Renters or Second-Class Citizens

The phone rings.  It’s the letting agents.  “This is a courtesy call to let you know that the landlord wants to sell your flat and this is your two months’ notice.”

The words hang over your head, making the air oppressive .  “Courtesy call.”  It’s what you associate with a computer helpline ringing to check you’re happy with the service provided, or with a hairdresser confirming that you will be attending your hair appointment.  A “courtesy call” to inform you that you’re being turfed out of your home.  Yes, your home – no matter what landlords and letting agents bully you into believing.  For as long as you’re paying rent for it, it is your home.  The home that the agent comes to check every six months to make sure you haven’t trashed it.  The home for which you have to pay rent six months in advance because you’re self-employed.  Where you have to ask permission before hammering extra picture hooks into the walls.

Once you’ve stopped reeling from the news, a list of questions pertaining to the required move starts multiplying in your head.  You call the letting agents.  “We’d like to pop in and see you –”

“What is it concerning?”

“Well, we have a few questions –”

“Can you ask them over the phone?”

You raise your voice, “Look, is it all right to come and see you or are we not allowed to?”

At the letting agents’ office, the individual who deals with you enunciates their syllables as though they think you can’t keep up.  Their politeness has so much added artificial sweetener, it positively makes you want to retch.

You’re told that, even if you’ve been asked to move out, you still have to abide by the contractual obligation of giving a month’s notice if you find another place earlier.  That you still have to have the flat professionally cleaned, even though it’s going to be sold and not rented.  They don’t sound particularly interested when you tell them you’d like to stay on the agency’s books.  You wonder why, and then it occurs to you that letting agents may consider it too much effort to notify renters if a suitable property becomes available – it’s up to the renters to hunt through the internet, find properties, and hassle the agents.

Moreover, you discover that your deposit will be returned “within 28 days” of your moving out.  This not only means that you have two months to raise a substantial sum of money, but that you won’t be there when the agents examine your flat, and can’t protest if  they decide to deduct any “damage” costs from your deposit.

Renters in the UK are second-class citizens.  You’ve known this for a while, so why are you so shocked, so upset? Haven’t you heard, on numerous occasions, your neighbours (who own their properties) make comments about rubbish being left around or other nuisance being caused, undoubtedly, by “the renters in No. this or that”? The law is on the side of the landlord, not the tenant.  The landlord has rights.  The tenant has obligations.  It’s back to the Middle Ages.

You walk into the other letting agencies.  They rush to you before you’ve had the time to close the door behind you.  “Hello, can I help you?”

“Hello, yes, could I speak to someone about rentals? –”

“What’s your budget?”

No come in, no take a seat.

You wish you could find your next home without going through letting agents.  From what you’ve experienced, they actually appear physically incapable of any warmth, feelings, or respect.  From the robotic way they act towards you, they seem impervious to any sense of shame.  Remember that word? Shame.  You haven’t heard it used for a while.  Shame.  It seems to have gone missing.  Disappeared.  Like honour.

You look around the flat you’ve cared for and made your home, your sanctuary, for the last two and a half years.  Only two and a half years.  You had so hoped you could have been allowed to stay longer.  You see all the books that need packing.  All the CDs, clothes, crockery, and all the odds and ends that can’t be categorised but which make it your home.  You notice that the bathroom sink needs to be cleaned.  You reach out for the scourer then stop.  What’s the point? You’re moving out soon.  You go out for a walk to clear your head.  It starts to rain.  Let’s go back home, where it’s warm.  But, suddenly, it’s not home anymore.  It’s an assembly of walls, floor and ceiling where you no longer feel welcome.  Where you no longer feel safe.

Time to pack.  You tell yourself your next home will be even better.  Yes, much better.  But how long will you be allowed to stay there?

Scribe Doll

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20 Responses to Renters or Second-Class Citizens

  1. Autsch.
    Horrendous. It’s hard to swallow the rudeness of this agent, the cold disregard for what is after all a major need we all have. My son and his now wife had a similar treatment some years back. Such a distressing experience.
    You nailed the shaming perfectly. Please send the piece to a newspaper, maybe the Guardian. They should offer you a regular spot for social commentaries.

  2. Anna Khazan says:

    So sad, Kathy ((

  3. Elegantly written but that sucks, my friend. Sending you as much positive energy as I generate. Cheers

  4. Hi, Katia. I’m so sorry to hear about your renting difficulties (yet again! I remember your previous post on the topic, and it seems like to was only such a short time ago). I’ve had mostly good landlords here in the States, except for two, and the same thing was wrong with both of them: they came around expecting to sleep with their female tenants who didn’t have a man with them on the premises! Luckily, I got out of both situations before they became worse, but the moves were matters of necessity. One of them was even a lawyer, and you’d think he’d know better. Other women renting in the same apartment blocks with me had the same experience. Over here, it’s much more expensive to rent from agencies than it is from private landlords, usually, so “letting agents” were beyond my means in every case but one. I guess there’s a down side anywhere to not being able to own your own home. All the best wishes for you and H. and I hope you find a lovely home again soon.

    • Scribe Doll says:

      Yuck! Your two landlords sound like creeps. Here, it’s expensive to rent through letting agents but the problem is you don’t often get a choice. 99% of landlords go through letting agencies, so there’s no human warmth, no flexibility.
      Thank you for your kind wishes.

  5. julietashton says:

    Is this a peculiarly British affliction? I suspect renters are valued more in Europe where home ownership isn’t the Holy Grail. An Englishman’s home is his castle – unless he’s renting, when he’ll find he can be turfed out with very little ceremony.
    Come and live in our loft! Chat on tap, with hot and cold running wine.
    And yes, you should send these social commentary pieces to the Grauniad or similar. I love reading them.

  6. Katia, I’m so sorry you have to move again! I just completed a move this past week. I had the same thought as Julie, is this a British thing? I have lived in rented places many times, and just sold my house and decided to rent again. Landlords can be tricky- but I’ve only been dumped out of one place and there was some underlying drama that precipitated the force to vacate. I hope that you can find something with a stable landlord. Fingers crossed.

  7. evanatiello says:

    Ugh. I couldn’t click the “like” button on this post, Katia, for obvious reasons. I remember the last time you were looking for a place to call home. This is too soon. Too short a time. I just had a sense of dread in my stomach the whole time I read this. A similar thing happened to me once when I was living in NYC. One morning, I was leaving on a business trip and I walked out of the elevator into the lobby of my building with a suitcase and the doorman said, “Moving already? I thought it was the end of the month.” And I said, “No. I’m not moving. I’m going on a business trip.” And he said, “Oh, good. So it’s the end of the month, then. As I thought.” And I said, “No. I’m not moving then either.” That’s when his eyes grew wide and he told me that while I was at work, my apartment was being shown to potential buyers. He had heard my apartment sold. So there you have it. Not only was my apartment sold and my doormen knew I was moving before I did, but it was being shown–people were nosing around my things– without me even knowing! So I understand completely that feeling one minute that a place is your home, and the next minute it’s just a room that you’ve taken up residence in. I wish you the best. As always, your friend. xo

  8. sammee44 says:

    Katia, I am so sorry to hear of your unwanted move—is that a British thing to have agents who can sell your “home” from under you? I do wish you good vibes –lots of them–in finding a new home, a more permanent one for you and H. AND yes, you definitely should look into writing for the Guardian or whichever paper will buy and publish your excellent social commentaries. You have a way with words that nails problems very clearly. Cheers, J from across theBig Pond.

  9. Christine Hartelt says:

    This is so awful. I am so sorry. I had a similar experience several years ago when the apartment/flat my sons and I were living in was going to be sold as a condo. There was no way I could afford to purchase the apt, which was overpriced in any case. We had been there 3 years and had to move. Perhaps because we lived in a university town with not a few unscrupulous landlords, there was a non-profit agency called the Tenant Resource Center. The staff at the Resource Center were not attorneys, but they were knowledgeable about landlord-tenant laws. I wish there was something like that where you are, although even if it existed, I’m not sure there’s much anyone could do in this case. You’re right that renters are often treated like second-class citizens. That’s true on both sides of the Pond. Moving is so stressful, and I wish you and H. could have stayed where you are.

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