In today’s London, even renting is a nightmare

You wish. Image: Getty.

Everyone knows that London is in the middle of a housing crisis. The capital exists inside a bubble of insane rent, insane mortgages and insane train fares.

And as someone who is now a seasoned renter in London, it never fails to amaze me just how expensive it is to get anything. As friends in Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool start to buy their own houses, I've grown used to wistfully looking in estate agents windows at £300,000 one-bedroom flats wondering if it's ever going to happen.

What I didn't account for, however, was how difficult it would be to even rent somewhere. After living this year alone in the World's Worst Flat which had rats in the ceiling, a Travelodge in Kings Cross and a very artistic if draughty East London sublet, I decided to get a proper place with an actual friend in a similar situation: just me and him, free from the awkward-kitchen-chats and passive-aggressiveness of a house share.

We set a seemingly attainable budget of £1,200, and set out to zone three to look for a place to live in zone. That place actually turned out to be zone five, but cost ‘only’ £600 each a month, which seemed attainable.

But then came the vetting – and I can't help but feel like I could have literally got a mortgage with less probing.

As typical 20-something London dwellers, me and my flatmate earn what would be a decent wage in most other places, but a starting wage in London. I also have no less than four (4) accounts attached to the current account, into which I transfer my entire wage into each month: one for savings, one for rent and my tube pass, one for money I can spend through the month, and lastly my daily account, in which I put an allowance. Try explaining all that to the landlord who is asking if you can manage money properly.

Then, seemingly because we are 20-somethings with lower salaries and endless bank accounts to try and save for a mortgage like you see all those other 20-somethings doing, the landlord decided he would ask us for a double deposit. For "security". The issue was that security for him took away a lot of security from us, by depleting our savings. We couldn't pull out, the landlords wouldn't accept further references, and it was the cheapest but most decent flat we'd seen. Also, if we said no to paying double the deposit – add in one month's rent in advance and agency fees, and the total came to over £2,000 per person – we'd have lost the £500 holding deposit. Great.


I contacted Shelter, sure that this couldn't be right. The housing charity told me that actually there are no regulations covering this sort of thing at all: landlords can choose to charge what they feel comfortable with. 

I understand the landlord's need for security, but as two people who have never been late on rent, my flatmate-to-be and I were fairly miffed. This is all standard procedure; but it made life difficult and stressful when all we wanted was an affordable place to live.

It's not unreasonable to imagine that the eastern end of zone 5 would be far enough away from central London to find more reasonable prices. And we all know around £650 a month is an excellent deal for London. Yet the process itself felt stressful and precarious, and I'm not even living in the flat yet.

Could I move out of London? I had a look at the average rent in Doncaster, A Yorkshire town near to my hometown, served by the East Coast Main Line runs from. There are flats for £420, which seems an excellent deal it seems. The only hitch is a twelve-month rail pass would cost me £12,212.

So until we really start on that devolution hype, or start to regulate rent, it feels a lot like I and thousands of others will be stuck paying these ridiculous rental fees forever.

 

 
 
 
 

The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.