A brief guide to all the terrible homes I have ever rented

Here we go again. Image: Getty.

There are a lot of articles about at the minute about where people are living, what they can afford and how they’ve already managed to save up for a housing deposit despite living in the money-vacuum that is London. These are definitely realistic, and not done just to inflame 90 per cent of Twitter at all, but as someone with a starter salary doing my best, they are not helpful at all. And it’s unfair to expect people to give up the small things they enjoy – yes, like coffee and avocado toast – or to restrict themselves to tonic water and lime and pretending it’s gin every time they can go out, just so they can afford a place to live.

I am from the north, where a Very Nice Flat to rent could cost about £400 if you were to share it with a pal. Most of my pals do this – then insist on visiting me in the capital, where they look disgusted at my staircase with the weird red carpet from the 1970s, or at the fact my room is the size of a cupboard and, in fact, every room in my flat is the size of a cupboard.

I still strongly believe that I will find a nice affordable place to rent in this grim, grim city – but as a cathartic exercise I thought I wcould document everywhere I’ve been, to give everyone a realistic expectation of what to expect if they make the move.

1) My First Ever House Share 

I decided to move in to this bad house share in Colliers Wood because

a) I only had three weeks to find accommodation, and

b) it was a friend of a friend advertising it on Facebook, and in my mind that way was safer and I was less likely to get murdered.

It was very bad and my mum actually cried when she dropped me off there.

The whole house had industrial blue carpet. The bathroom floor was basically rotten, and it’s only a matter of time before the whole house caves in, bath first. I kept getting mice in my room for ages before I realised this was because the previous tenant had left a full pack of crisps under the bed.

Half way through my tenancy, the landlord decided to convert the garden shed into another room – which meant constant mud inside the house, and workmen’s boots in the bath. When I asked my landlord about this, he said he’d told the workmen they could wash their boots here to knock down the price.

All in all – a depressing experience. 

Rent: £500 excluding bills

Savings: Literally nothing cause I couldn’t cook in the kitchen so spent thousands on meal deals.

2) My Second Ever House Share

After I got a pay rise, I moved to East London on the advice of colleagues, because it was hip and I could go out and do stuff and have a social life. I got the room after a bizarre interrogation from the landlady which was a cross between a Topshop group interview and a speaking exam for an English Language GCSE.

Everything was very good at first aside, from it quickly became apparent mice were everywhere and I wasn’t allowed any guests. My plan to have incognito guests worked well until, one day after a pub lock in, I brought a pal back and we piggybacked up the stairs (only one set of footsteps for the live-in landlady), but she then walked full on into my housemate’s room when he was in bed because she’d mistaken it for the bathroom, and no one was very happy after that.

Rent: £600 including bills.

Savings: Slightly more because could actually drink from the tap.

3) Dublin

This one wasn’t in London but I needed to put it in because Dublin also has a pretty severe housing crisis – think renting out beds not rooms. In a way I got lucky, because my work organised digs with a very intense but nice older couple. However the lady would not accept that she didn’t need to feed me up, or that I, as a vegetarian, didn’t eat ham. What continued was an endless round of being given ham and forcing myself to eat the ham. Sometimes her family would come round and this ordeal would be observed by five or six other people.

It was well meaning but intense. But it was better than living in a room with four other people, as many do in Dublin.

Rent: If this wasn’t organised through work it would be very expensive because, honestly, Dublin is in crisis.


4) The Short Term Let

When I came back to London, I needed a short term let, and found one through a letting agent. They claimed that, as I needed it for less than 3 months, I wasn’t allowed to look around, obviously, because when has a letting agent ever been helpful or transparent?

When I arrived with my entire life including duvet fresh off the train from Yorkshire, it became apparent it was the worst room I’d ever seen. The floor had a rotting hole in it covered up with a bathmat, and the room I was renting was adjoining to the kitchen. There were bars on the window and everything was filthy. I asked the letting agent about why it was so filthy and he said it wasn’t his problem, so I decided it wasn’t mine either and walked out, leaving the letting agent literally shouting at me down the street.

Rent: £700 including all the letting agent fees and checks I apparently needed to live in the most disgusting room in London.

Savings: Depleted because I needed to live in a Travelodge for a week which, incidentally, was the best London rental I’ve ever had.

6) The Smallest Flat in The World

I live in the smallest flat in the world now, but am due to leave in two weeks, because it’s so tiny and depressing it feels like I’m living in a cell. Think weird red carpet on the stairs but laminate everywhere else, then a bit more weird red carpet outside the bathroom, bizarrely. A washing machine which doesn’t work, which the letting agent says is “because we use washing powder” and won’t fix. Stairs to a garden which, despite six months of living there, I have never been down because they’ve been blocked with the previous tenant’s stuff and also I’m a tad scared of them because they look haunted.

We have rats, or maybe pigeons, living in the ceiling, and a few weeks ago suspected we had a carbon monoxide leak because all my flatmates were feeling so terrible. It turns out it’s because the flat is just terrible. I am considering living on the 73 bus from Victoria to Stoke Newington until I move because it runs all day and all night and I’d genuinely have more room.

Rent: £400 plus bills

Savings: None because I can’t cook because of the pigeon rat fear in the kitchen.

 

All in all, I’ve learned that

1) letting agents are bad;

2) every half decent house share involves a major vetting process complete with character assessment and credit report; and

3) if you pay £400 for a room in a flat, the kitchen will be so terrible you can never prepare food or in fact drink the water from the tap.

My adventures continue.

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To boost the high street, cities should invest in offices

Offices in Northampton. Image: Getty.

Access to cheap borrowing has encouraged local authorities to proactively invest in commercial property. These assets can be a valuable tool for cities looking to improve the built environment they offer businesses and residents.

Councils are estimated to have spent £3.8bn on property between 2013 and 2017, funded through the government’s Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) at very low interest rates. Offices accounted for half of this investment, and roughly a third (£1.2bn) has been spent on retail properties. And local authorities were the biggest investor group for UK shopping centres in the first quarter of 2018.

Why are cities investing? There are two major motivations.

First, at a time when cuts are squeezing council revenue budgets, property investments can provide a long-term revenue stream to keep quality public services up and running. Second, ownership of buildings in areas marked for redevelopment allows councils to assemble land more easily and gives them more influence over the changes taking place, allowing them to make sure the space evolves to meet their objectives.

But how exactly can cities turn property ownership into successful place-making? How should they adapt the buildings they invest in to improve the performance of the economies?

Cities need workers

When developing the city’s property offer, the aim should be to get jobs back into the city centre while reducing the dominance of retail space. For councils who have invested in existing retail space and shopping centres, in particular, the temptation may be to try and retain their existing use, with new retail strategies designed to reduce vacancies.

But as the Centre for Cities’ recent Building Blocks report illustrates, the evidence points to this being a dead-end. Instead, cities may need to convert the properties they own so they house a more diverse group of businesses.

Many city centres already have a lot of retail – and this has not offered significant economic benefit. Almost half (43 per cent) of city centre space in the weakest city economies is taken up by shops, while retail only accounts for 18 per cent of space in strong city centre economies. And many of these shops lie empty: in weaker city centres vacancy rates of high-street services (retail, food and leisure) are on average 16 per cent, compared with 9 per cent in stronger city economies. In Newport, nearly a quarter of these premises are empty, as the map below shows.

The big issue in these city centres is the lack of office jobs – which are an important contributor to footfall for retailers. This means that, in order to improve the fortunes of the high street, policy will need to tackle the barriers that deter those businesses from moving to their city centres.

One of these barriers is the quality of office space. In a number of struggling city centres, the quality of office space on offer is poor. But the low returns available for private investors mean that some form of public sector involvement will be required.


Ownership of buildings gives cities the opportunity to reshape the type of commercial space on offer. Some of this will involve improving the existing office stock available, some will involve converting retail to office, and some of will require demolishing part of the space without replacing it, in the short term at least. Without ownership of the land and buildings on it, this task becomes very difficult to do but will be a fundamental part of turning the fortunes of a city centre around.

Cheap borrowing has provided a way not only for local authorities to generate an income stream through property investment. but also opens up the opportunity to have greater control over the development of their city centres. For those choosing to invest, the focus must be on using ownership to make the city centre a more attractive place for all businesses to invest, rather than hoping to revive retail alone.

Rebecca McDonald is an analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.