Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Penthouse Superiority in my Newbuild Complex

Georgie from 603 is obviously quite posh, but not very bright. I’ve never met her; never seen her, but recently she yelled out her flat number and complete name loftily from above at four am, while guiding party guests. Silly Georgie.

Her luxury penthouse palace exists in a vertiginous otherworld, like Shangri-La, with exclusive access to a private lift. Our paths seldom cross, but even chance encounters make it absolutely clear that they regard themselves as being of a ‘better sort’ than the rental property scum who inhabit a lower level, both metaphorically and in real life.

Middle flats in Dovecot Towers are bog standard newbuilds. We are stuck halfway, sharing a lift with the rest of the building. The other day someone deposited crap (no actual crap) in ‘our’ elevator. Now I resent that private lift even more.

The entire ground floor is owned by one landlord. It’s let short term to the desperate, owing to the danger of having scallies leaping over the balcony, straight into your lounge/diner/kitchen. They are cheaper, fitted routinely with a burglar alarm, and you wouldn’t catch me in one.

My ‘betters’ make a lot of noise. To paraphrase that wonderfully named Swedish band, they are suburban kids with biblical and Victorian names. Flats are twice the size of mine, and often given as birthday presents. One upper floor dweller keeps a teensy dog in her handbag (hence the mess in ‘our’ lift.)

Georgie was hosting a little soiree for Rachel, Charlotte, and the boys, with jelly, cake, lashings of lovely weed and screaming. They all sang Happy Birthday really loud; gawd, they were – like – reeeeeally wasted, you know? Georgie was responsible for the 48 hour party from hell a few months ago (rentergirl passim) and had been warned quite severely to shut up or else.

But, here we go again, fourth Sunday morning in a row. As usual, her poor, simple guests had lost their way. She observed their epic trek from her eyrie, and like a beacon, or a booming, braying satnav, coaxed them over hill and dale towards Dovecot Towers by screeching: ‘TAKE THE NEXT RIGHT!!!’

Patiently, I waited for the lost partygoers to appear. When they came into view, I requested forcefully that they told Georgie from 603 to please be quiet, as we could all hear everything she said (although apparently she can’t hear us remonstrating from below).

The insults flew: I was told to shut up, and mind my own business. One classy lady invited me down for a punch up; pointing out that she had the weight advantage, I declined. Then I was told I was full of shit for not fighting, and ‘....what did I expect living so close to town?’ (Actually, I don’t, but aaaanyway…) Festivities concluded at 8am. My neighbour starts work at nine.

Georgie from 603 and her chums clearly believe they own the place; that they rule Dovecot Towers by divine right. Our flats might be less luxurious, might not have a private lift, might not have been a graduation present. But when Georgie, way up in the clouds in 603, is excluded from the entire area by an ASBO, she’ll fall to earth with a mighty bump.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Evidence Of Actual People

A growing pile of half empty takeaway boxes appeared close to Dovecot Towers, stacked up and hidden in an alley. It was a forlorn and lonely sight.

Later, I spotted a man - somewhat on the large side of chubby – greedily, and guiltily devouring burgers. I suppose his home has been declared a health food zone. If he shares a typically tiny, one bed flat, then a dirty alley is a haven for that hurried junk food fix.

Such close encounters are unusual. I rarely see living people around here, just the fallout of human occupation, like rubbish, abandoned post, and scraps of food dumped hastily outside. Considering that our rubbish is regularly sifted by thieves eager to pilfer documents for use in ID theft, residents are cavalier about how they discard evidence. Bank statements, personal letters, even prescriptions, are all strewn laxly around. Some are harmless, whereas other papers could be misused.

They could be ghosts for all I know, because I never see them. The people who leave these traces are ephemeral, and mysterious; fleeting wraiths glimpsed from the corner of my eye. I know they must exist because they leave a trail.

I often hear doors slamming before I edge down the corridor. Everyone seems keen to avoid their neighbours. People open their front door, check the coast is clear, and hurry off down the way, keeping well away from other tenants. It’s a sad, strange and isolated existence.

Even so, there are clues. Empty packing boxes abandoned in the rubbish room reveal so much about the mysterious inhabitants: decoded cardboard cartons allude to shopping, hobbies and who’s moving in. I often find myself wondering: who owns all the posh furniture from Heals (classy for Dovecot Towers) and who eats an oversize, overstuffed pizza every single day.

Someone regularly replaces an enormous mirror. Even with the expense, there’s the terrible misfortune. Most furniture is cheap, either because landlords are cheapskates, or tenants will be moving on. The same items break with predictable regularity: coffee tables, computer desks and shoddy fold-up dining chairs which probably fall to pieces at moments of exquisite comedy potential.

Using packing box divination, I have discovered that someone in Dovecot Towers recently bought a trampoline. Just how they will use it, when flats are so small that even energetic gesticulating can put you in the spinal unit, is a mystery to me. Wary that I am being similarly evaluated, I wrap all my rubbish and shred everything, which is hugely therapeutic.

When post is stolen, I wonder if the thief is reading up on me, forming a picture of my life. I wonder if I should ask my friends to send consoling advice about invented tragedy; maybe thieves will pity me, and leave well alone. Or should I plant fake letters from terrified ‘victims’, begging me to stop picking off and murdering their family, encouraging fear, and respect? Thieves have given up with bank statements (useless for ID theft, so I’m advised) but as for everything else – what will the sifters make of me?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Blame It On The Buy To Let Tenants

Mea culpa. It’s all down to me, and those of us unfortunate enough to rent newbuild buy to let flats. It’s true: everything is our fault (well not mine specifically, but you take my point.)

The brothel on the floor below was run by but to let tenants. How they managed such a scheme from a tiny, one bedroom newbuild flat with plaster membranes instead of brick walls is beyond me. It must have led to a hurried service. Our benighted caretaker pointed out that some of the ‘girls’ were entertaining clients on the stairwell and also - when demand was high - in the recess on the landing. How resourceful.

And the graffiti? Guess who. The scoundrel who uses a stolen credit card to order takeaway food from someone else’s address? Yeah, you’ve guessed it. Who dumps rubbish, vandalises our management company’s feeble attempt at landscaping, blasts out horrible techno, while screeching abuse at visitors from their balcony? The git breaking the main door every morning by pulling it open (and no, that shouldn’t be possible)? Stealing post? Why, that’ll be the buy to let tenants.

Neophyte, ‘hobby’ landlords must accept some of the blame. Frequently laissez faire with the pre tenancy screening, they are apparently unruffled by the destructive effect of noisy, aggressive occupants on neighbours, and indeed - their own flat.

Of course, most wicked deeds are perpetrated by an energetically active minority of tenants who laugh in the face of outrage and complaints, caring not one iota what their landlord thinks. Then again, dedicated villains can forge a reference afterwards, so conclusive vetting is virtually impossible. And what is to be done when the accused is renting from his loving parents, blindly incapable of accepting that their darling child is creating havoc.

Around eighty per cent of flats in Dovecot Towers were snapped up unseen by Chinese property speculators. Being as they’re mostly based in Hong Kong, it’s little wonder they take no interest in the distress of neighbours they will never meet. They’ve invested long term in the bare bricks and mortar, and might be admirably less twitchy about smaller concerns like painting, but are unlikely to rush over on a jet plane if their errant lessees play music a little too loud.

The proximity of new developments to the city centre, and the accompanying clubs and bars, causes major problems. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that cheap flats next to the red light area might be commandeered for use as brothels and make-do ‘pharmacies’, although housing associations, councils and landlords feigned surprise when this happened. Such flats became highly desirable locations for criminal gangs to sell drugs or live close to the office, so the dodgy bloke next door really was the gun toting, crack dealing, pimp your mother warned you about.

There is no central control. Perhaps buy to let landlords should be obliged to notify management agents when they rent out the property. Perhaps tenants should form residents associations, encouraging a sense of community to fight against the temporary ‘just passing through - whatevah’ mentality that blights my home. Perhaps kitchen taps should dispense chilled champagne on demand.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

To The People I Barely Knew - Adieu!

Dovecot Towers is in a state of flux. It’s moving time, both in and out (allowing for a certain amount of shaking it all about.)

People come, and they go. On the carousel that is Rentergirl’s nomadic life, it can take ages to reach even basic nodding terms with neighbours. But don’t set any store by those halfhearted greetings; next thing you know, there are packing boxes stacked up outside your new friends flat, and surly removal men in the lift.

I will sort of miss 4pm Cigarette Girl. Living in a nearby flat, she habitually enjoyed very loud sex in the afternoon, then - giggling in her dressing gown - would hammer frantically on neighbours’ doors to beg for that post coital fag.

Snotty Boys I will not miss. They were thin, and stylish. Whenever I met them by the lift, my cheery ‘Good Morning!’ was greeted with a reluctant, terse, grunt, implying they’d require rubber gloves, a face mask, and a translator-cum-minder to converse with me. Same for the woman who actually turned her face to ignore me, but later knocked on my door in urgent need of toilet roll, whose exit I will not mourn.

Dressing Gown Weed Man was mostly harmless. He’d stand, dazed and stoned on his first floor ‘terrace’ gazing into the distance, wearing his dressing gown whatever the time of day. Apparently, his washing was persistently stolen from the line (easy to reach on the ground floor) so perhaps he was self medicating and had no clothes left.

I will not miss the man (okay, people) with terrible mental health and drink problems who used to summon help by urgently ringing door bells at all hours, but I do worry for them all.

I am nostalgic for the flat which held meetings for unconvincing transvestites/transsexuals. I was often met in the lift by muscular gentlemen in nasty dresses, asking in a gruff bass profundo which floor I required. Their progress was heartening: they eased swiftly from hefty bloke in a frock, to an elegant lady in just a few weeks. All it took was a manicure, a shave and a guided trip around Per Una at M&S

In my previous home, the neighbours were convivial. The man who made his living from car boot sales was cheery, and grateful for the junk I gave him. If he made any money from my donations, he’d give me a tenner here and there. Other neighbours varied from chatty, to protective, to mad. A few of us reached the cup of tea/borrowing a cup of sugar phase, but in this transient life, friendships are unsustainable.

In one block, Rebecca and I were the only tenants not in profitable employment as burglars or prostitutes, and neither of us had recently been released from a long term facility of any kind, so instantly we felt a bond. We once chatted amiably in the foyer, until we were threatened by another tenant, aggressively begging for money. We’d catch up when waiting at dawn for the all clear after the resident pyromaniac had set another fire, and often met in the caretaker’s office, reporting a neighbour’s door being kicked in. Rebecca and I still exchange Christmas cards.