Right now I am at the end of a particular kind of tether – the house rental tether.
Last year we decided to sell our home of seventeen years in order to downsize. Having tried to buy various houses, each of which fell through for a different reason, and not wanting to lose our buyer, we got out into a rented house. So we added to the growing percentage of Britain’s population living in rented accommodation (I think it’s now around 40% of householders).
We signed a 6-month contract on that first rental house and were told we would be able to renew month by month after that if we needed to. But after a few months the landlord changed his mind and served notice – he had decided to move back in at the end of our 6-month tenure. Fair enough. We hadn’t by then found the right house to buy, so we had to find another to rent.
And now we are here. In a newly built house in a pleasant part of town. We had to sign a 12-month contract this time. The landlords are directors of the construction company that developed the land and built the terrace of houses on it. There’s vertical integration for you.
The rent on this house is higher than on the last. We tried hard to negotiate on both the rent and the deposit (two months rental in advance is apparently standard if you have a pet) but the landlord wouldn’t budge. Oh well, we thought, at least it’s all brand new and clean, and there’s a garage where we can store our stuff and our son’s stuff, and we had seen so few places that would allow pets, and anyway time was running out. So we gritted our teeth and prepared to spend a high proportion of our monthly income on rent.
We’ve never lived in a brand new house before. I’ve secretly always wanted one of those kitsch ‘Avon calling’ doorbells and I admit to feeling a strange dash of pleasure each time it chimes. There’s a snazzy video entryphone and underfloor heating and bifold doors from my study onto the lovely courtyard space – though we’ve been so busy we haven’t had time to read most of the instruction manuals. And there are engineered wood floors and lots of lovely Farrow and Ball paint and a shiny kitchen where – although we’ve now been here six weeks – I’m still learning what lives behind each door. And a utility room. And four loos. FOUR! And three bathrooms.
Sounds delightful doesn’t it?
But for the past six weeks I’ve been keeping a new kind of journal. I log how often we have to call on the landlord to get someone out to look at a problem. So far it’s twenty-one. I log how often someone comes to the house to look at something or diagnose or fix something – twenty-nine and rising.
My antennae started twitching when we ran the first dishwasher cycle the day after moving in and the utility room below was flooded – it turned out that the plumber had forgotten to connect the waste pipe.
Multiple issues with the boiler followed – the result was no hot water for several days. These problems were classified as snagging issues. We bought that – we’ve also had new boilers installed in other homes and known airlocks and pressure variations. We are good, patient people.
Then I noticed a damp patch below our beautiful fully tiled ensuite shower room. Then another below the smart wet-room (now, of course, we have several more wet rooms). We welcomed various visits from tilers, grouters and mastic men to patch up small holes between tiles etc, hoping against hope that the leaks would prove to be simply rectified. But the leaks continued. We were told the investigations would have to be escalated. Meanwhile please not to use the two showers.
Last weekend our son came to stay with us (between his own lets) and I heard yelps of pain as he used the over-bath shower in the third bathroom. The water temperature was spontaneously swinging between cold and scalding. Another visit from another plumber – the hot and cold supply had been crossed by whoever installed that bathroom, with the result that the thermostat was totally confused. The third bathroom cannot be used.
Yesterday a nice man came and made a large hole in the kitchen ceiling below the first leaking shower. Yes, he said, the shower is definitely leaking, it’s all wet in here. He couldn’t find the cause. Several hours later he screwed bits of the ceiling back up. We spent the evening clearing up and washing dustsheets.
Here, I’ll cut to the chase. We have been told that all three bathrooms will have to be taken apart and rebuilt. In turn. Each will take at least five days or one working week. That is at least three weeks of living with builders. The work will of course be done at the landlord’s pleasure and we will have very little say about when and no control over who does it. There will probably be more floods (who has ever heard of bathroom work being done without a few floods along the way). Meanwhile we cannot shower. Then there will be the ‘making good’ – three ceilings to repair (that includes the utility room of the very first flood) and a lot of painting to be done. That’s another week of builders, at least.
I have researched enough online to know that withholding rent is a very dangerous game indeed and that in doing that we would risk being evicted. So that is not an option.
I have, of course, alongside keeping my riveting journal, written to the person at the developers/building company who is acting for the landlords. I requested a modest rent rebate for each week of building works and each week without usable bathrooms. My request was immediately rejected. I was told it is entirely normal to have teething problems with new houses. Teething problems! I was told that if we are not content with the place we can move out straightaway without having to hold to the contractual notice period. Not exactly subtle as warning shots go. And do you think we’d see our deposit back?
This shaggy dog story is really to make the point that we have allowed a monster of a housing market to rule. The rights of tenants, it seems, have been gradually eroded. Generation Rent will face this kind of rollercoaster rental life, in many cases, all or most of their lives. Ever-higher prices, housing scarcity, quick careless building and greedy developers/landlords make for miserable householders. After the past six weeks I can begin to estimate the costs to health (especially mental health) and productivity across a whole nation.
It seems that developers just want to max out their profits, so they subcontract, accept the lowest tender and to hell with the standard of work. When things go wrong later, they get their own people in to rebuild and then screw the subcontractor who did the bad work in the first place.
And they don’t have to live here. And they don’t have to pay the rent.
Now I’m off for a swim.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
(from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)