Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Please Try Not To Be Stupid

Some people are so astonishingly, blisteringly, face-meltingly stupid, they make me want to cut off my own head with a blunt penknife, as maybe that would hurt less than reading the cretinous comments they make when rounding up their three remaining brain cells (or mustering the one charged with rational thought) to understand the challenge caused by newbuilds.

My personal favourite came recently from somebody I refuse to dignify by naming. This particular lump of wood with porridge swirling in his cranium actually, genuinely, really, said: “…if the flat’s so bad, why did you move in?”

It’s such a stupid thing to say, that seeing it again made my finger nails ache. Really; it’s up there with “Is Africa a country?”
I’m trying to remain calm. I’m counting to ten, I’m stretched like an elastic band in a yoga pose conducive to tolerance and I’m taking all the tablets. Here it goes; here’s my answer.

Dovecot Towers was brand new. I was the flat’s first accursed occupant. It should have been perfect. I was innocent then, and full of joy. Why the hell would it have occurred to me to interrupt the dismissive, contemptuous, abrupt and intermittently oleaginous letting-agent to ask if the building is falling down? Or is the management company utterly inept? And is design so shamefully impractical and standards of construction so abysmal that thieves force the door and enter at will?

Prospective home-owners have the right to ask vendors about nuisance neighbours, and are permitted, indeed obliged, to have the building surveyed for major structural faults, and problems like damp. Prospective tenants, however, lack the opportunity, the money and (disgracefully) are denied the legal entitlement to ensure that property they pay to live in reaches even minimum standards in sound-proofing or building quality before signing a contract.

Having said that, I learned the hard way about the importance of googling an address to check it’s not listed under the ‘young and funky, party-no-problem’ section on some dubious hotel-apartment agency website, which would never have occurred to me before. I also know to check the post-room is sufficiently secure, but, hey - guess what? All post rooms are virtually the same, so pre-emptive research is pointless. As I wrote recently, brave tenants who ask about the ratio of owner-occupiers during their hasty ‘viewing’ will be misled or lied to.

Should I demand to know if my seemingly sturdy front door is actually so flimsy that my gran could kick it down? Or (you’ll love this: my latest best discovery) were the locks fitted the wrong way round? Perhaps I should dispatch the agent upstairs to piss in the en-suite bathroom, to see if I can hear?

I can’t. I want to. I wish I could; I wish I did. But I can’t.

(NB: The lift has been broken for weeks now. The new caretaker told me that ‘someone’ dismantled the machinery and piled vital components quite neatly on the steps outside. Should I have predicted that as well?)


Caoilte said...

Without wishing to criticise you (I think you write extremely well BTW) the niggling doubt that I always have is, "how did this girl think she could afford to live on her own".

Down here in London I don't know anyone under thirty who is living alone without parental helicopter assistance.

There was an excellent article in G2 a long time ago about housing benefits that assumed people under 25 share a flat every where in the UK. It is simply the expected norm these days for young people.

RenterGirl said...

I have written myself about that iniquitous HB regs for The Guardian; it's appalling, and Labour promised to change it. Of course they didn't. There many reasons to live alone. Moving around all the time, not wanting to lve with strangers, for people who might work anti-scial hours, or freelance, or on a freelance basis, or be disabled or have trouble due to religious/cultural reasons might have trouble sharing a house. Most people I know can only cope with so many years in an HMO. The need for smaller housing units was met with urban newbuild rabbit hutches. The price is falling, the quality was always low. HMO's cram people in, and this can be extremly unpleasant.

RenterGirl said...

I wish I could type. I wish the music in this cafe was lower...I got distracted! Anyway: the assumption about the uniformity of urban tenants, and the social make-up of tenants in general makes me angry. Not all renters are young. Some are even older than 30. Or 40! Blimey. The steretyping of renters into one social category and therefore one available type of housing unit if they opt to live alone is a scandal. Architects, devolopers and other agencies assume that everyone is young and funky, when even the younger residents need good quality buildings, sound proofing, and break from 24 hour parties. You make it sound as if anyone who tries to avoid the nightmare of house-sharing has ideas above their station. People stay single for longer, or marriages and relationships end. Can you imagine having to move into an HMO at 50? The flats need to be well built and affordable. Which is kind of what I write about here...

Caoilte said...

Ah, it was your article then probably. It was an excellent piece and reiterated your point above about the sometimes unattainable social demands that so called "HMOs" place on people.

I would say that in any age and at any age it is a terrible thing to be forced into sharing a home. "The Lodger" has been the classic down and out example of this societally conceived dirty failure. Even the words spinster, bachelor and divorcee have almost primal connotations with cramped and compromised living conditions.

However, just because we have moved beyond societal prejudice against people living alone doesn't mean that they will prosper economically.

At the end of the day, living alone in much of the UK is a luxury. It's simply cheaper to be married or cohabit.

Nevertheless living alone is one of those things that you can almost certainly achieve if you work hard in a 9-5 grind and give up (for example) foreign holidays and big nights out.

However, even then, if you make an uneconomic career choice (of which working freelance or anti social hours might be a symptom) it is almost certain that you have to make compromises in living conditions. Such have always been the burdens on a creative spirit.

The same goes for people with cultural or religious preferences. Most of my Muslim friends live at home with their parents until they get an arranged married.

Incidentally people over 50 are very well cared for by freeholds on housing retirement blocks forbidding people under that age to move in. Manys the time I've looked at a very cheap and very nice flat that's restricted to the over 50s.

We don't really have it that hard. My parents saved five years for the deposit on their first flat and the options to rent were dire.

Anonymous said...

Having just been evicted from a property after going to the local environmental heath department after ten months of hell from the world's worst landlord and letting agent, one of the stupidest things I've been told (by the landlord, the letting agent, the EHOs etc etc) is 'well, you should have known ...'. Well, now I know to disbelieve EVERYTHING I'm told at a viewing about noise, location, maintenance, the previous tenants, neighbours, the gas safety certificate. Shame I didn't know that BEFORE I moved in. Funny that. 'You should have known' should be adopted as every rubbish letting agent's motto.

It was also incredibly frustrating to be told by every EHO that 'you're tenants, why don't you just move?' Yes, because it's *that* easy and cheap for a tenant to 'just move', and of course we should realise that as tenants we aren't entitled to any kind of basic standard of housing, we can 'just move' if we're going to be 'fussy' ...

RenterGirl said...

Caoilte, that's all true. Also, there was a housing shortage, and instead of building sturdy family homes with enough space, developers seem to have concentrated on Dovecots. And anonymous above; that's a nightmare, and I'm so sorry (somebody needs to say it...)We're not fussy. We don't have the right to check, and why not move is an impicit threat, often issued (posts below) when repairs are requested. I hope you are safe and happy now. Moving is costly as I am currently discovering. Again. Thanks for reading, and for your informed and well-argued comments.

Anonymous said...

In the "good old days" of the old Rent Act, it was almost impossible to rent unfurnished property - (none on the market: the landlord could never get you out). The solution - landlords rented out FURNISHED property. The furniture may have been a joke - but it was usually fit for purpose. This had a great advantage: the tenant could move out cheaply, no hassle, no removal fees, no problems of storing possessions.

Removing the Rent Act with no compensating tax on property (whether empty or not, and with massive discount for principal private residence) was a major mistake. BTL injected massive extra demand into the housing market - with consequences we can all see

Cheers, David

Dave said...


Excellent. You have expanded my mind.

- If you are not the first tenant in a property, why not attempt to get in touch with previous tenants before you sign up?

- Perhaps another lesson that I've learned from you is not to be the first tenant in a property!

- Agencies are definitely a pain. Dealing directly with landlords is a whole lot easier.

- There's a lot of difference between sharing a house and living in a HMO. Having done much of the former and hardly any of the latter, I've had some really good times in excellent accommodation with people who are frankly a joy to live with. For peanuts, mostly, compared with living alone. And they *all* had cupboards.

Some of them worked slightly antisocial hours (leaving at 5am and back at 3pm for example) but I never had a problem with that.

I've also viewed a lot of total dross in the house-share market, and wouldn't share with more than two others ever again, but there are singletons and pairs out there who want a *nice* extra body and will set the rent low and pick and choose amongst the applicants.

Young owner-occupiers especially make good housemates IME. And, throwing all political correctness to the wind, lesbians have been the best. I'm not even going to speculate on why that might be (it could just be a small-sample anomaly) but it's happened often enough to me and my friends that it's worth mentioning.

RenterGirl said...

Shall I start a word of the day feature?
I am posting about HMO's soon - they can be fine, but also...can be a nightmare. And thanks for the advice about lesbian flatmates. Thanks for reading!