Sunday, 28 November 2010

Walking In The Air

For those of you who do not know me, I have a life outside blogging. By day I am a welder and by nights I am a go-go-dancer*, but in my free-time I write (sometimes about housing.)

Recently an article ran concerning the darkest day of my life: the time I was evicted from my home. Just because I blog doesn’t mean that I allow, or am comfortable with random people having access to my entire life, and so I told a brief version of how this came to be: “… ill-health, undelivered letters (or, I suspect, letters never sent) along with a benefits cock-up, which could happen to anyone.”

The reaction was astonishing. Some misguided experts asserted that because this extended nightmare shouldn’t have happened, it couldn’t have happened. I was curious as to why people were so hostile, until I realised that when people believe that a safety net exists for their own protection, they soon forget that safety nets have holes, and that it is easy to fall between them.

Tenants can never be complacent. For example, when you moved into your house, did you check that that your rent falls within the maximum for Local Housing Allowance, in case if you lost work and were compelled to claim benefits? I bet most people didn’t, and if you are jobless for more than six months, you lose the discretionary payment topping up the difference. You will be obliged to move, but the unwaged are not generally considered dream tenants. Then, under new ConDem plans, you will lose 10% of your housing costs just for being the victim of high unemployment.

If you share a house, what would you do if your flatmate or even your partner simply stopped paying their share of rent? I know of people in this position, without the money to make up the shortfall, now living with a suspended possession order dangling ominously over them.

And what if your rent goes up? What if you don’t get your deposit back, or can’t afford to store or move your belongings? I have written previously about how close we all are to homelessness (roughly two months away, to be honest.)

People are incredibly complacent. It’s bizarre that even in the current economic climate, many persist in imagining that anyone who falls on hard times, losing their home through joblessness or illness must in some way be responsible. But then, adopting such a hard-faced philosophy makes it easier to blame an individual for their own problems.

These people are like The Snowman, flying over the earth, looking down on the pristine, happy, snowy scenes on the ground beneath their feet. In their lovely, shiny world, landlords are perfect, flatmates are amazing, payments arrive promptly and ill-health and disability have been eradicated. Such people are too self-righteous, certain and smug to acknowledge that sometimes, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. To acknowledge occasional incidences of rampant unfairness in the world would mean accepting that it could all too easily happen to them. There but for fate go we all.

*FYI - Flashdance reference…

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Oh, What's The Point?

In the olden days, Rent Officers gave courage to tenants across the land.

I once used their services. I lived in a massive student house (I wasn’t a student) where rent was slightly higher than normal, and the landlord was something of an arsehole: things leaked, or were broken. He’d turn up with his vile, shrewish wife, and instead of arranging for a repair, would berate us all for the mere fact of our existence since decent people like him were paying for our education didn’t we know? Then he’d leave a ‘top of the range’ mop as if it was gold-plated, before stomping imperiously out, slamming the door. Every time he did so, plaster fell from the ceiling like confetti.

After a few months, and to our amazement, he tried to raise the rent: nice try. We summoned the Rent Officers, who were unimpressed with (deep breath…): the permanently blocked windswept downstairs loo (aka ‘second bathroom’) the fact that snow came through the broken window onto my face as I slept, and the padlocked fire escape. We’d accepted the slightly higher rent as improvements had been promised (it was going to be lovely and top-notch - I was younger then, and more naïve) but soon we realised that everything was going to remain leaking and broken. Rebellion brewed.

A few weeks later, the landlord and his missus (both by now levitating with a searing, bitter rage) arrived. The Rent Officers had forbidden their price hike: they’d actually been ordered to cut the cost and were not best pleased. It didn’t matter that ours was now officially a ‘fair rent.’ They were both furious, but then so was I: as they stabbed the air in my direction with nasty gnarled fingers (contorted from grasping cash, I’d imagine) I broke the news that they couldn’t simply do what they wanted.

They owned a chain of houses; I knew some of the other tenants, and on learning of our result, they too called in rent officers. None of us wanted to ruin lives, but the fact that our landlord was so snide in his outright refusal to do any repairs whatsoever at all, and that fact that we had means of exacting – if not revenge, then payback - was heartening. No longer were we powerless, prey to the whims of a bully who simply wanted to squeeze every last penny from us and would rather let his own investment rot and collapse than ‘pamper’ us (his very words) with prompt repairs.

Why am I writing this post? Because lately, I been so depressed about the state of housing under this Con-Dem coup-d’etat that I wondered if there’s any point in writing this blog. Housing Benefit is now deemed an evil, and regulation even of rogue landlords is a distant dream. All our rights have been slowly stripped away, and private landlords are expected to house the masses and seem to have been granted the right to do whatever the hell they want.

Seriously – is there any point in writing this anymore?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


All day long, I hear the sound of water: drip…drip…drip. Sometimes, rain seeps down from the dislocated drainpipe, but the sound is more pervasive than that.

I’ve never been happy in this flat – just never felt comfortable or settled. It’s okay - not in the nicest area, and is (on some levels) affordable. But it’s never felt like my home, and I’ve always felt unnerved. This flat is old – really old, and I am (choking on the words) pining for a newbuild.

The landlord was half-hearted in every way, and what were once niggles are becoming major vexations. Some things are silly: in the lounge he placed an enormous cheap mirror, but then painted around it so I can’t remove it. Why would you do that?

The windows won’t shut properly or stay open in the summer, and were never resealed; occasionally a grey pool of invading water collects on the inside ledge. I asked the letting agents, but they ignored me – in the winter I can see daylight through the gaps in the frames. It’s cold and any heat leaks out to generously warm the street below. The front lock has no ‘shield’ and winter pierces the hallway with wounding, frozen spears.

In theory, the flat is furnished, but the bathroom lacks a towel rail or cabinet, while several of the landlord’s own CD racks crowd my only cupboard. This might seem like an odd way of expressing things, but it’s so male – as if the man fitting it out and shopping for furniture was so averse to female fripperies that he eradicated anything deemed an extra. Like a wardrobe. And he placed the bathroom mirror so high up I need a stepladder. I also wonder why it was that the landlord provided just two dining chairs – one for me, and one perhaps for my imaginary friend?

Weird little weevils have appeared in my kitchen cupboards, and I think that’s caused by damp. The first bloom of black mould has (inevitably) appeared on the bathroom ceiling, but nothing will be done, and damp will slowly chew the body of what could be a lovely place to live.

In other rooms it’s a fact that nothing was renovated or renewed – everything was painted over. The heating consists of storage heaters which devour my money, and in other rooms massive, ancient heaters which have no thermostat or timer, and either belch out heat for hours (there is no temperature control) or else I am waiting for the air to defrost. There is no heater in the bathroom.

I know there are grants available for these things. There is a green agenda. But I will be moving on eventually – maybe even soon, and I know too well that nothing will be done.

Newbuilds are fragile, threadbare and flimsy, but at least they are usually energy efficient and warm. Perhaps I should go back to Dovecot Towers? I am actually pining for a newbuild - have I gone completely crazy? Perhaps that drip…drip…drip has driven me mad.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Nothing Go On And No Rent

Recently, I’ve noticed that many people are finding this blog by googling the simple, unsettling phrase: ‘I can’t pay my rent.’

I’m not talking about the tiny minority of feckless tenants who blow the rent on booze and shoes only to then whine about the resulting eviction, but renters in a genuine bind: when pay or benefits come in late, jobs are lost, rent goes up, or flatmates move out.

When this happens, what do you do?

Negotiate – try and reason with the agent or landlord? Listen to me with my funny jokes. It takes a brave renter to pick up the phone and announce: ‘Hi! Just to let you know - can’t pay this month. I’ll catch up when I can, though. All the best and love to the kids!’

If you’re expecting sympathy, then dream on. Although, I did once speak with an award winning landlady who conceded that modern life is messy, and kindly agrees that as long as tenants contact her and honour a commitment to pay arrears, she would never turf them out. She doesn’t use a letting agent mind you, and therein lies the problem.

The other snag is that rents are too high, and wages and benefits are too low. Working life is complex, tenuous, and precarious: employment nowadays usually involves short term-contracts and temporary jobs, while dipping in and out of benefit claims and low pay, and subsequently being forced to choose: rent or food. What would you do?

There’s sometimes a chance that freelancers and part-time workers can make a back-dated claim for housing benefit, which is always worth a go. Many people are scared of appearing in court (which in reality is like sitting before a kindly man – yes it usually is a man – and explaining your actions.) Being in this position undermines every day, and disturbs every night. The threat of being thrown out and made homeless wrecks your peace of mind. Social housing is occasionally more understanding, but private landlord are stricter (let’s face it, they have a mortgage to pay and finances can be tight at the best of times.)

Of course, you can ask the bank for a loan, or an overdraft, or borrow money from friends and family. But if you are behind with rent, banks are unlikely to help and friends will probably have financial problems of their own.

The next step then is legal proceedings, which can start all too fast. If you are taken to court you can - and should - attend, so as to make a case for staying on and paying up. But what are the chances that landlords and agents will eventually give notice anyway, because they can, and because they want to (even you are a dream tenant wafted in from heaven and paid in full.) Once you miss a payment, you are stuck, and face either doing a runner, or submit to a bad reference from your landlord.

Like I said, it’s horrible. Nobody said that life was going to be easy, but why must it be so hard?

Monday, 2 August 2010

Pets Win Evictions

I don’t have a pet at the moment. Don’t get me wrong - I love animals, which is why I avoid them. I once bought a goldfish, and it lasted two hours (do you think I should have put some water in the bowl?) And so for me, renting is the best excuse not to have a pet (FYI – I’d love to own one of those miniature horses.)

Others are less considerate. People who live in flats exhibit a disturbing tendency to own creatures known as ‘house cats.’ To me this seems cruel: cats should be out stalking mice and fighting urban foxes, not sitting on a sofa eating custard creams and watching Loose Women.

The main problem however is that many landlords don’t allow pets of any kind which (here we go again) is different to the attitude of our wiser cousins on the continent, who allow tenants to treat their rented property like a home, part of which is owning a pet. I can understand that a rambling, shambling shared house with revolving doors and many occupants, each with a dog, would be un-manageable, but even in family homes, pets are forbidden.

But still people answer the call of the wild by buying a Chihuahua. In a shared student house, one, determined fellow tenant acquired an ‘illegal’ cat (pets were banned.) It had a habit of strolling in, bold as you like whenever the landlord came to visit, obliging us all to act outraged while claiming it belonged to a neighbour.

This worked well, until another housemate bought some zebra finches. It was like the circle of life: the devious cat managed to open the cage door, and devoured the little birds. Thing is we were all simultaneously horrified and grateful – those birdies made a vile squeaking noise, or else they squawked with fear.

The alternative, I suppose, is one of those nasty little dogs that live in a handbag and look like a furry pencil case, or more worryingly perhaps, resemble one of those humorous posing pouches I’ve been told about. But what is the ideal pet for a tenant? Gerbils? They are neurotic and they smell. Tortoises are banned as pets, and anyway – what’s the point – it’s like a matchbox toy with no wheels on, and they are dreadful at small-talk.

What harm can pets do – if looked after properly, they don’t make a mess (most animals are cleaner than many first year students, and I’ve been one) and if they scratch (puppies use doors as chewy toys) then the tenant can buy another door, or repair it.

Mostly I think it’s unfair to imprison animals in a flat – they all need space to roam, and dogs need a park to gad about in. Other than that, lizards and snakes should be banned due to being creepy, and because they eat rats. A friend once viewed a flat where the potential co-tenant introduced her to their pet tarantula. The ensuing screams curdled milk in the next town.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

I'm Afraid For You.

I’ve written previously about the device I use which shows the keywords used to find this blog. Apart from the usual queries involving rubber gloves (still strikingly popular) recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing development.

There’s been a notably increased amount of phrases such as: “I’m afraid of my landlord.” Or “…my landlord comes round unannounced.” Worst of all was “My landlord threatens me.” Along with “Is my landlord entitled to go through my underwear drawer.”

He isn’t.

This might sound crassly obvious – but it’s horrible to live in fear. For most tenants, the next few years will be lived under a palpable sense of nervousness, as we ponder the perennial question: whatever will become of us? With increasing reliance on private rented housing, the regulation of agents and landlords has been ruled out, and – judging from some of the comments/keywords/comments I’ve seen, the other measures supposed to protect us simply do not work.

People are scared. Large scale private investors are looking to do what those individual buy-to-let investors did: build loads of news homes, and then decide who lives in them. Occupants (i.e. tenants) are not now, and never will be consulted about their needs, or even what they’d like from a home. And landlords…ah landlords…

They argue on a loop claiming to endure restrictions so tight they can barely breathe, let alone their sacred right to evict renters randomly at will and throw their belongings out on the street…(Oh, I’m being bad I know, but it’s a right they cling to.)

It is a paradox – most tenants like the freedom of renting a house: not feeling so tied down, living a life of short term contracts matched by short term living arrangements. But the downside is a life of insecurity: wilfully encouraged by landlords and letting agents, who delight in undermining any hard-won semblance of security.

But this philosophy is pernicious. It seeps and infects your life: tenants never know when they will have to move and are treated like mould in the bathroom – tolerated briefly and then eradicated.

And now we are scared. Some of us are terrified. Landlords are flexing their muscles, and in certain distressing cases - are behaving badly. Judging by the recent onslaught of questions about personal safety reaching me, it’s only a matter of time before something really bad happens.

So please: if you land here because you are being threatened and/or intimidated – please use more the helpful sites on the blogroll to the right of the page, especially the wonderful Shelter.

And remember this: you have rights. You are not vermin. You are a human being, paying rent to live in a building which is a home (not the physical embodiment of another person’s luxurious retirement bungalow dream) and you should not live in fear. Remember this when you are being terrorised: slipping away and not making a fuss is tempting, but if we don’t fight back, it’s going to get worse, and worse.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Lodging A Complaint

The idea of being a lodger still sounds dull, and seedy - redolent of rationed hot water, sneaking upstairs to hide ‘guests’ and terrifying battle-axe landladies. Don’t worry - by lodging I don’t mean boarding houses, but renting a room in someone else’s house.

Lodging is now officially encouraged: the last government even gave tax breaks to people letting out a room. And on the surface, it seems like a great idea – owner-occupiers are in trouble, and so many people bought two bed flats (dovecots) that they might as well let one room out.

If only it was that simple. First of all – who gets the en-suite room? Might seem petty, but these are things that lead to simmering white-faced resentment. A friend lodged as a student, renting a room from a testy, bitter couple both forced into low paid jobs and saddled with an unwieldy mortgage. Taking in a student must initially have seemed like a grand idea, but the situation grew nastier day-by-day.

First of all, they grew increasingly proscriptive about when she could use the kitchen. Then her allocated shelf-space was shrunk, and that precious allotted time in the bathroom was shortened. Remember she was paying rent, money they were relying on to stay solvent (maybe that’s why they were so tetchy – they resented the power unwittingly wielded).

They were stunned and hurt by her explanation for leaving: “…but you were a guest in our house.” That surely is the nub of the problem – lodgers are treated like couch surfer friends who have outstayed their welcome, rather than people who live in a room as of right, paying handsomely to so. I know of people who take in lodgers and appreciate the delicate power balance, and have the decency to treat their tenant more like a flat-mate than an irritation.

Another friend rented a room from an eccentric woman who collected cats (no – she was not called Mrs. Cliché) until the house was overrun with moggies, their hair, fur balls, and their spraying. She was unable to voice her anger as lodgers live on a licence, and can be given an hours notice on a whim for imagined slights. The upside is they can usually move immediately - as my friend did here.

Lodgers walk delicately across thin ice, which is carpeted with egg-shells. If owners don’t wash up, or leave their laundry mouldering for months in the machine, that’s their prerogative, and lodgers must smile sweetly and ignore it. They have no sense of ownership - no ‘purchase.’ Lodging twists the natural tenant relationship: everybody must be on their best behaviour, as lodgers can leave whenever they want, and landlords can give lodgers the push whenever they feel like it – just because they want to. It’s like having a landlord as your flatmate – tenants/lodgers must be understanding about repairs, and in turn they will see the effect of the good (and/or poor) management when owners sit opposite them in the lounge (that’s if they let you use it.) It’s a miracle that lodging based violent crime doesn't make the news on a daily basis.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Once Upon A Time.

This is a delayed reaction caused by extreme shock. I knew it would be really bad. By ‘it’ I mean of course the new regime. By regime I mean of course Grant Shapps, George Osborne and Ian Duncan Smith - aka The Three Stooges.

Over the years, I grew chillingly cynical, to the extent that I think I am being sarcastic even when I talk to myself. So why am I so incredulous at the latest pronouncements on housing? I thought I was immune, and am checking to see whether I’ve missed the point, or my brain fell out of my ears, or if all those ‘stupid’ tablets I've taken are starting to happen.

Here then, is the story. In the beginning, there was the housing market, which was quite deliberately cranked up, with humungous price rises seen as undeniably a good thing (naysayers were stoned to death.) A multitude of amateurs from the tribe called The Neophytes invested in property, because they didn’t have a pension. Rents rose.

Meanwhile the expansion in buy-to-let construction created vast swathes of identikit one or two bedroom flats, but as for much needed family housing – dream on, you deluded peasant. And yea, the rents rose. And then they fell, as flats were too numerous. And lo - the investors did go bankrupt. There was a plague of letting agents in Ipswich, and swarms of value consultants descended upon Birmingham. Verily we were being punished.

Given the climate of increasing job insecurity and pensions falling through the floor, I’m not convinced it’s the fault of the people who invested in property – I even suspect this is a deliberate ploy to undermine the working people, as those on short term contracts become more malleable, pliable, and simultaneously – breakable.

And still people just wanted somewhere to live. But jobs were hard to find. And through no fault of their own, people who didn’t expect to visit those lovely chappies at that marvellous Jobcentre+ thingy found themselves existing/subsisting/clinging to dear life on £64.30 per week (“…HOW much?”)

And then they lost their houses, but landlords were still ramping up rents and tenants had to claim Local Housing Allowance which didn’t cover all of their rent, and they had to top it up, because the landlords, the government, the banks – everybody actually - had encouraged rents to rise.

And then...and then…the new coalition government slipped into power. And they did spake unto the people exiled as ‘scroungers’ punished them with a budget that put a cap on the rent allowance: £240 a week for a one bed flat – even in London (really! I am being serious, I am not making that part up.)

What happened next? People couldn’t pay the rent, and fled to the imaginary social housing that was never built, or the pretend council houses that were all transferred or that never actually existed, or to the private rented homes they could afford, but which were miles away from friends, family, safety and jobs. Failing that, they became homeless.

This fairy tale does not have a happy ending. It is a horror story.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Like A Thief In The Night....

Back in the olden days, sinning was simple, there were seven – meaning we had clarity. Nowadays, it’s complicated: miscreants are pelted with stern looks for standing in the ‘10 Items or Less’ queue with twelve items, for interrupting (guilty!) and looking over your shoulder for someone better to talk to at parties (not guilty.)

Now we can add another item to the list of misdemeanours worthy of social excommunication: stealing broadband. The other day, my ISP emailed to tell me I had all but exceeded my allocation, and would be charged for further use.

How the hell did that happen?

I rarely download music and am not a gamer. In truth, with regard to computers, I am about as skilled as ‘Mrs Brady – Old Lady,’ and can barely turn the damn thing on. Still, I called the ISP, and spoke to a very kind man baffled by my incompetence and flummoxed by the fact that nothing worked as it should. Together, with fortitude, dedication, stamina and black coffee, we tried to change my security code.

One whole day dragged by, rippling with confusion: I ground my teeth to stumps and plaited my extracted hair to create a neat little coin purse, but did not manage to change my secret code. (Large font typefaces capable of distinguishing between a zero and a capital ‘O’ would help, but I digress…)

I still haven’t met my neighbours – I don’t know who they are. They exist only as angry handwritten posters demanding that we shut the door, or that we do not put glass into the recycling bin as the council forbid this - yet another modern sin. Occasionally, I hear a door slam, or notice the wafting scent of cheap, cheesy bleach used to mop the floor, then another notice appears, and I catch the unnerving sound of scurrying, or disembodied shouting. I know my neighbours are real because of shouting and ranting from one flat, and the aroma of old school tatties-and-mince. Occasionally, I slip on the thick muddy paw prints of their tiny, yapping, mostly housebound dog, but still I rarely see them.

Consequently, I can’t glare at the sinner on the stairs, or knock on every door to ask, since it’s my responsibility to secure the internet. Worst of all, I know the guilty thieving broadband git must be close by, and they’re guilty of playing ‘World of Warcraft’ for days on end, or downloading Michael Buble, and I get to pay.

So who is the evil thief – how do I unmask them? My enemy is can only be a neighbour, and they are invisible. Stealing my broadband is actually a crime, but you can imagine what the police would say if ever I were to call them expecting urgent sirens and flashing blue lights for a hue and cry?

Broadband theft is like appropriating someone else’s air. I never imagined being in a position where somebody could steal something so costly and essential to me, and that a bizarre system of notional walls could stop them. Or not, as the case may be.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Charting the Conversions

Outside of Scotland, older flats are rarely purpose built, but converted from the gutted shells of former family homes. In desirable locations, like Brighton and London, it’s rare to find a house still intact and not remade into a warren of tiny apartments. The consequences are exactly what you would expect from cramming five eccentric, inconsiderate, uninhibited, modern households into a building designed for one genteel Edwardian family, obediently busy with needlework so as not burden mama with one of her heads.

Conversions are frequently done on the cheap, and are insensitive to basic human needs, like privacy and security. Partition walls are made of plasterboard, so noise (arguments, music, sex, dogs) seeps through. Contemporary dividers were designed to limit the muted kerfuffle of a world before electricity and amplified sound, not block out thumping tunage and shouty phone arguments. Thin ceilings do not muzzle a world of home cinema, band practice, and power tools.

Houses in multiple occupation often have bathrooms squeezed into former cupboards, and it shows; damp and mould thrive in confined, poorly ventilated hutches. On the plus side, they have lovely high ceilings, and traces of original features like alcoves (ideal for shelves) and plaster moulding which gives a welcome sense of faded grandeur (sorry – that’s the only good news I can give you). It’s a sobering thought, but your generous two bedroom flat with desirable separate kitchen fits neatly into the parlour of what was once a modest Victorian home.

Rubbish is usually stored outside one unlucky window, so those sultry summer nights are a constant source of joy, what with the maggots, stench, and cats. Post is kept in a common area, so theft is frequent, and personal correspondence shared by all. One morning a neighbour handed over an envelope. ‘Time for your smear test, then?’ he wisecracked.

Conversions often have poor water pressure. They were built in the days when bathing was an annual indignity, and cleanliness implied laundered linen, heavy perfume, or a quick rub with a wet hankie. Every tenant needing a shower in the morning can cause the ancient plumbing to gurgle and splutter in a truly alarming fashion.

Protracted arguments arise over leasehold responsibilities, like who cleans the stair carpet, or pay for roof repairs. Some buildings share the garden access; others allow the dwellers of the dingy basement free run, just for some sunlight and Vitamin D (if not, developers could be sued for the resulting rickets).

Such flats are often hazardous, if not actually falling down. Sometimes there is structural damage, so tenants are evacuated for their own safety, or they spend the summer squinting at the sun from behind scaffolding and banners. The owners say you can move back when it’s all been mended, repainted, and resealed, but soon the building has been upgraded and sold on again. Pressing the landlord about repairs tends to encourage this.

Monday, 31 May 2010

On Your Own

Everyone reaches the stage where they can no longer cope with flatmates (or ‘sly, noisy, milk thieves’ as they are better known to me). One day we all run screaming from our HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) to seek relief alone.

But the idea that solo-abiders maintain contact with a social circle or family is alien to architects. Most one-bed flats are designed for recluses, with a zen attitude to possessions, and no sex life. Certain one room flats aren’t even large enough to accommodate a double divan in the bedroom: are single people celibate for religious reasons? The ceilings are low, and many new blocks are glorified Japanese capsule hotels. I’ve even heard of a studio conversion with a freestanding bath in the kitchen, although bathrooms are sometimes disproportionately large, as if to encourage us to wash.

You can’t fit a sofa, dining table, chairs, desk, large TV, stereo, books and CD’s/DVD’s in most one room ‘apartments,’ and these are pretty standard possessions. Add to that fanciful plans like drying washing, inviting several friends to stay, four friends round for a sit down meal (or a proper party) are also deemed beyond their reach, or out the league of forlorn, desolate unmarrieds.

And there’s a thriving market supplying one bed flats to divorcees, who are the clients for out of town storage spaces, visiting distant possessions, nostalgic about the days when they owned a library of much loved books, treasured CD’s, and collections of clothes, running their fingers wistfully over the furniture they won in the settlement. Oh, such joy in times past: if only there was room in their new apartment.

The indignities and unfairness increases every day: without a water meter (which many lease prevent us from installing by law) they are stung with water bills as high as that of a large family. Standing charges are identical, and the council tax deducts just 25% from the bill of solitary flat dwellers, despite all those statistics about increasing numbers of lonely, isolated, paranoid, space blocking singletons. Statisticians claim that they die young, so the next move must inevitably be straight into a hospice, as they don’t live long enough to complain.

Unfortunately, isolated flat dwellers can quickly slip into bad habits and strange ways, like my neighbour, who would scoff an entire week’s provisions in one go (that’s seven ready meals) which makes the freezer a mixed blessing. Or they become all twitchy and weird about the best way to wash up or clean the floor, and petty about how to best squeeze a tea bags.

In reality, ie outside of brochures and the warped minds of developers, people who live alone don’t necessarily spend all day on a bed chair/commode, glued fast by their own rotting skin, balancing a congealed, micro-waved ready meal on sad, shriveled laps. Developers like to name these buildings something modern, and edgy, like ‘The Edge’. Considering the contempt in which they so clearly hold them, why not hang a lurid, flashing neon sign above the door, with the slogan: ‘Only Losers Live Here.’

Monday, 24 May 2010

And Around We Go

The property market is like Groundhog Day without the gags. It’s an eternal, infernal cycle where people buy piles of bricks and mortar, either to live in or to charge others for the privilege. The value of these bricks subsequently soars off into the troposphere, or plummets to the very centre of earth’s molten core. Bystanders must then either celebrate or commiserate, as the news reports bang sonorously and portentously on about this situation being either really, really bad or very, very good.

Meanwhile, tenants watch helplessly from the sidelines, wondering how this will affect their lives, hearing talk of something mythical called Capital Gains Tax which may (or may not) compel their landlord, aka the de facto owner of their immortal soul to sell up or hang onto their investment. This means they are either homeless or housed – either really. It’s all so tenuous and fanciful.

Astonishingly, the Housing Minster no longer sits on the cabinet, and something which sent the economy spiralling into disaster like a vast tornado devouring public funds, forcing thousands out onto the street as novice landlords went bankrupt, forcing the state to take steps to stem the first run on a bank in hundreds of years, is regarded as an distraction, not a vital economic, or a basic human need, namely: a safe home and security of tenure.

Sometimes I wonder if I am engaged in my own life: or am I at the mercy of a huge game of piggy-in-the-middle crossed with monopoly, with giants flipping coins and throwing rubber balls over our heads to decide where ordinary people will get to live, and for how long they can stay. I want a home, a permanent home. I do not want to live in a piggy bank, but once again, I am.

What’s bought this on? Well, commercial property is cranking up for a new boom, with mothballed sites being reactivated. Buy-let-mortgages are back on offer and soon, building will begin again.

Again. And again. Which means: speculative short term investment in shabby, toy-town new build dovecot, with the private rental sector entrusted with housing us all, and no improved regulation of letting agents, building standards and no end to the dire renting culture here in the UK, with renters hanging on the end of fraying rope, with landlords and letting agents tugging furiously at the other end.

I suppose the saturation of one or two bed flats might help us still, as landlords are desperate to rent, and anyone who bought in the recent ‘fire sales’ might not expect to crank up the rent to cover an extortionate mortgage with a gifted deposit.

Except – except… that’s all staring to happen again – soon we’ll see re-animated Inside Track staffers staggering around like zombies, promising vast inflated profits before eating neophyte investors and saving the best part (their beating heart) for last.

Have we learned from the recent past? No. We didn’t. And so it goes - around and around we spin, back on the speeding hazardous carousel again…and again.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Girls and Boys.

My, but aren’t we modern? Men and women now live together when in previous less enlightened times they would have been forced to marry by the league of decency at a mass ceremony like the moonies.

Even so, some flatshare ads specify the sex of the tenant, and some rented households are still single gender. Others aren’t so specific.

How quaint you think - how Victorian. But always remember: in ancient times, men and woman lived in separate villages, and with good reason. When you’ve lived in a house with boys and girls together this begins to make sense.

Firstly, there’s the shared bathroom. Anthropologists have written thick editions of theories about male toilet habits, and here’s a brief summary of their learned conclusions: ‘They’re horrible!’

No really; the adage about snaps and snails, and puppy dogs tails missed out appalling mess, hideous invasive smells last used in the trenches of WW1 that melt your nasal passages and permeate the entire house, before heading off down the street to make their way into town.

There’s the fact that (despite an ability to programme computers and re-assemble engines) a toilet brush is a bewildering and complex piece of technology. There’s shaving beards (and heads, and god knows what else) leaving the detritus on the bathroom floor, and they make good use of all your beauty products, whilst disdaining you for vanity.

Yes, I know - females are not innocent. Much to the amazement of men without sisters or mothers – ladies function just the same, digestively speaking. And yes, women and baths is an extreme, experiment in hygiene. Sugar and Spice? Make that leg shavings in the bath, sanitary products discarded openly in the bin, and hours, and hours, and hours (in fact a residency) in the bathroom. One flatmate was oddly coy, insisting that spare loo roll was stored in the kitchen cupboard, but not so coy about drying half washed knickers in the lounge (I will spare you the details…suffice to say it was like a surgery scene ER.)

And emotionally it can get a very messy, with boyfriends made insecure by male flatmates, or boys hijacking your man for that Simpson’s marathon, or something called ‘The Match’.

Certain are assumptions linger: many men assume that women love to clean, while women assume that men can instinctively mend stuff, when neither is true. While the exception proving the rule is always a joy to find, I have encountered men ask if lettuce needs cooking, and girls who called the gas company when the meter ran out. I also know of ladies who cooked boil-in-the-bag-fish, or reheat takeaway curries for breakfast, and men who insisted upon cooking carefully prepared, delicious, nutritionally balanced meals every night.

When a house with a large amount of inmates divides along gender longs during conflict – well that’s not a good thing. And there’s the drama and recrimination when couples pair off and then split up. It’s unavoidable and cranks up the drama. And there’s no going back.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Value Consultants Up Against The Wall...

The late, lamented Douglas Adams wrote mockingly about the seemingly needless profession of telephone-hygienist. There are other jobs that make me wonder if the world would spin without them: colour consultants (FYI – I am a ‘Spring’) and obviously - letting agents. But here’s a new one: value consultants.

Value consultants are employed by developers to assess the spec of newbuild homes, shaving off any ‘extras,’ the theory being that previously, architects and builders decked buy-to-let flats with platinum flooring, marble walls (or crazier: long lasting carpets, bathrooms that saved energy and water, kitchen cabinets and appliances that didn’t break, etc etc, oh I promised I’d be good but I am compelled to mention this again.)

I still debate how dovecots came to be so horrible, since nobody in their right mind would scan a list of things you really in a home and with a sharp red pencil cross off ‘cupboards’ and ‘that surplus five feet of lounge which uses up all those costly bricks you know.’ This isn’t about minimising waste. This is about mean-spirited and cruel downward trends in size, space, and fittings, which have eroded quality of life in new developments until life is becoming unbearable. Blame the value consultants. It’s all their fault.

I thought standards had been shaved to bone, but what’s next? All walls – even the bathroom wall? In some new flats, they even miss out doors. Then there are the flats supposedly one bedroom with a separate kitchen and open plan lounge-diner, where there is no corridor. I’m just waiting to hear of newbuild with the toilet in the middle of the kitchen (crapper/diner?)

And many balconies are actually caged windows. I’ve mentioned previously the developers who omit double-glazing, as the fine is cheaper than the thicker windows. People will do anything to slice a pound from the cost, as they don’t own the building – they just design and finance it. Somebody else builds it, another firm manages it, another lets it. This unwieldy, fractured chain ends with the tenant at the bottom, victim to vicious cost-cutting, with no input and no voice.

Another dovecot, slightly further along the way (grey fittings, no extras) exemplifies these mean-spirited ‘economies.’ The balconies (a decent size) stand on a metal frame, stuck on the outside like meccano, with floors made of thick mesh, which drains easily during a downpour. On the top of this bolted on extra, someone had the presence of mind to put on a roof. When I first saw it, I thought it might be solar panels, or protection from the deluges that frequently descend upon this city. But no. They erected the frame, but left out the glass, and so anyone standing on the balcony will be subject to some horribly inclement weather. How spiteful is that?

Inhabitants of Douglas Adam’s planet that had exiled all the useless telephone hygienists, died of an illness spread by germ-raddled phones. However, if we were to storm the value consultants brandishing torches and pitchforks and run them out of town, life for tenants (and let’s not forget – property investors) would improve. To the value consultants then! And after that - onwards – to the letting agents!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Smell You later!

I still haven’t thought up a nickname for my latest flat, and I’ve been there a while. After so many homes being either outrageously horrible, or stupendously nice, I think this flat is the goldilocks flat – that is, just right (apart from the letting agent.)

But things are beginning to shift slightly over to the world of weird. It’s a small thing, a tiny incident, but as one used to reading the runes of a building, scanning the evidence for signs, I found this disconcerting.

Someone has pinned an excerpt of a poem on the wall. It’s terrible poem, bad enough to make William McGonagall adopt a superior sneer. It was entered in a local newspaper competition and ends with the sentiment: “ I know in my heart/there’s a place for my modern art.” Heroically bad, in other words.

Something is awry. The signs are all around. I introduced myself to a neighbour, who seemed pleasant and amiable, but all I’ve heard since are constant tumultuous screeching arguments with her boyfriend, all day long, every time I walk past.

And while hunting a parcel that had gone awol (I *heart* the post office…) I left a jaunty message for my neighbours and noticed something strange: their flat smelt pungently of cheese. Could be stilton - might be the noxious aroma of bloke-foot, but it reeked, and made me realise why my flat had been smelling so bad – the odour was snaking across the landing and infusing my home with eau-de-roquefort.

Then the occupants knocked on my door to explain that they hadn’t seen my parcel (to a backdrop of “You fucking slag – no you’re a fucking bastard,” from the people opposite.) I tried to find a delicate way of asking why their home smells so strange, but I am not a diplomat. Perhaps they are artisan cheese producers? (By the way - they are French.)

Things like that are unsettling. In a former home, an occupant spoke to neighbours in the lift – he seemed fine, and they willingly accepted his invitation to join him for a cuppa. Imagine their surprise when her opened his door to reveal the stench of decay, and long departed (ex?) budgie nailed to its perch.

Then it got scary. He began stalking female occupants, waiting for them patiently beside their door, nodding silently when they emerged. He played ‘Hangman’ with their name on the wallpaper, using the words death and slaughter. He sat habitually in the local pub drinking milk – which to me seemed the strangest thing of all (or perhaps I am allergic to dairy?)

After months of terrified female tenants pleading with officials to intervene, he revealed his nature by posting a home-made bomb to a public school. Mercifully it didn’t explode, but he was arrested, and we never saw him again.

It starts with a poem, or a simple game of hang-man, and then everything goes astray. I hope this is simply my innate world-weary cynicism. I also hope the standard of the verse improves.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Rusty Dovecot

Despite having moved out of Dovecot Towers ages ago, I remain fascinated by this phenomenon. Dovecots (twat-flats, euroboxes, yuppiedromes, call them what you will) are everywhere, and with the recovery in sight (supposedly) soon it will be construction time again. I am about to study some of the worst aspects of these balsa wood and tin foil monstrosities, and have located a suitable case for treatment just up the road from me.

I can see that bits are actually falling off – random parts, like the tops of drain pipes, spouts, and the wooden cladding so beloved of those who wish to make a bog-standard dovecot resemble a beloved construction that’s been wonderfully designed and styled with devotion, rather than a cardboard box, sandblasted with plaster and dumped somewhere, or some concrete spewed out and chipped at.

And it’s rusting. There are long red streaks of iron oxide running down the sides. Now it looks as if the building itself is weeping tears of blood.

Like most Dovecots, the developers shaved off any extras, but kept some little ‘niceties’ outside, just enough to stop it looking quite so run down (or bleak) and were even aiming for a block of flats bordering on the fancy side. These marvellous embellishments take the form of some random splashes of paint,
and a sort of weird metal cladding on the balconies.

Everything else looks cheap and sad. The external paint is peeling (and considering the rainfall around here, you’d hope that the external weather protection was thick and of the best quality.) I wonder what else is decaying inside, because that bock is dying from the bottom up.

The real give way that things are not well in this sickest of buildings is the amount for ‘For Rent’ signs outside. I bet the landlords bought off-plan, and never thought to enquire about the specifications for the ‘finish.’ It sounds so boring – all that talk of paint, and plaster, and things a landlord will never see. Unfortunately, such things are vital: they dictate how long a building endures, and inexperienced newbie landlords are beguiled by the show flats, and talk of profit. They don’t care about water-proofing, and are beguiled by shallow flourishes aimed at indicating finesse.

The building in question is also dotted with that other tell-tale sign: wooden panels nailed on shoddily at random, which in places is hanging off. If they couldn’t bothered to make the place look completed from the outside, it makes me wonder what else they omitted: how many layers of water proofing? Or how many layers of plaster? Or screws, or solid foundations….coats of paint, solid metal screws, and necessities like that. Yes, I know that the building inspectors call, but something’s going wrong somewhere.

In 1967 Ronan Point, a new council block in London collapsed after a gas explosion, killing four people. I hope I am wrong, but I wonder how long it will be before a newbuild dovecot crashes to the ground, or slips slowly into the oblivion bequeathed by it’s quicksand foundations, taking the residents with it, to their doom.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed...?

All tenants have a bizarre and tenuous relationship with the people who sleep in our bed. We are serial divan-hoppers, and I have no idea who’s next for my mattress.

Certain situations seem a lot more intimate than they really are, but renting nomads enjoy undeniably close but fleeting contact with people they rarely meet. These enigmatic wraiths loom over us, wielding a disproportionately large level of power, and are able to blight or enhance everything from credit ratings to social lives. It’s all down to the people who move into your new home, or the people who step into life, into your bed (if not your shoes) after you vacate.

The woman who moved into Nice Heights – my old home (sigh – it really was lovely) is a pain, which upsets me because the landlord was excellent, and I suspect she’s stuffing things up for him as well. Relocaters pay the Post Office to forward mail (that’s a laugh – buy a lottery ticket – you’ll have more luck) but usually ask the new occupant to forward anything that still goes astray. Despite leaving a huge SAE and my new details, she never redirected my post. I even toyed with pointing out that: “…interfering with the post is criminal offence, young lady,” no missing letters arrived. I asked the landlord to remind her.

Perhaps she couldn’t be bothered, but her omission caused multiple difficulties, notable a burocratic nightmare with several businesses (including a utility company who wouldn’t/couldn’t grasp that I had moved, no matter what I said or did). I don’t know why she didn’t forward my letters - she simply chose not to. It’s awkward, because I showed her round, and thought at the time that she seemed a bit distant – even cold, but my landlord was convinced she was nice, and who was I to argue?

Sometimes it’s like walking across a grave, hearing eerie echoes of troubled lives. The former occupants of my current home did a runner not just from my flat, but also from credit card and utility companies. I inherited their old number, and was for weeks subjected to automated calls at all hours, demanding that they get in touch. Their mail was persistent, and angry.

Then a real person from one company called, and I “…pointed out their mistake.” But it all seemed so desperate, and the sight of several letters from the DWP indicated that they had really fallen on hard times. I returned all their post to sender, despite the letting agents telling me to throw the correspondence in the bin, even ripping up a letter in my presence. To this day, I still find forlorn, misdirected circulars from catalogues, or charities.

But things needn’t be so difficult. In another flat, the previous occupant left a note wishing me all the best and gave her number in case I needed anything or fancied meeting up (realising I was new in town.) She’s now a good friend.

Incidentally, somebody once found rentergirl by googling: “Should I leave balloons in the flat for the new tenant?” FYI - The answer is …yes.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

School Run(In)

Letting agents with ideas above their station (floating below pond life – lower even than the slime at the bottom of the pond) have appropriated terminology from their fellow gargoyles - estate agents. Both speak a language known to earth people as ‘bollocks’ and an advert that might once have read: “Flat. One room. Furnished. Rent £450 pcm. On Street,” now reads: “Well appointed bijou residence with friendly, self-annointed drainers and front-loading entrance. Stylish splash-guards permeate widespread pavemented zone enjoying luxurious police presence and accessible chemical delivery operatives.”

Another selling point mentioned in rental-ads is a tempting variation on this: “Close to excellent school.” Here’s why. Many parents aspire to live next to the excellent St Misfits (Ofsted report: “Urchins walk in about as smart as one of Kasabian, but emerge as clever as Stephen Hawking.) This encourages parents to use the wily guiles of leaden-hearted politicians to ensure that little Bastard gets to a good school, where they will be taught to read poetry, and not how to write graffiti about gangs and crack on the walls of their own home.

Does anybody question why a family of three would live in a bedsit or even a studio flat described as: “Economically spaced - ideal for the smaller sized.” Or that they never seem to visit? But then, I’ve heard of families making an extravagant show of visiting their ‘home,’ you know – walking a dog, being seen coming and going (and then going again) with the big weekly shop, and sitting in the lounge etc.

Being in the same area as a good school ups the price of property, be it rented or owned. Admittedly, some naughty people have been caught in the act by vigilant councils using spies for covert surveillance, but many still get away with it. Remember the days when children walked to a local school, and if it wasn’t very good, or failing, then parents would unite to improve it, rather than organise a mass escape?

A friend is currently subsisting on a low income, and sensibly rents a home within her meagre budget, all the while gazing longingly at glowing Ofsted-approved schools on the other side of town, where you have to be affluent, if not actually loaded with bling to afford a home, rented or otherwise. She really wants to move, but can only afford a tiny one-bed flat with no garden – not much for her growing lad. Another friend stayed in a rented home next to the failing local school, and did her best to improve things via the PTA. She helped her child with homework, and eventually paid for a private tutor. Then she gave up entirely and moved (admittedly, being a tenant made this easier.)

Houses in the catchment areas of little genius factories are rocketing in price, and price tags on accommodation close to finishing schools for the prison system are plummeting. Wealthy articulate people will always subvert a system, even when obliged to ‘lower’ themselves to renting property to do so, and there’s no guarantee of a place. Even worse, they will join on this frantic, whirling, danse macabre of renting hell (albeit briefly…)

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Renting In LA

Recently, a deceptively simple comment from a friend living in Los Angeles revealed all that is wrong with renting in the UK. She replied to a rentergirl posting with the words: “So after all this time, I finally realize you don't have rent control. Don't kill me. Here, renters have rights that would be a paradise compared to everything you describe. You can't even throw someone out for not paying. You have to be very careful when renting out here.”

That’s right, to my totally dumbfounded, jaw-gapes-to-breaking-point astonishment, tenants in the USA (at least in California) have more rights than over here. How the hell did that happen?

W is about to let a room in her home, and as a prospective landlady is concerned that renting there has shifted too far in favour of the (admittedly rare) but more devious sort of tenant. A keen fan of Judge Judy, she watches cases bought to arbitration where even toxic lodgers haunt the property forevermore. Even repossession due to non payment of rent is fraught with legal constraints, to the extent that occasionally landlords pay bad tenants to leave and write them a glowing reference, just to see the back of them.

How different from the UK, where all that’s needed is a coy whisper accompanied with a nuanced shrug, and renters are out – end of. Over here tenants must be demonstrably wealthy and then outline their ancient lineage in blood on parchment, before paying massive deposits in advance. Friends in New York say they always use the upfront deposit as the last week of rent, which means the time between tenancies is simpler, and deposits less likely to be withheld. If only....

Which brings me to rent control, enshrined by law in LA, but the stuff of legend over here. This mythical protection against overcharging used to exist way back in the olden days when knights were bold, but was legislated away by an evil dragon (aka Margaret Thatcher.) Landlords were prevented from charging over the odds for property, under a system where Rent Officers could be invited by tenants to assess a property’s rental worth.

Imagine if we still had fair rents, and all those amateur buy-to-let chancers had known that the only profit to be made comes from the slow increasing value of the property, and not from ramping up prices to ludicrous (ie Inside Track ‘Get Rich Quick You Deluded Fool’ Seminar) levels of stupid greed.

Oh, and as for repairs, if landlords don’t do them, then City Hall gets very angry indeed - not the feeble tut-tutting and finger wagging you meet over here - but massive fines for persistent non repairs.

So in LA, a place we imagine to be populated by silicon-based life-forms and loopy, macrobiotic rich people has created a system where it’s accepted that tenants stay for years, not weeks, and renters rights are both respected and enforced, whereas over here, I am treated like a termite. For tenants, renting is better in Lalaland. I also hear that it’s pleasantly sunny all the time.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Just A Simple Country Tenant

I have always believed that cities were invented to save us all from the horror of living in the countryside, but others disagree with my sentiments that ‘the land’ is sticky, smelly, and steep. They dream of that elusive bucolic idyll, and choose to rent homes in our green and pleasant pastures, in amongst the tractors, thatched roofs, and feral cows (a childhood spent being frogmarched up the Brecon Beacons has clearly scarred my soul.)

I am convinced that on every village green, there sits a man with six fingers playing the banjo. I also know that the idea of the countryside being carefree, with little lambsies skittering about, and rosy cheeked, respectful children who sing traditional nursery rhymes whilst playing cricket and drinking warm beer, or something like that, equates with a substance country-folk risk treading in with alarming frequency.

The reality is like Trainspotting, only bleaker, more nihilistic, and more desperate. But still people dream of living ‘on the land’ (as opposed to the sea?) which causes the following problem: a lack of supply of affordable rented housing.

This doesn’t just blight the lives of people who want “…to get away from the city and live an organic lifestyle” but ordinary mortals who simply want to…well live. Unfortunately, in ‘the countryside,’ letting-agents and landlords are not kindly, holistic and natural - they are mean, mean, mean. Country tenants/peasants/serfs are forced to kowtow to landlords, under the real and present danger of being ordered to get “…ahff moi land!” or more accurately out of the house they pay extortionate rent for the dubious privilege of living in.

The fact that local people are priced out of buying or rented property is common knowledge in rural areas. Perhaps less known is the power this situation bestows upon those rare and elusive creatures – landlords who choose to rent not to holidaymakers, but to real, permanent residents.

I know of families who live and work in rural beauty-spots, where housing is sparse. Perhaps as a result, their landlord thumbs his nose and ignores any requests for repairs, even if the quality and value of his property is damaged. If renters do assert their rights, retribution inevitably follows in the from of punitive rent rises to cover the costs of “improvements” (that is – the essential repairs.)

If they don’t like it, or can’t pay, they are told to “…go elsewhere.” Except they can’t: it’s that nasty circle again – rent too expensive-saving up for a deposit impossible-houses too dear in any case-so it’s back to renting then. There is no escape from that infernal treadmill, and some rural tenants have taken to paying for such repairs and improvements required to bring them into the twenty-first century, like showers and double-glazing.

A lack of decent, affordable, available homes to rent in the country has created a fresh and cruel, modern droit de seigneur: landlords can screw tenants over whenever and however they want, and boy do they make the most of it.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Hellish Flatmates (Slight Return)

Here’s another popular keyword people use to find this blog: “I hate my flatmate/what rights do I have in a shared house/my flatmate is crazy,” and other infinite variations of the fresh new up close and personal hell that go with human contact.

In my circle of friends, the traditional problems are still doing the rounds, from minor vexations such as variable recycling standards, right up to entering a shared lounge and tripping over smelly drunken blokes crashed out on the sofa of a morning.

When it’s good, flat-shares are a marvellous idea – they’re cheaper, you have the chance of some companionship - someone to share bills and maybe even the occasional meal. But when it’s bad, it’s horrible – and uniquely uncomfortable for many unusual reasons.

In one previous house-share, one girl had an especially arrogant and imperious boyfriend. His parents seemed to own much of the county, but despite his wealth, he refused to pay his way, and drank all the coffee, used all the toothpaste etc etc.... This is a common problem in house-shares: moving in a partner who isn’t officially a tenant. When are they deemed to have moved in: when they’ve left a toothbrush in the bathroom, contribute willingly to the leccy bill, or even have their name on the cleaning rota?

For ‘Steve’ it was none of the above - in fact at one point he brazenly suggested that we should insure our house, as in the event of burglary, he didn’t want to be losing his precious stereo, now did he? (and no he didn’t offer to pay.)

Don’t worry – though: we had our revenge, but it was anything but sweet. We left the house one morning and waited at the bus stop opposite. A female acquaintance noticed us and said: “Oh – you must share a house with “Steve’ – I had a fling with him over Easter.” As our jaws bounced on the pavement like space-hoppers, she explained that she’d spent Easter in bed with him. In our house.

So…we waited until his girlfriend was out to have a little chat. His face was like a bright red deflated balloon and initially he denied it, until eventually he confessed. We ordered him to move out, explaining that we would be telling our friend about his little fling. For my friend it was horrible, but to skewer such a lazy, bumptious, supercilious snobby leech was extremely satisfying.

Other flatmates in different lives have been lazy, crazy, omnipresent or eternally absent (which can be extremely unnerving.) Another friend, when a mature student, shared a flat with a young and immature first year bloke. He didn’t mind being a father figure, until one day he got a text, which read: “Quick - how do I undo a girl’s bra with one hand?” The mental picture of the lovelorn lusty lad trying to romantically disrobe a young lady, phone in one hand, girl in the other, is memorable and evocative, although at least he didn’t untangle himself so as to move over to his laptop and google the answer.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Renewal Time (Again...)

I am being quieter than Little Miss Q Quiet of the Quietland Quiets (who has a GCSE in Being Really Quiet.) I do not make a sound. I am in hiding. I remain deathly pale so as to blend in with the brilliant paint on my walls. The fact is, I am playing a game of cat and mouse with my letting agents, and do not wish to draw attention to myself. Yes, it’s tenancy agreement renewal time, and I’m sort of hoping that my letting agents have forgotten that I live there.

I would like to stay where I am, but only if the rent remains the same. Given the low interest rates, a rent rise would be cheeky, but remember that my letting agents are cheeky bunch of …monkeys and I’m not sure where I stand. By the time you read this, I doubt I will have been given any notice to quit, or informed of any intended rent rise, for the simple reason that I suspect they’ve forgotten me. While sitting in the office under many baleful glances, I asked for a six month agreement – not their standard nine months, which was greeted with bafflement. I was feeling insecure when I met them, and having the endured the experiences I’ve written about previously hereabouts, I wanted any escape route to be within easy reach.

Mercifully, they usually leave me alone, but the downside means that this ‘solitude’ leaves me communing with all the things they’ve failed to do, like putting shelves in the bathroom, resealing the lounge window, apologising for allowing repair men to walk whenever they fancy a look etc, but on the whole, it’s the best I can expect (I suppose.)

It’s always the way with rental agreements – you never know what’s coming next, and tenants have very little control over their lives, but here’s a new twist: as pointed out by a commentator on this blog recently, Scotland enjoys a rule which means that if neither party contacts each other before the legal agreement ends, then the original agreement is repeated, and identical terms are applied. I hope this happens. I really do, and I’m worried that it won’t.

I still think that the best of all worlds would be an assumption that tenancies last for as long the tenant chooses, with a minimum of two years. There should be no eviction process started unless the landlord gives a genuine reason. ‘I felt like turfing that loser out because their mum dresses them funny’ is not a good reason. Neither is the strange urge landlords sometimes have to nurture and house their dear old mum, which sadly means they must give notice to their blameless tenants.

I shouldn’t have to worry every six months whether or not I can stay safely in my home. I want some security. If things remain as they are, I could genuinely be forced to move every six months - for various reasons it’s been that way for the past seven years (only once has the move been my own choice.) I resent feeling utterly and obviously powerless. It’s just that I’ve been here so many times before, and I’ve had enough – I really have.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Property Pixies Are Here To Save Us!

I believe in the property pixies, and so should you. If we ever stop believing in the property pixies, then they will die, and we renters mustn’t let that happen.

The property pixies operate secretly at night, repairing roofs, negotiating with malevolent landlords intent on evicting blameless tenants on a whim. The property pixies are marvellous: they visit letting agencies to read them the riot act albeit in a kindly way – in their little hats with bells on (the pixies – not the agents.)

Housing Minister John Healey also believes in the property pixies. I know this to be true because that’s the only possible explanation for his latest plans. Admittedly, regulating the private rented sector is daunting but here’s his big idea. It’s a list:

• A hotline (anyone remember the cones hotline…?)
• Word of mouth advisory website (which will be closed down immediately due to libellous comments.)
• A requirement for written tenancies.
• Boosting the number of tenants protected under the established tenancy agreements (but not ending the farcical six month long agreements in common use now.)
• A national landlord register (but no fine/penalty for not registering.)
• ‘Better regulation’ of letting and management agents. I love the word ‘better’ - better than what? Better than now, when it’s like the wild west?

It’s all as hazy as the Rugg Report which seemed to say that most tenants are happy, and surmised that because the majority are happy, there’s no urgent need for strong laws to protect the minority who are turfed out of a damp, shabby hovel without notice on a whim by thugs. Admittedly this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s horrible.

Landlords enjoy a range effective and efficient ways (some legal – others not so) to evict erring renters, but tenants have little power. We move on silently, even if the owner has gone bankrupt and we’ve been notified by bailiffs hammering on the door, even if they have left the flat in a dangerous state. We pack up again, and hope, often in vain, that we’ll get our deposit back (yep there’s the Tenancy Deposit Scheme but some tenants are scared to use it – tribunals seem daunting, and landlords know this.)

John Healey must surely believe in the property pixies - he trusts them to enforce his proposals, and those pixies can be fierce. Which is a good thing, because unless sanctions punishing errant landlords are included and enforced (forfeiting the property or punitive fines) then those naughty landlords will carry on disregarding rights, thumbing their noses at the law, and taunting the pixies. Bad landlords must be forced to behave; they won’t do so voluntarily - it just won’t happen.

Right now I’m sitting at home, waiting for those adorable little fellas to reseal my windows and persuade my letting agents to refund the fees they charged unlawfully. The property pixies take care of everything, I am completely sure of it. You don’t believe me? Well then, take a good look at the sterling work done by the financial services elves.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Hello everyone!

I am honoured to have won the Users Best Blog Prize in The Prime Location Property blog awards. It won't change me, or go to my head. I will remain the same old grounded, ordinary, angry, pissed-off-at letting-agents-blogger that I've always been...


Wednesday, 27 January 2010

How Do You Find Me?

Hello! I’ve been away for a while, but now I’m back. My first post in ages is related to something you may not be aware of: I can see you! Well, not literally, but I have a facility on my blog which tells me how many of you are reading (a heart gladdening amount, I’m always pleased to find.)

I also know the words you key into google, and how surprised you must be to find a site about rented property. And so, here are a few key phrases along with my accompanying thoughts.

I’m a student in halls and I can smell gas.
I could often smell gas when I lived in halls. An accumulated build-up of methane could actually be quite dangerous, so please alert the appropriate authorities.

Does my landlord have a legal right to open my underwear draw.
No he doesn’t. Run away!

Leaving UK because of letting agencies.
Whilst I agree that Letting Agents are actually evil, I still think that’s a little bit extreme. Couldn’t we just get together and enact legislation that will curb their evil excesses. Or we could relocate and live somewhere sunny with a beach. Tricky…

Letting Agents are scum
Obviously. NB see above.

Architects think everyone wants to live in small homes.
No – that’s the developers.

Ah dunn seen ma naybor sunbatin nood.
You seem shocked, but it depends: if this was through a hole in your fence and you were using a telescope – shame on you! Otherwise – enjoy… (NB this gentlemen was in Alabama…)

Living in the UK sucks massively.
Hmm…sometimes, it’s true. But the NHS, the warm friendly people, the culture, the food… Oh come on, is it really worse than Belgium, where you are from?

Readers we now enter a whole new world of ‘gentlemen’s special interest,’ where men (oh come on, they are obviously blokes…) google a phrase, and consequently land on me, in a manner of speaking And here are the phrases:
Girls in rubber gloves, naked ladies in rubber gloves, and (this is special…) ‘Classy naked girls pissing and wanking in rubber gloves..’ (I especially love that ‘classy.’) Best thing about this? Several found me using those words and have since become loyal readers. So imagine then…getting ready for a night of strenuous and devoted self-love, until: “…mmmm…hang on a minute… You know what: the private rental sector in the UK is an absolute scandal!’ Thanks for reading lads - join our struggle (and find a real girlfriend.)

Glasgow mistress custard pies.
I am reliably informed that the ladies concerned earn extra points (…or money) for every ‘bullseye.’

As for my newest loyal reader, the charming ‘human’ who found me by googling ‘Top ten ways to beat up my gay flatmate?’ Know this: I can’t force you repent, or even stop you reading. However I can’t help but feel you are polluting my blog just by looking at it. Go away – you do not belong here!

NB: Thanks for those of you who nominated me for this:

The blog with the most votes wins Habitat vouchers and I need a new duvet. Only saying…