Recently, I found my neighbour sitting crestfallen in the corridor. Yasmin lost her keys, and had been waiting three hours for her flatmates to return. I invited her in; countless other tenants had passed by and ignored her. That’s how it goes in Dovecot Towers; suspicion discourages neighbourliness, and even common humanity.
While she waited, Yasmin told a cautionary tale - one that’s increasingly common. Seeking a flat, she placed an ad on Gumtree. A man replied, but she declined, explaining that as a Muslim, she needed an all female house. He cajoled and haunted her, insisting that he was an observant Muslim. He even offered Yasmin the en-suite room, and accepted that she’d need a lock on her bedroom door.
So she moved in, and loved her new home. She treated her flatmate like a brother – even cooked for him. All was well, except for one niggle: he collected the rent, claiming it was simpler if he passed it on to the landlord. Yasmin was deeply unsure about this.
Two weeks into her tenancy, she came home to find her flatmate had abruptly left, and taken his belongings. After that shock, the following day Yasmin was greeted by strangers in her lounge. Two separate couples had moved in: one in his old room, another expecting Yasmin to vacate that day. Both had paid rental cash in advance and a large ‘security bond’ to her former flatmate, who was missing, incommunicado and hunted by a multitude of creditors.
Yasmin contacted the actual owner/landlord, who - given the circumstances - was extremely reasonable. He’d not been paid for ages, but still allowed Yasmin and one couple permission to remain for one month, rent free, while perhaps understandably refusing her permission to remain.
Yasmin had repeatedly insisted that her former flatmate provide a formal, legal tenancy agreement. Somehow he never got round to it. The new couple opened some of his post; he’s deeply in debt, which might explain why he’s defrauded them all.
I have lived in houses of multiple occupation where the landlord has appointed one tenant to collect rent on behalf of the entire household. With frequent comings and goings, it’s a reasonable way to operate. S is currently in a similar situation. She pays her rent to ‘…the Columbian’ (there’s no way of saying that without it sounding dodgy) but so far, everything’s working out.
Agencies evaluate potential tenants, often taking weeks to leisurely check credit and other references, charging massive admin fees to do so. An emerging underworld of informal letting has become an alternative to that complicated and lengthy (albeit highly desirable) legal process.
The rental world is insecure, casual and fluid. People move around; sometimes a short lease - or no lease - is easier. Tenants may need to stay for eight months, not six, or one room becomes free when other tenants wish to remain. This tenuous letting network runs on trust.
Now broke and homeless, Yasmin texted her former flatmate: ‘I will see you again. How will you ever look me in the face?’
Meanwhile, Yasmin’s three older brothers are also keen to meet him.