Friday, 13 January 2012

Flatmate Interviews

Flat-share interviews used to involve a basic chat, or alternatively being casually bequeathed the room by whoever vacated, moving in under cover of darkness and explaining your semi-clad presence on the landing to your new roomies. Now it’s like trying to join the SAS.

I had some bizarre experiences in Germany, where flatshares are taken very seriously. By way of background, renting is the norm in Germany, and people of all ages share a homes with an entire culture and system of manners evolving around WG’s, as they are called.

There are two extremes: one is the type of WG where co-tenants sleep communally and ‘with’ each other (ah…the 60’s.) At the other end is the British way where all people share is the front door entrance and nobody speaks at all.

Somewhere in the middle is the flatshare where residents must befriend flatmates, even attending weekly film screenings and regular communal meals. I was checking out places to live, but they take those interviews very seriously, perhaps because German tenancies can go on for years, even decades.

I attended one interview which felt like I was being assessed for work in the secret service. I was offered Rooibus tea:
Not for me…
‘Are you sure?’
Yes – I never take milk.
‘Have you tried it with milk?’
I politely declined thinking ‘Enough with the ‘effin’ milk, please.’

But I chatted, and after an hour of extracting information about me (‘…so, tell me who you are?’) I was told how things would be (keep in mind, she didn’t own the flat.) ‘I want to know where you are. We will keep our doors open, when you will buy cheese I will eat your cheese and then I will buy cheese if you have no money for cheese, and when my family come to stay, they will also eat your cheese.’

Despite being incredibly proud of British dairy produce, I was slightly reluctant to keep the entire German nation supplied with cheese. I didn’t get the flat. The interview lasted two hours.

Elsewhere, there was an open viewing/interview, with a man who stood at the far end of his flat and held court. The game was to spend time chatting with him and making him feel good about his DJ’ing career, and not minding that there was no lounge. He even had friends who were giving all prospective tenants the once over. I didn’t take the flat.

Why does this matter? Rents are rising, mortgages are rare and given only occasionally to millionaires (do they exist at all?) while new HB rules mean that claimants under the age of 35 are only entitled to the rate for renting a room in a shared flat or house.

People will be stuck for years, hiding the fact that they have children who might be coming to stay, or that their work is not steady (but who’s work is?) So get ready for those new flatmate interviews to get a lot more serious here as well.


Emma said...

I recently had to go through this for the first time (previously sharing with student friends, boyfriends or real friends). It was a horrible experience, as I'm not great socially. One I got on with really well, we had a lot in common, and I though it was a done deal. I never heard back from her. Humiliating, and stressful. I was so grateful in the end to be finally 'chosen' by someone, to be deemed worthy somehow. I am moving in this Sunday, 6 month tenancy. Life certainly feels very unstable. Thanks for writing all this down, it sums up the nonsense rather nicely.

space cadet said...

And don't dare have a partner, or smoke. Or do anything that implies you have a life.

A prospective landlord rang me once, and said..

"Yes, we'd like to offer you the flat. We had a young guy come over, and he was very lovely, but well, he was working shifts, and we didn't like that. You know, he might want to put his washing on late, and it might disturb us. He had a car too, and well, we didn't want to disturb the neighbours any more than necessary you know, cos he'd be leaving very early in the morning"

This was a purpose-built self contained annex that they had added to their house. (Think, glorified garage). The street was lined with cars. Like every other street in Britain. They were being totally unreasonable.

So many landlords just want it all. And speaking to some of them just makes me feel dirty; as they revel in their wealth, robbing us of a voice. We are seemingly expected to put our identities our freedoms our choices and our lives on hold for them. My blood regularly boils when i meet one.

I declined this little offering. Instead i emailed them, and told them that they "seemed like decent people, but something just didn't feel right". I should have said so much more, but my life just seems too short.

RenterGirl said...

Emma - this way of life is unnerving for everyone, even letting agents, and all property professionals are going through it too. So why does it continue? I wish I knew.

And yep Space Cadet: people exercise capricious whims when choosing their flatmates. It's horrible.

Anonymous said...

I was once "interviewed" by tenants for a room in a studenty (graduates) house. They even had their friends around to check me out. I was asked asked personal questions too - they even asked what my sexuality was! Disgusting really.

RenterGirl said...

Anon - that's disgraceful. And possibly even illegal ie unless it's specifically a 'gay' house and trying to avoid homophobes. People need to get along. But seriously, some of the stories I am hearing - this is a growing problem.

Blog dude said...

Hello rentergirl and fellow readers,

Never mind getting my foot on the property ladder, I've yet to get my foot on the rental ladder.

The restrictions that are placed everywhere ('No DSS' etc.) totally preclude people like myself (claiming benefits due to ill health) from finding somewhere to live. So I'm stuck with my parents, which I absolutely hate.

Surely all these things (and the SAS-style interviews you described) are creating a stalemate situation, with loads of empty houses, people on the streets, and adults living with their mums/dads like teenagers?

RenterGirl said...

Hello Blogdude!
I couldn't agree more. Whatever people do is wrong/being made wrong under any amount of new policies: rules against living alone, problems with building houses to share, empty homes etc. The no DSS thing MUST stop. But many buy-to-let mortgages forbid claimants under their conditions. That must stop.

RenterGirl said...

Hello Blogdude!
I couldn't agree more. Whatever people do is wrong/being made wrong under any amount of new policies: rules against living alone, problems with building houses to share, empty homes etc. The no DSS thing MUST stop. But many buy-to-let mortgages forbid claimants under their conditions. That must stop.

Blog dude said...

I currently haunt the pages of '' looking for somewhere to live (which makes me a kind of 'renter ghost', I guess.)

Anyone of a certain age will see I'm making a joke there.

Anyway, to get a decent number of matches, I have to click a little box that says 'DSS Ok'. This box is next to one that says 'Pets Ok'.

Which essentially means I'm on the same human rights level as an alsation or a budgie.

Now don't get me wrong, I like alsations.

I also like budgies.

But this whole scenario does leave me angry and belittled.

You mentioned in one of your posts that you didn't see why people weren't rioting/protesting about these things.

I would join in such a protest (if I can afford to get there that is . . .)

RenterGirl said...

Ah: watching young people and their modern music, clothes or clubbing, and scanning spare room. Clearly going to be a market for age appropriate house shares. Many of the 'older' landlords want lodgers, not co tenants, meaning less rights and a feeling of being an unwelcome guest.