Page:The Land Question.djvu/10

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of our land-system has been to drive people unnecessarily out of the country, and so artificially to increase the over-crowding of our towns and the misery resulting from over-competition. Let me speak first of the system of Building Leases. The soil in or immediately around a growing town usually belongs to a comparatively small number of persons; perhaps, as in the case of some towns in our mining districts, to a single person. Anyone wanting a house must go either to one of these ground-landlords or to some builder to whom they have let the land. Whether you build your own house or buy one of the builder's houses, you get a lease of 20, 40, or perhaps even 90 years, on payment to the ground-landlord of an annual ground-rent, which is probably from ten to a hundred times as much as the agricultural rental of the site. The value of the land has increased through the industry of the people, not usually through the merit of the landlord; but not only does the landlord have the greatly increased ground-rent while the lease lasts, but when it ends your house becomes the landlord's property out and out, and the more you have done to raise its value through your own industry the more he will make you pay to renew the lease. Of course this is particularly hard on tradesmen and men of business, because their customers have come to know a particular spot, and when they have to turn out and go somewhere else they may lose a great part of their connection; or indeed the business may be a strictly local one, and they may lose it altogether. There are many other evils connected with the leasehold system, and one is the immense development it gives to the speculative builder and to the army of money-lenders and lawyers who are necessary to his existence. In the part of London where I live the ground-landlord gave building leases to a speculative builder, who, to raise capital for his operations, mortgaged each house before it was completed to a money-lending company, and subsequently gave second charges upon them to a Bank for further advances. The consequence was that when my neighbours and myself came to buy our houses, we found that all the following had to take part in the conveyance—the ground-landlord, the builder, the loan-company, the surviving partners of the bank, and the representatives of those who were dead; and, counting the purchaser's own lawyer, there were no less than five firms of