Last December, as Christmas trees began to peek out from cosy living room windows, I was reeling from my landlord’s announcement that our flat had been sold and that we had a month to find somewhere to live. Not just any month, December – the month of cheer and goodwill – except it seems when it comes to house hunting.
Now I won’t get into him secretly putting the house on the market and conducting viewings without telling his tenants, but shortly after the news that one flatmate was offered a room with a friend, and the other had decided to relocate, it transpired that our collective housing woes had shrunk to being my housing woes pretty quickly.
For the next few weeks my free time was monopolised by meeting the dregs of Glumtree whilst trying to maintain the hope that one evening I would stumble upon that holy house share grail: nice enough people, in a nice enough flat or house, for a nice enough price. I was ready to sign on the line if I found just two out of the three.
I’ve lived in over 30 different houses since birth. Moving doesn’t phase me, and I like to think that I’m not all that picky, but honestly, hunting can seem a lot like internet dating crossed with a trip to Ikea. Which I’m sure we can agree, makes it a perfect kind of hell.
At one viewing, a woman with desperation in her eyes tried to get me to sign a tenancy agreement before I had met the other housemates and within just 30 minutes of us having met. Another potential housemate ran me through the rather overly complicated expense system they operated for cleaning supplies. My loo roll strategy (and every happy house share has one) is ‘I’ll buy some, then you’ll buy some’. I don’t want to sit down at the end of the month and work out if I owe you 32.57 pence.
I had the pleasure of visiting a mouldy, cold basement flat that came in at £450 pcm, plus a further £120 a month for bills. Then there was the loafing ‘manager’ of a house who upon further questioning turned out to not have a job outside of occupying that residence, which was owned by his parents. I steeled myself against further disappointments and battled on.
Next, came the sweet girls in their early twenties, who although lovely, seemed to think that the fact I was not in a cohabitation-ready relationship at the ripe old age of 28, indicated that I might infect them with some form of contagious spinsterhood.
Moaning about meeting odd people via the internet is a bit like moaning about the rain being wet. The real issue is what’s on offer. There’s luxury for those who can pay for it (and want to), or there’s plenty of death traps due to poor maintenance. [When we moved out of the sold flat my flatmate made the mistake of touching the wall behind where her bed had been. It crumbled.] The middle ground of OK flats for less than an eye-watering amount of money is always a battleground, no matter what month it is.
I’ve been sharing flats and houses across Bristol for a few years now, and it’s staggering how unregulated it is. I know for a fact my previous deposit wasn’t in a protection scheme, and the landlord once took three days to fix the only toilet in the property. Likewise, a few home shares ago, we were left for two weeks without heat or hot water in mid-winter. Another raised our rent by 20% two weeks before it was due. I’m almost frightened to ask what other horror stories other Bristolians might want to share.
Nearly everyone I know who has moved to or around Bristol in the last few years has told me a similar story. In a city like Bristol, one which people flock to and want to make their home, shouldn’t we be making sure that there are homes that people want and can afford to live in?
Research by the City Council in 2012 revealed that 21% of housing across the city is privately rented, a rate that has increased substantially over the past 10 years, and surely continues to grow.
I’m a part of the 21% that won’t be able to afford to buy for many years (if ever), and yet we all still want somewhere to make a home, however fleetingly. Of course, there’s not a simple solution. One might argue that if tenants have to give references, why not landlords? There are some fabulous landlords out there, of which my new landlord is just one. Maybe part of the solution is to find a way to promote those guys rather than shame the Rigsbys.
Jess is a producer, project manager and writer based in Kingsdown, where on a wet December evening just days before Christmas she found a flat far away from the cold night air, complete with a brilliant flatmate and a neighbour’s cat ripe for stealing borrowing.
When she’s not feathering her new nest, she’s part of a team researching the dynamic role design plays in creating economic benefit and social value across the region. If that’s piqued your interest, you should follow her on Twitter.