Thursday, 17 September 2009

Tech Support Request - Broken Memory Stick

So there I am, about to post, and my memory stick dies. Anyone know how repair/reactivate/exorcise the little blighters? I have quite a lot of stuff on it, so any help is welcome.
Normal posting resumed as soon as humanly possible.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Mastering The Space Time Continuum

The rules governing any move to a different city are complex – a strand of theoretical physics where explanations are trippy and weird. In summary: letting-agent time operates in a different zone (or rather, an alternative reality) to time in the tenant’s dimension. Meanwhile landlord and removal-man time are different again.

To maintain order in this continuum, relocating renters must synchronise their plans. It’s very tense. I tried to find a new flat well in advance this time around, but most properties are advertised when they are already vacant, and landlords expect you to move in immediately.

That causes problems with the timing of deposits and notice. My last landlord was kind enough to initiate the Deposit Protection Scheme refund before I left, as having seen the flat he knew it was in good nick. Even so, I still had to wait a few days, a delay which meant someone was sitting on the money I would have placed on my new flat.

There’s also the fact that I was technically homeless (I’ve written before about the problems this causes.) Friends who would have let me stay had a much loved relative in hospital, and a fretful sofa-surfer was not what they needed, so I made arrangements to stay in a cheap accommodation, which ate up money I cannot spare. That ticking clock again, as delay in finding somewhere cost me dear…

So I had to hurry letting-agents, without seeming desperate. Once they scent the blood of homeless woman, they go in for the kill, offering the worst leaking shed, and expecting you to be grateful, thereby wasting more time.

Meanwhile, I kept working without landline or internet access, which for a writer is a nightmare. Mostly though, I coped, until the agency got confused (hmm…) about exactly when I was due to collect the keys.
The ferocious she-lettingagent growled: “Where were you – my time is money. Don’t waste my time.”

I pointed out that she had missed a message rearranging the appointment to suit my equally important and valuable time, to no avail. There was no room at the inn. I called my friends, whose relative had rallied; they are kind, and let me stay.

Another factor warps this continuum, and that’s bills. There’s a five day meter reading delay. The tenants of my new flat had left storage heaters on full blast before I moved in, and I wasn’t going to pay for that. Previous occupants sometimes try and bamboozle their replacements into paying for their final days energy use, which can add up.

To avoid chaos, the moving process must happen in the correct sequence: give notice, have meters read, move out of old flat, collect refunded deposit, find new flat, pay deposit, travel across space to new city, collect keys, find removal firm, move in.

Unfortunately, Rentergirl’s General Theory of Relocation says: whatever you need to happen within a defined time-frame will be screwed up completely. There is an explanatory equation somewhere, but even with a Nobel prize up for grabs, it will remain unsolved. The greatest minds all agree; time in the renting universe defies logic as we understand it.

(NB: In memory of ‘Davey,’ who died a year ago.)


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Don't Make Me Angry

I didn’t want to do this, but I am writing about letting agents again. I was hoping that if I ignored them, they’d go away. It didn’t work.

First of all, they are rude, and their manners worsened as my flat-hunting progressed. I’ve been ordered to hurry up during phone conversations when I was obviously asking too many pertinent questions, airily dismissed through an audible haze of impatient sighs, sneered at (again) then mocked for checking the days date.

I called one agent to arrange a viewing. Now, in every city, there are areas where at one end of the neighbourhood, life is sweet. Let’s call that Easy Street. At the other end, life is dominated by burglaries and fear - let’s call that Death Row. You can’t always tell from the postcode or a map, and once you are seen to be an out-of-towner, agents will try and palm you off with a shack in Death Row.

I asked the agent: “The flat’s not in Death Row, is it?”
“No; no – of course not.”
“It’s not on the ground floor?”
“No; the very idea!”
“…and it’s definitely fully furnished?”
“Of course!”
“I’ve seen some nasty places recently; please don’t waste my time.”
“It’s lovely – trust me.”

Fifteen minutes and one costly taxi ride later, I was viewing an unfurnished ground-floor hovel in a slum, with a view out onto the bins, after the neighbours had eyed me up like vultures circling a carcass. I didn’t take the flat, and the agent was incredulous: “…you mean you don’t like it? Do you mind if I ask why?”

The worst encounter so far involves that old letting agent ploy: lying. Where I am living, agent admin fees are illegal - a detail cheerfully ignored by them all. I visited an office. Briskly, they mentioned a fee. I said:
“I thought charging admin fees was illegal here.”

It was like the scene in Oliver where that brave little orphan asks for more gruel, but here with letting agents snorting with derisive laughter. Illegal – yeah right. I couldn’t work out if they were actually lying, or simply didn’t know. What do other readers think? Still, I really made their day.

Then they gathered their composure. Speaking to me slowly, as if I am an idiot, they said: you want the flat – we charge a fee – that’s how it is. They demanded a higher than usual deposit all the while looking me up and down like I had rolled around in dog muck and wrapped myself in cling film before visiting.

I know for a fact they haven’t followed up a single reference, which means they are charging both myself and the landlord a horrible amount of money for an online credit check, which costs about a fiver. The application form they gave me was badly spelled, poorly formatted and full of improperly used legal terms, which I kept quiet about.

Thing is, I’m really angry now. They shouldn’t have made me angry. This might well go further.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Farewell Nice Heights

I’ve left Nice Heights, which was a wrench because I loved there. I’d been in the strange position of showing prospective tenants around. For the sake of my landlord and neighbours, I wanted a good tenant to move in, but I was so enthusiastic that I think some of them must have worried that I would never actually find the will to leave.

Here’s why I’m going to miss my favourite ever flat:

Synchronised Radio 4, although we needed a warden to make sure we were all listening simultaneously on DAB, as the delay caused a civilised, urbane echo.

Nice heights was so quiet. Not deathly, like a morgue, but parties didn’t destroy the peace, and occupants of shared flats didn’t feel obliged to have a birthday party, a moving in party and then a moving out party. It’s also well insulated.

Instead of thinking: how can we cut things back, how can we economise, how can we eliminate anything helpful, humane or enjoyable, without being discovered ie after the block is sold, the developers paid attention.

The way it’s managed (or rather the fact that it is managed.) There are so many blocks where the management team think of running fees as a sort of treat, to be spent on shiny things, and certainly not on nasty, ugly real things like cleaning, and security.

Residents are respected, but then tenants are in the minority. Occupants are also respectful of each other. They keep themselves private, but are friendly and chat, which is ideal.

There was a sense of peace. I don’t know why, but if Dovecot Towers was built on a hell-mouth, or something, but if so, then Nice Heights was on a place where all the happy people lived contentedly for many years.

I once saw a squirrel playing on the grass nearby, and the urban wild mink have been marching boldly into city shops. I could hear birdsong in the morning. Nature’s creatures boycotted Dovecot Towers.

Nice Heights proved that things can be done properly – that newbuild housing might look identical from the outside (and despite the quality, the exterior was far from grand.)

Some residents cultivated little indoor gardens by the front door. Nothing fancy – just a few random plants in pots, but nobody steals them. You can have a doormat, without it being nicked.

If you are carrying heavy shopping, people hold the door, and keep the lift waiting. That shouldn’t be remarkable, but sadly, for me, it was.

I’ll miss chatting in the stairwells with my friendly, sociable neighbours. People weren’t scared of each other, as they were in Dovecot Towers. The enemies of Nice Heights were outsiders, but then we had the security of a concierge and that rarity - a good strong door.

I really wish I could have stayed. A friend pointed out that that this is the only time I’ve had to move out of somewhere I’ve been really happy, which is why I am so wistful. Happiness and high-standards in rented housing shouldn’t be an aberration. Still, onward, as my renting adventure continues…