Rachman Hardcover – 17 Sep 1979
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Peter Rachman (1920'1962) was a London landlord in the mid-20th century, active in the Notting Hill area in the 1950s and 1960s.
Rachman's name is so synonymous with bad housing that is included in English dictionaries: Rachmanism: 'Landlords buying up slums to fill with immigrants at extortionate rents; synonym for any greedy, unscrupulous landlord
Rachman was born Perec Rachman in Poland in 1920, the son of a Jewish dentist. He was not interned by the Nazis, but did spend time in a Soviet labour camp before fleeing to the United Kingdom. Rachman soon built up a property empire in north London consisting of more than one hundred mansion blocks and several nightclubs. He operated from an office in Westbourne Grove and the first house he purchased and used for multi-occupation was in now-fashionable St. Stephen's Gardens, London W2. Adjacent areas including Powis Sqare were also early areas where he subdivided and let rooms, initially often for prostitution. Much of this area south of Westbourne Park Road, having become derelict, was compulsorily purchased by Westminster City council in the late 1960s and demolished in 1973-4 to make way for the "Wessex Gardens" estate.
His modus operandi was to evict the sitting tenants of the properties he purchased using violent methods (as they had statutory protection against high rent increases) and then to pack the properties with recent immigrants from the West Indies. New tenants did not have the same protection under the law as the sitting tenants had possessed following the relaxation of rent controls by the Conservative government in 1957, and so could be charged any amount Rachman wished. Most of the new tenants were Afro-Caribbean immigrants who had no choice but to accept the high rents as it was difficult for them to obtain housing in London at the time due to the colour bar. Indeed, Rachman's reputation, which he even promoted in the media, was initially as someone who could help to find and provide accommodation for immigrants who otherwise would find it difficult.
Rachman did not achieve general notoriety until after his death in 1962, when the Profumo affair of 1963 hit the headlines and it emerged that Mandy Rice-Davies had been one of his mistresses and that he had owned the infamous mews house in Marylebone where Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler had plied their trade. He had actually largely moved out of slum-landlording into property development after 1958 but his former henchmen, including the equally-notorious Michael de Freitas (AKA Michael X/Abdul Malik), who still managed to build an almost separate life and reputation as a black-power leader and even promoter of jazz and blues, helped to keep him in the limelight.
As full details of his activities were revealed, there was a call for new legislation to prevent such practices led by Ben Parkin, MP for North Paddington, who coined the phrase "Rachmanism". The subsequent 1965 Rent Act added to the security of tenants but had the unintended consequence that private rented housing became scarce.
Rachman's own home in Hampstead was furnished in a lavish, Louis XV style, the house became the venue for decadent parties and a byword for conspicuous consumption. He owned six cars; his wife was given a red Jaguar, his mistress a white one. There was nothing retiring about this landlord. When he had pocketed his rent, he would drive around the capital in a white sharkskin suit and hand-stitched crocodile shoes, usually with a fat cigar in his mouth.