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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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.

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