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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A helpful and informative guide to London, for the benefit of the New York Times editorial board

The sun rises over quaint old London town. Image: Getty.

It’s like with family members you hate: it’s fine for you to slag them off, but if anyone else has, you’re up in muted, backhanded arms about it.

Yesterday, the world’s number one London fan the New York Times tweeted a request for experiences of petty crime in the city. This was met by a deluge of predictably on-brand snark, like “Sometimes people scuff my leg and only apologise once”, and “Dicks who stand on the left-hand-side of tube escalators”. This served the dual purpose of uniting a divided London, and proving to the NYT that we are exactly the kind of chippy bastards who deserve to constantly lose their phones and wallets to petty crime.

By way of thanks for that brief endorphin rush, and in hopes of leading things in a more positive direction, I’d like to offer the Times this uplifting guide to London, by me, a Londoner.

I take my London like I take my coffee: on foot. If you are with someone special, or like me, like to reimagine your life in the format of Netflix dramady as you walk alone on Sundays, I can highly recommend the Thames Path as a place to start.

Kick things off next to Westminster, where we keep our national mace in the House of Commons. Useful though the mace might prove in instances of street theft, it is critical that it is never moved from the House. It acts as a power source for our elected representatives, who, if the mace is moved, become trapped in endless cycles of pointless and excruciatingly slow voting.

Cross Westminster Bridge to the Southbank, where in the manner of a spoiled 2018 Oliver Twist, you can beg for a hot chocolate or cup of chestnuts at the Christmas market for less that £8. Remember to hold your nose, the mutton vats are pungent. Doff your cap to the porridge vendor. (LOL, as if we make muttons in vats anymore. Box your own ears for your foolishness.) Then buy some hemp milk porridge, sprinkle with frankincense and myrrh, and throw it at the pigeons. There are thousands.

In the spring, head a little further south through Waterloo station. If you pass through the other side without getting ABBA stuck in your head, Napoleon’s ghost will appear to grant you three wishes.

Proceed to the Vaults, which is like the rabbit warrens in Watership Down, but for actors and comedians. No-one knows the correct way in, so expect to spend at least 45 minutes negotiating a series of increasingly neon graffiti tunnels. Regret not going to art school, and reward yourself upon your eventual entry with a drink at the bar. Browse the unintelligible show programme, and in no circumstances speak to any actors or comedians.

When you emerge from the Vaults three days later, turn back towards the river and head east. Enjoy the lights along the Thames while you pick at the spray paint stains on your coat. 


After about 20 minutes, you will reach the Tate Modern, which stands opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. Close to sunset, the sky, water, and cathedral might turn a warm peach colour. The Tate remains grey, coldly confident that for all its brutalist outline, it was still fantastically expensive to build. Feel grateful for that loose knit jumper you stole from the Vaults, and go inside.

Spend two minutes absorbing the largest and most accessible art, which is in the turbine hall, then a further hour in the museum shop, which is next to it. Buy three postcards featuring the upstairs art you skipped, and place them in your bag. They will never see the light of day again.

Head further east by way of Borough Market. Measure your strength of character by seeing how many free samples you are prepared to take from the stalls without buying anything. Leave disappointed. Continue east.

At Tower Bridge, pause and take 6,000 photos of the Tower of London and the view west towards parliament, so that people know. Your phone is snatched! Tut, resolve to take the embarrassment with you to your grave rather than shame Her Majesty's capital, and cross the river.

On the other side of the Bridge, you could opt to head north and slightly east to Shoreditch/Brick Lane/Whitechapel, where you can pay to enjoy walking tours describing how some pervert murdered innocent women over a century ago.

Don’t do that.

Instead, head west and north. through the City, until you reach Postman’s Park, which is a little north of St Paul’s, next to St Bartholomew's hospital. Go in, and find the wall at the far end. The wall is covered in plaques commemorating acts of extraordinary and selfless bravery by the city’s inhabitants. Read all of them and fail to hold back tears.

Then tweet about it.