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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Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.