—that is, paying rent to live in communal spaces owned and often poorly maintained by those more well-off than them—has doubled. Homelessness has increased by at least 165% since 2010.

To be a tenant is not inherently to inhabit a role that does you harm; temporary residence, removed from the punitive practices of late capitalism and the ongoing repercussions of colonial land theft, could mean the redistribution of resources, the understanding that everything, by rights, belongs to us all. Tenancy could be a state to which we aspire. The conditions under which this would be possible would be conditions that allowed nobody to be a landlord: ‘living’ not as a state of accumulating debt but a mode of being that finds a duty of care in the temporary nature of individual existence. These are not our circumstances: the burden is unevenly distributed. In the most recent general elections held in the UK and in Ireland, the reportage of certain voting trends that rejected the current neoliberal status quo figured the housing crisis as an incidental factor, as if where we live, how we make our money, and who we give it to are frivolous; as if tenancy wasn’t in itself a form of work.

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However we choose to think of the social body, we are each other’s environment. Immunity is a shared space, a garden we tend together. [3]

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Tenants can withhold their labour. Historically, rent strikes against private and social landlords—the first recorded instance being the Port of London Dock Strike of 1889—have had varying degrees of success: the demands often illustrate the overlap between extortionate rental rates and unhealthy, dilapidated living conditions. Glasgow, of course, commemorates Mary Barbour of the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association for her organisation of the 1915 rent strikes against a 25% increase in rent. Andrew Brown’s depiction of the 20,000 strong march she led to the Sheriff Court, was unveiled at Govan Cross in 2018: the statue was paid for by public donations, after Creative Scotland rejected the application.

Tenancy2
House with every sanitary arrangement faulty. Courtesy Wellcome Collection

As I write this, the World Health Organisation has officially declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 a pandemic. The British government’s minimal response— which was seen by many to initially favour the protection of economic concerns over the protection of human life, under the sign of ‘herd immunity’—has led to increasingly alarming predictions about what the next few weeks will hold. The state is still refusing to provide the most precariously employed members of society—particularly those on zero-hours contracts—with adequate financial aid. Banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, have announced plans to allow homeowners to delay on their mortgage payments; currently, tenants are still expected to pay their rent, although they can ask their landlords for a ‘rent freeze’ and there is a temporary ban on evictions. In practice, this only defers the problem: many organisations, including Living Rent, are campaigning for a non-repayable rent holiday for all tenants; others are calling for a rent strike.

In a recent essay, Anne Boyer responded to this global crisis by calling for a general strike. [4] Later in the piece, she calls for the freeing of prisoners, the care of the elderly and the vulnerable, and safe housing for all.

A global health crisis brings into sharper focus the fact we are all inextricably part of the commons, the social body, reinforcing, too, the realisation that the commons itself is being taken from us, hoarded by the rich and powerful. Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons figures social life under late capitalism as a system of debt and credit, where credit ‘is a means of privatisation and debt a means of socialisation’, rooted in our institutions. ‘So long as they pair in the monogamous violence of the home, the pension, the government, or the university, debt can only feed credit, debt can only desire credit.’ Governance is a means of placing each individual on the spectrum of capitalist interests and of keeping them individualised, of enforcing separation:

Governance does not seek credit. It does not seek citizenship, although it is often understood to do so. Governance seeks debt, debt that will seek credit. Governance cannot not know what might be shared, what might be mutual, what might be common. Why award credit, why award citizenship? Only debt is productive, only debt makes credit possible, only debt lets credit rule. [5]

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29.1. What’s so fascinating about the [CCA’s] concentric model (1997) is the cultivation of ‘commercial’ activity as a protective container for artistic activity. If we extend the commercial activity (activity which exchanges products or services for money) to include the open source programme (activity that is not entirely concerned with commerce, but which exchanges cultural capital for cultural capital), we’re left with a relatively simple power-in-numbers business model. As a strategy for organisational resilience the investment and active stakeholdership from a vast and diverse network of partners resourced through cultural tenancy, the open source and public engagement programmes ingrain the organisation in its locality and demonstrates indispensability. New audiences feed into the life of the building, cross-pollinating between activities and purchasing food and drink at the café bar. A percentage of this profit feeds into the café bar’s tenancy rent, therefore indirectly providing income from the policy to the organisation. [6]

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Between 2018 and 2019, Gordon Douglas embarked upon a ‘performative audit’ of the CCA’s open source policy, which allows free and temporary use of spaces and resources by the organisation’s wider community. This is distinct from the more permanent low cost/occasionally free use of space by the cultural tenants, but Douglas’ questions about the pressures put on collaborative working models by more than a decade of austerity have broader relevance. Since 2001, cultural tenants at the CCA have received subsidised rents in exchange for contributions to the programme: financial credit exchanged for cultural capital, certainly, but also the provision of some breathing space from commercially productive artistic production.

But what does it mean for an organisation, rather than a person, to be a tenant? Is it still a tenancy? Artists’ residency programmes aside, I know I certainly can’t pay my own rent with cultural capital. The art form upon which I waste the most of my potentially economically productive hours is poetry, recently described in an argument for Universal Basic Income as ‘culturally necessary but essentially unmarketable’: this unwise labour condemns me to a state of perpetual tenancy. [7] Yet the work itself is also the work of temporary occupation. Language and form are spaces held open for intersubjective meaning, and pronouns, especially the landlord pronoun ‘I’, are repurposed, amorphous, communal, on strike from binary identification. If ownership is not a complete or uncomplicated answer, tenancy could have something to offer a utopian mode of creativity.

Over the course of the next year, during my period of residence at MAP, the TENANCY project will publish a new piece of commissioned workon the 1st day of every month. The express terms of this tenancy agreement are to address the theme in any way, in any form. The implied terms might be those of precarity, collaboration, temporariness, anger, optimism, common purpose; it depends on your custom and practice.

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Helen Charman is commissioning editor at MAP.

MAP magazine is a cultural tenant in CCA, Glasgow.

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[1] ‘Tenancy agreements’, Citizens Advice Bureau www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/renting-a-home/tenancy-agreements/

[2] ‘About CCA’, www.cca-glasgow.com/about-cca/cultural-tenants

[3] Eula Biss, On Immunity: An Inoculation (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2015)

[4] Anne Boyer, ‘this virus’, mirabilary, mirabilary.substack.com/

[5] Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (New York, NY: Minor Compositions, 2013)

[6] Gordon Douglas, ‘APPENDIX A- TERMINOLOGY’, the final and summative work from ‘An Opposites Programme’ www.gordondouglas.org/

[7] Andrew Leland, ‘Give Everybody Everything: The Financial Life of Bernadette Mayer’ www.kcrw.com/culture/shows/the-organist/give-everybody-everything-the-financial-life-of-bernadette-mayer