Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Pilar From Spain

Residents of Dovecot Towers live in splendid isolation, but for a while I was happily acquainted with a neighbour. At first she was afraid to speak, mumbling a diffident reply to my cheery good morning. Slowly she realised that I’m not one of the bad guys, and we began, occasionally, to chat. She shares a one bed newbuild with her husband, and is appalled at… well, everything, and more.

Pilar is Spanish and can’t understand why the flats are so badly built, especially the walls, which are little more than a flimsy veneer of paint, leaving her able to hear most of what her neighbours say and do.

She asked me: where do all the families live? In Spain, apartments are larger, and families routinely live clannishly in high-ceilinged city flats with generous balconies, large kitchens, against a backdrop of thriving family friendly cafĂ© culture (should individuals need to escape the confines of domestic life.) Several generations live in one apartment, but then there’s enough space.

Every time I saw her, Pilar was more and more disillusioned. What about respect, she asked: don’t people care? Everybody has their moments, she knows, but parties and screaming every single Saturday? She feels people veer between two extremes: either frosty and unfriendly, or banging drunkenly on her door at night. Why do they drink so much?

And why are the homes so horrible? Why are they built in such a mean spirited fashion, why so small? She wants her younger sister to come and stay, but has had to explain that her home is cramped, and staying for more than a week or so will be difficult for them all, camped out on an airbed in a combined lounge/diner/kitchen/spare room, with a washer on the go.

In Continental Europe, people routinely live in large, reasonably priced apartments. They seem to stay for life. Owners and landlords accept that they will see increase in value over many years, content to profit from reasonable rents, as the property is already mortgage free. Some blocks are Victorian, with both owners and tenants owning and living in the same flat for decades. Some leases have been inherited down the generations from Edwardian times.

In Europe, there is little stigma about renting and seemingly, less greed. Families live slap bang in the middle of thriving urban landscapes, but there are schools, doctors, and some sense of community or village life even in a bustling metropolis. People seem to accept that you never really own a property, but pass it on to your family, who will care for you when you are infirm with illness or age.

Pilar promised to copy me a form she’s obtained from the council about noisy neighbours. But then one day I came home and found boxes of packed belongings stacked outside her flat. Pilar must have had enough – apparently she’s returned to Spain. I really wish the good neighbours stuck around.


Anonymous said...

So move.

I used to find your blog really interesting, but lately it has been moan upon moan.

Seriously, why don't you move to Didsbury or somewhere? I am sure you could find a flat in an old converted house with solid walls, leafy streets, no noise etc for cheaper than a badly built cage in the city centre.

I know all the hassles involved with moving etc etc but I have rented in Manchester (Didsbury, Chorlton, Withington and Heaton Mersey (just on the border of Stockport)) for several years and have never had half of the problems you have. (Touch wood). And I have ample storage space, a landlord who owns the house outright and lovely neighbours!!

I know several people who live in the centre of town who are also unhappy with their lot, and I just can't comprehend why they stay.

Am I missing something?


Brennig said...

Hmmmm... I have a house in Spain; it's a tricky categorisation to sum up a country that until the Civil War was effectively four nations ruled by one Royal Family.

There are no apartments in either La Alpujarra or Sierra Nevada Mountains, Moorish houses - four and five hundred years old - are the norm; single (upper) storey human living space with the downstairs being stables where the animals live during the devastatingly cold (at that altitude) winters.

Granada, the nearest city, has ornate apartment blocks built around the turn of the (last but one) century/early 1900s that resemble the huge mansion blocks on New York's Central Park East.

Apartment blocks of the old standard do exist in the UK. The pertinent point is that the older standard isn't what's being built these days; not in London, Manchester or - dare I say it - Madrid, Malaga or Alicante.

RenterGirl said...

Hello Anonymous (aka 'Emily') I get quite angry when people such as yourself, who have been lucky with where they live, then seem to despise people like me with - for varying and complex reasons - no choice but to stay. It's not just me moaning; others are mystified as to why decent people are being corralled into cells, and confused as to why standards are so lax. The converted flats in leafy streets you mention are few and far between. I'm glad you've been happy. But don't blame me for telling it like it really is.

Antonionioni said...

Hi - I hear what you say (urrggh). I have been an absent landlord and, more recently, the sole inhabitant of a flat I bought nearly three years ago now near M/C city centre. It's a better complex than yours by the sound of it; for instance, you can complain to the management company about noisy neighbours. But all last year my three adjacent neighbours were: 1. Below: The Terrible Turk with the noisiest voice ever who worked evenings in restaurants and partied noisily till 4 am. 2. To the side (thru bedroom 'wall'), the Chinese couple, the man being a restaurant owner, whose lounge was the other side of my bedroom wall and who used to play music and argue in loud Charlie the Cat style Chinese voices at 3.30 am in their lounge. 3. Above me, the English reasonably normal day worker who was quiet in the evenings and at night but, oblivious to my sleep deprivation, got up refreshed at 7.30 am and stomped around throwing things on the floor every so often as he got ready for work. So any sleep was sandwiched between 4am and 7.30, which is particularly hard in the summer months when the light floods your room and the birds have long started to twitter.

Anonymous said...

I'm not 'blaming you' for anything, and I certainly don't 'despise' you. Don't take it so personally. If you choose to air your grievances on the internet, then you must expect people to read them, then submit their views. I just can't understand why so many people put up with accomodation they aren't happy living in. I understand that there are people who are unable to move, but surely one of the points of renting is that you are able to afford to live in nicer, more spacious accomodation than you would have the means to buy?

And the converted flats most certainly are not few and far between. There are several available on my street alone.

I have not just been 'lucky', I have done my research and made wise decisions. I have chosen not to live in a city centre flat, because of the issues you tell of. The suburbs are the place to be. Thats telling it like it really is.


RenterGirl said...

Sorry Emily, but you sound like one of those types who opens the situations vacant section in a paper, and subsequently decides that there unemployment is a myth, when they see a page of job ads. If you read my blog, you'd be aware that it's not just me 'moaning'. And I know all about people reading my blog having an opinion; I publish your complacent, short sighted comments, when I am under no obligation to do so. Like I say, we may have solid reasons for not being able to move.
You say: 'So move.'
I say:'You don't have to read rentergirl.'
Have fun in Didsbury.

Eddie said...

Woah! I clicked on comments as I thought there might be a few more thoughts on the pros and cons regarding renting on the continent. I didn't expect the above.

But I did think Emily raised a valid point. I didn't think it required the response it got either.

Like myself she just wondered why you don't move out of the city centre if a lot of the problems you have are specific to city centre developments. There are vastly more options in terms of renting in the suburbs. Being central does cut down on a commute I suppose. But it can still be a high price for many people who prefer additional space or quiet or schools, etc.

Her question was "am I missing something?" and it's something I wonder too. Why do you and many others personally choose to live in the city centre?

If you can't be more specific than "varying and complex reasons" then you can't expect people to understand why you choose to live in a development that you find substandard. Especially when city centre flats are not exactly the cheapest option. Or is that just "short sighted"?

Because you do say "cell" but surely there are choices. I'm assuming it's not really a prison and that you are actually free to leave.

Sorry if this also makes me "complacent" but I am curious.


Anonymous said...

Hello Rentergirl,

I'm glad you have enabled comment moderation - it means you get to read the comments posted whether or not you decide to publish them.

The problem with renting under the present system is that the rental contracts lock people in for a period of six months, and there is little security of tenure. It is expensive to move if one has furniture. You have to be prepared either to write off up to two months rent, or somehow negotiate a delayed start to the new tenancy with the new landlord. It might be possible to look for tenancies which will will become available in a few month's time.

New builds are overpriced and were mainly marketed to investors. As the market price of flats heads South, buying has to be a real alternative to renting. If prices drop 30% in real terms there will be windows of buying opportunity developing.

Apart from this - I don't know what the solution is.

Good luck when and if you move on. At least you will know to avoid anew-build flat!


RenterGirl said...

It's not living in the city centre that causes problems, but the poor quality of the flats. Am i the only one watching the news? There's a massive housing shortage, which is being 'solved' by developers building little more than one bedroomed shoe boxes, aided and abetted by buy to let investors, many of whom don't even see the flat they have bought. It's clear from the majority of comments (and emails which I do not publish) that most people who actually live in newbuilds,endure similiar problems.
There's a finite amount of lovely conversions in quiet, friendly, leafy suburbs (and in any case, all those conversions lead to to a dreath of family sized houses.)
Know, what: you're right. Sod the landlords. Let's all move out of newbuilds, and go and live next to Emily...

Anonymous said...

Rentergirl, often people don't understand other people's situations, not through malice but just because they don't understand them and are in need of education. I think you should have replied straightforwardly to Emily with a list of possible reasons people may find it difficult to move (eg can't afford the removal; are not a good proposition for a new landlord, financially or employment-wise; put off by the prospect of making a new housing benefit claim; have family or employment or school or healthcare ties to a particular area; don't have the time or resources to look for a new place; feel like with landlords it's better the devil you know; just can't face upping sticks again; disability; old age) rather than just 'shout' at her and make out she's some sort of sloane. Her comment may have come across as a bit tactless but basically all she was asking was 'tell us why you feel trapped' and the great thing about blogs is that you can share your experiences in order to increase the issue-awareness of your readers.

Robert said...

Unfortunately due to the industrial revolution Manchester has a large percentage of riff-raff and that added with the higher level of bad behaviour these days makes life intolerable sometimes.

One hundred and fifty years ago the ancestors of many of these people would have been living in a damp cellar with a pig. It isn't many generations ago when you think about it.

I live in a council block and I would say that private accommodation is probably worse for anti-social behaviour. There is lots of fine talk from Manchester City Council on tackling it, but the nuisance diaries seem to be a waste of time and (especially the tedious latest ones) designed to put off the complainant. One alcoholic in our block has been making his neighbours' lives a misery for ten years. The first diary and court appearance was 1998.

Your Spanish friend had the right idea. I would never buy an apartment of any kind in Manchester because it is endless problems with neighbours.