‘Rachmanism’: meaning and origin

The British-English noun Rachmanism denotes the exploitation and intimidation of tenants by unscrupulous landlords.

This noun occurs, for example, in the following from Your view, published in The Daily Telegraph (London, England) of Saturday 20th October 2012:

Counting on our vote. And how!

Hurrah for David Cameron’s 1 latest electorate pleasing policy wheeze: an easy-to-calculate choice of tariff options guaranteeing (yes, guaranteeing!) householders receive the lowest-cost MP on the market.
No longer will we be bamboozled as we struggle to compare variable direct debit rates for the mortgages on our elected representatives’ second homes, which have been let to other elected representatives as their rented homes, paid for by us.
Instead, Boris Johnson 2 will convert the Olympic Stadium into a huge dormitory, thus obviating the need for Westminster’s more dishonourable members to engage in legalised Rachmanism at our expense.
Moreover, if the political ombudsman discovers that hard-pressed working families aren’t being offered the cheapest MP option, then Westminster will be compelled to reallocate constituents to the party offering the best deal.
Now that would be an excellent use of energy.

1 The British Conservative statesman David Cameron (born 1966) was then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
2 The British politician, author and former journalist Boris Johnson (born 1964) was then the Mayor of London.

Originally, in reference to Peter Rachman (c.1920-1962), a Polish-born London landlord whose unscrupulous practices became notorious in the early 1960s, the noun Rachmanism specifically denoted the practice of forcing out a sitting tenant, thereby removing the rent-controlled status of a property.

The earliest occurrences of the noun Rachmanism that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From the Daily Herald (London, England) of Saturday 20th July 1963:

Voice of the Herald

THE vicious rackets of slum landlords like Rachman and his fellow profiteers stink in the nation’s nostrils.
On Monday the Commons will debate how to end the stench of extortion and gangsterism. And it is no good the Government saying that these evils have not been encouraged by the 1957 Rent Act.
True, there were racketeering landlords before 1957. But that Act gave the profit sharks their big chance.
Case for landlords
The Government argued In 1957 that something must be done to give landlords a better return, otherwise property would simply go on decaying.
Reasonable enough. Landlords are entitled to a fair living.
But there were two massive mistakes in the Act. Firstly, it was asking for trouble to weaken the protection of tenants before having overcome the desperate shortage of houses to rent.
A rogues’ charter
Secondly, although sitting tenants have a right to remain at controlled rents, there is no limit to the rent that can be squeezed from new tenants once the controlled tenants move out.
This loophole has proved a rogues’ charter. It has encouraged unscrupulous landlords to use every form of pressure—including hooliganism—to force out sitting tenants.
The Government were warned that this would happen. They ignored the warnings. And so they made Rachmanism inevitable.
The real challenge
Sir Keith Joseph, the Housing Minister, now promises to put teeth into the enforcement of the law against crooks. Here is the challenge to him:
While the housing shortage persists, there is only one way to save tenants from exploitation. And that is to prohibit extortionate rents by law.
Will Sir Keith meet the challenge? Or will the Government still permit the profiteers to wring blood out of old stones?

2-: From the Liverpool Echo and Evening Express (Liverpool, Lancashire, England) of Saturday 20th July 1963:

Liberal Plan To Beat ‘Rachmanism’
Call For Stronger Housing Act

A three-pronged attack on “Rachmanism” was proposed to-day by Mr. Donald Wade, deputy leader of the Liberal Party.
He said the provisions of the 1961 Housing Act should be strengthened, powers of compulsory purchase should be exercised and those tenants suffering from excess rents should be able to have redress at a rent tribunal.

3-: From a speech that the British Labour statesman Harold Wilson (1916-1995), who was then the Leader of the Opposition, delivered in the House of Commons on Monday 22nd July 1963—source: Hansard, the official report of all Parliamentary debates:

I beg to move.
“That this House deplores the intolerable extortion, evictions and property profiteering which have resulted from the Rent Act 1957, and demands that Her Majesty’s Government take immediate and drastic action to restore security for threatened tenants.”
Try as they may to play this matter down, Ministers know that the people of this country have been gravely shocked by what they have read in the national Press and by what they saw in “Panorama” 3 last Monday about the methods of slum landlords in London. I think that it is a commentary on our times and undoubtedly on the myopic complacency of Ministers that it needed a chance reference to Rachman in recent judicial proceedings to bring this record of extortion and fraud into the light.
[…] The debate stems from the Rachman disclosures, but the lessons which have to be drawn are not confined to Rachman or to London. The Rachman story is a lurid version of a story which goes on in more sombre, sepia tones in other slum empires and other cities as well as London. Although many of us will be using the word “Rachman” today, we shall be using it more as a convenient form of shorthand, because Rachman was only part of a much wider conspiracy. Indeed, there is growing evidence that he may not have been the controlling figure and that he was one of the “front men” of a much bigger organisation. Whatever his role in the organisation was, there is no doubt the conspiracy is continuing and is still using the same methods.
Summarising the evidence which has appeared in the public Press, and a great deal of other evidence available to my hon. Friends and myself the disease of Rachmanism, if one likes to call it that, can be described in this way. It is to buy controlled properties at low prices and to use every means, legal or illegal, blackmail, or physical violence, to bring about evictions which, under the Rent Act 1957, have the effect of decontrolling the property so that it can then either be sold to business associates or independent property speculators, or can be let at high rents to people in acute housing need, or still higher rents to prostitutes, because the Rachman property empire was a vice empire, too.

3 Panorama is a BBC-Television investigative documentary series.

In the meantime, the name Rachman came to designate a person likened in some way to Peter Rachman, especially as an unscrupulous landlord. The earliest occurrences of this use of the name Rachman that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From a speech that Cuthbert Bardsley (1907-1991), Lord Bishop of Coventry, delivered in the House of Lords on Wednesday 17th July 1963—source: Hansard, the official report of all Parliamentary debates:

We have all been shocked by the revelations brought to light by what I can only describe as “the Rachman racket”. Sooner or later, this question of land values must be faced. Land in London which four years ago was worth, say, £14,000 an acre, is now worth over double that figure. How can a local authority, if it wants to purchase the land for housing, pay such an extortionate price? The only people who can do this are, alas!, the Rachmans of this world.

2-: From a speech that the Labour politician George Rogers (1906-1983), Member of Parliament for Kensington North, delivered in the House of Commons on Monday 22nd July 1963—source: Hansard, the official report of all Parliamentary debates:

“Panorama” came to my constituency to make a feature which appeared on television last week. Local people tried to interest the “Panorama” staff in the real housing problem, but the interviewers were not in the slightest bit interested. They wanted to know only the sensational aspects of the Rachmans and other racketeers in the area. We in Kensington have been carrying on our work for a long time with a great deal of success. I think that we managed to drive Rachman out by the use of lawyers who managed to make his life so unpleasant that he disposed of a great bulk of his property owned by the Eagle Building Society […].
The borough council made a survey of a very bad road. It was found that the landlord of 39, St. Ervans Road, a house which was formerly let for a total of £2 10s. a week, was drawing £21 a week. This is very slummy property. Another landlord was drawing £10 9s. 3d. for 17 people in a house which had only one internal lavatory for their use. The landlord of 63, Tavistock Road, was drawing £17 4s. a week for a house which previously was let for a pound or two. There were 17 persons in the house and only one internal lavatory for their use. As I have tried to point out, we can concentrate as much as we like on the Rachmans, but there is also a variety of small people who are exploiting the present need.

3-: From The Coventry Evening Telegraph (Coventry, Warwickshire, England) of Monday 22nd July 1963:


THE ghost of Peter Rachman continues to haunt Westminster. M.P.s go almost apoplectic about rent rackets. From Fleet Street droves of investigators have penetrated into Paddington where unscrupulous men have cowed tenants by violence and threats.
The revelation that such things can happen in the London of 1963 has caused horror. And only one stone has been upturned. How many more Rachmans are there in the London boroughs and in our big cities?
We do not know, and we ought to know. The knowledge that this has gone on in our midst without anyone having noticed it, or if they knew about it shouted aloud about it, rankles today.

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