Monday, 18 June 2012

Flatmate Woes - People Getting Scary

As you might know, I can see the phrases keyed into search engines to find me (and also your location). Recently, I’ve spotted a new trend, in that many of you seem troubled by your co-tenants. I don’t mean you’re all stoking petty little tiffs about the bathroom rota: I mean horrible, destructive rows, sometimes involving threats of, or actual, violence. This new tone is distressingly plaintive and disturbing, with some of you finding me by googling phrases like: ‘I’m scared of my flatmates.’

Observant readers will notice (and sarcastic readers will gripe) but I’ve mentioned this previously: I write again because numbers are increasing, and it’s getting serious. Previously I’ve suggested that some sort of mediation service is needed, like marriage guidance for house-shares.

Anyone under the age of thirty-five and claiming housing benefit must now live in shared accommodation. And remember: when I say claimant, I mean potentially, you (yes – you) as genuine job security is scarce, employees face short-term contracts, very low wages (most housing benefit claimants work) and serial temping is rife, so get used to the idea that at some point that you might be swallowing your pride and signing on.

Furthermore, in some cities tenants must now share for much longer than ever before, due to soaring rents, the low availability of new mortgages, and a lack of suitable housing. Meanwhile landlords are unwilling to let properties long term, which makes tenants nervous. Communal households, who hold regular meetings where grievances are raised and solved together, might be one way forward. This happens on the continent, and might just work (and assist whoever googled: ‘bastard flatmates.’)

Current key-words indicate something truly disturbing: some co-tenants find themselves helplessly trapped in a house with a bully they cannot avoid, terrified and hiding in their rooms. Now if you find yourself unemployed and coping in your own home with someone intent on upsetting, hurting or otherwise intimidating you, where do you turn?

Moving out is the obvious solution, but it’s difficult without money for van-hire, another deposit and rent in advance, so what’s the alternative? If you are actually being hurt physically, then the police are best placed to assist, which might sound extreme. I can’t imagine that landlords are willing or competent to intervene, and who else can help? Council tenancy relations officers are very helpful but I doubt there is much they can do.

It’s a tragic parallel, but these stories are similar to domestic violence, accompanied by homophobic abuse (one charmer keyed in ‘Hit my gay flatmate’) sexual intimidation, and psychological bullying, aimed precisely at those already ground down and impoverished by unemployment and low pay.

The most upsetting phrase I’ve seen was ‘My flatmate punched me.’ I’ve no idea of the context or history to this, but imagine how terrible that must be: dreading the hour of their tormentor’s return with no way out. I think there must be some logical, official way of resolving this and helping victims. All I can do is raise the issue. Any suggestions?


HMO Landlady said...

Hi. This is an issue that I've faced time and again. The general rule of thumb is that it's up the landlord to put the work in and find compatible tenants, ensure the safety and security of existing tenants by reference checking and, if it DOES all goes horribly wrong, to get in there and mediate, bang heads together or whatever it takes to allow everyone to voice their concerns. The police should be called in the instances of violence or threats but they'll be onto the next call leaving fuming/emotionally charged tenants. Tenants - interview your landlord and ask what happens in these circumstances. I have a set procedure which I follow if a tenant makes a complaint about another and normally manage to nip the issue in the bud by either asking the perpetrator to leave or mediate to allow everyone to lead a quiet, peaceful life. Sharing accommodation with strangers is one of the hardest things in life anyone has to do but it's 20% luck and 80% landlord skill of judgement.

Cyman said...

It's true what they say - money is freedom, and lack of money is a trap! The idea of being stuck in your own home with a "bully" is horrible - but I guess the situation isn't new. After all 1 in 10 women are stuck in a relationship with an abuse partner - bound by a mortgage, dependency, habit or fear - but I guess that's a little off the point, sorry! Enjoyed your article :)

RenterGirl said...

HMO landlady: HMO's are slightly different, but what if it's people you thgought were friends. And yes - moving in and sharing with strangers can be horrible. I have some stories I might share soon, and they are scary. But not all land'persons' are as diligent and conscientous as you (read your blog BTW - fancy a mutal link?) and most just won't care. Is there anyone to turn to? And yep: Cyman - money is freedom.

space cadet said...

Harmony ain't ever gonna be found in no houseshare. Only fortunate people who live like they want to, must think that. As for interviewing my landlord... it's a nice thought.

Hmolandlady said...

Hi Renter Girl. Yep, mutual link sounds good! Do you want to email me at Love your blogs and it's good to hear your side of things.