For some tenants, renting is a constant source of joy. Just one, vast panorama of happiness. A gorgeous extemporanea full of glee. For others, mostly the impoverished renter, whose work is precarious or those crammed in and insecure where demand is impossible high, it’s horrible.
The device that enables me to see search terms used to reach me here often serves to flag up common concerns. In other cases, people have contacted me to share their stories. The recurring, distressing, but I suppose, inevitable theme is flatmates in shared homes, not just hostile HMO’s, but supposed friendly shared houses with joint tenancies who are very worried about money.
It’s getting quite nasty. Some co-tenants knew each other before moving, others join a new family of convenience, living at close quarters with people they barely know. They share a world of unwanted intimacy, and they usually learn more about each other than is desirable or ideal.
But their lives are linked. I am being told of many examples of austerity biting and damaging the sense of distance most co-tenants seem to want.
One renter tells me of realising food was missing. Nothing major – just morsels really, as if someone had been trying to discreetly and surreptitiously feed themselves. She knew her co-tenant was having a tough time, but realised he was just plain hungry. She did her best to help, by not mentioning it, and offering to share meals, and donating ‘spare’ food. Her flatmate was later seen in tears, holding a parcel from the foodbank.
People everywhere are being forced to share rented homes – that includes claimants under 35, who might - let’s remember - be in work. Life is precarious, job contracts are short-term, pay is low, and people are pushed together. What do you do, when you know that someone is in trouble? When that trouble could affect you?
Then there are bills. How do you share the cost, when people cannot afford to pay monthly, or others cannot pay at all? There are communal meals – even trips to the pub, where one tenant is always, always, busy, and the others feel guilty.
There’s rent. People often elect one person to pay from their account, which is tricky if you’re paid late. Someone shares with an old friend who wasn’t paid for months on end, and he had to cover her share. The employer eventually went under, and he was struggling to find enough shifts himself, so it was a nightmare. He found her in tears. She’d taken a payday loan.
They took debt advice, and eventually had their card meter removed, so they could pay regularly throughout the year, instead of massive amounts in the winter. They paid off the arrears, but they had worked together. Not everyone is close enough or kind enough to do that.
It’s the sense of knowing that people are not your responsibility, but caring nonetheless. When, and where do you draw the line - do you feed them, or does concern stop simply run to polite, ‘caring faces’ and platitudes?
This is another problem that will get worse and worse. Renting isn't funny anymore.