Winter sets in. cross the land, in rented homes, condensation drips down the walls, and tenants spend their days wrapped in quilts and several layers of cheap fleeces blankets, woolly hats, and mittens as they watch plumes of frozen breath snake cross their lounge.
Many tenants face a choice: heat or eat. This all the more difficult as they cannot choose the one thing that could ease and enable economy. Unlike owner-occupiers, renters have their heating is decided for them, and no matter how much heat bleeds into the outside world, they are helpless.
Heating isn’t boring: it’s vital and problematic. Tenants often move in a hurry, and the idea of them making a leisurely selection between masses of flats is a myth. They have no choice about what heating they have, and despite flat hunting with a wish list they must accept what’s on offer.
In many flats, especially at the ‘affordable’ end of the market (a new euphemism for run down) white meter heating and storage heaters is the norm, which makes me all nostalgic. Storage heater, oh my storage heater….Wickedly expensive, but there is no coming home to a cold house. I miss storage heaters.
Gas heating is for families, not shared housing occupied unrelated tenants who use the rooms at different times of day, where heating one room by switching on the whole system can cause midwinter inter-tenant cage fighting.
There is no easy solution. Tenants are often barred specifically in the rental agreement from using portable gas heaters (which are seen as hazardous) and can’t rely on fan heaters (uneconomical) or portable oil radiators (the same.)
And once you’re in, you’re stuck. My friend is lumbered with storage heaters which her landlord seems unwillingly to replace, run from a pay-as-you-go meter, which always cost more. If being a rentier is to become more professional and homes made to suit the needs of tenants and no the pocket of the owner’s profit motive, then supplying energy efficient heating must be somehow obligatory.
Electric heating is ideal for HMO’s: permitting those at home to heat their own space. Which is also its curse (I once found a co-tenant toasting her toes mid-summer using a three bar electric ‘because it felt nice.’
I used to rage about the many defects of the Dovecot I once lived in, but at least it was insulated to the point of being hermetically sealed, and fitted with heating suitable for a one bed flat. Tenements and conversions have solid, not cavity walls, supplied with ancient boilers and no heat in the bathroom, which was often formerly a cupboard and so acts a Petri-dish for fungus.
There are schemes for efficient heating, but they all offer interest free loans, and what tenant would incur enormous debt to pay something that will enhance their landlord’s property, while landlords do not care about the tenant’s bills? Nobody pays for improvements and updates and so everybody loses: landlords when tenants cannot pay to heat a house sufficiently to eradicate condensation, and tenants who freeze. Lose-lose, then. In a freezing cold house.