In every city, on every street, across the country, in every building, a quiet battle is taking place, between ‘them’ (who’s ‘them’?) and us (who, exactly, is ‘us’?) The battle lines are fixed, and the adversaries are owner-occupiers, and tenants. Neither is innocent. Neither is blameless, both misbehave.
My experience was of glowering frostiness, then simple simmering fury - an icy chill whenever I saw my neighbour. I had no idea why. Then, by power of thought alone, I worked out what the problem was. This was after she had insulted Landgirl, and just been, well…odd. The problem was that I should have been cleaning the landing floor. I thought it was down to the caretaker, or ‘factor’ as we say in Scotland, but no – the occupants were supposed to mop the floors. The eternally and splendidly useless letting agents had failed to let me know. The grimacing continues.
In certain other buildings, absentee buy-to-let rentiers rent out homes to tenants who embrace the freedom and transience renting offers – short-term at least. In some extreme cases, they hold frequent noisy parties, scream loudly on the way home at night, do not empty the bins, leave litter lying around etc. They even – literally – shit on their own doorstep. But since they could be moved on, or choose to move every six months, so why bother building happy friendships?
I’ve many tales of recent graduated young-professionals, saving to buy, in place for as short a time as possible. Students are sometimes unpopular for similar reasons, but their transience is virtually guaranteed. Nasty for my friends partner, who works shifts as a nurse. But when you might be turfed out in six months time, it’s difficult to summon any enthusiasm for the communal cleaning rota or regimented weeding. But at least you could take out the bins on time.
It’s not always true that tenants don’t care. Some - I’d even venture, most - tenants behave in an exemplary fashion. They smile at neighbours, check on the elderly, bake for the street etc.
Much of this antipathy is caused, I suspect by snobbery, by a variant of the diktat ‘show me someone in rented housing beyond the age of twenty-five and I’ll show you a failure.’ Tenants are viewed as too poor to own, and therefore feckless, with little understanding that even in an HMO, they will be likely to be employed, disastrously paid, and goaded by disrepair, will leave ASAP.
This can result in hatred. One friend was subjected to a campaign of hostility and intimidation. She had moved in to what had previously been home to her unpopular rentier, so neighbours blamed my friend for the floods caused by his refusal to repair. But as a tenant, at least she could move. It was costly, and onerous. But move she did.
If you, the owner occupiers, realised just how much we, the temporary tenants envied you with your security, choice, and safety. This situation will worsen. That’s my prediction for 2014. One of them, at least.