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 na├»ve) 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.