the trouble with renting

I mentioned in my first post that I’ve recently moved back in with my parents while I look for a new job. Now I have a job offer, I’m still going to stay here for a while, because renting in London is extortionate and my parents live within commuting distance. Also, the fridge and drinks cabinet are always full, which is a nice bonus!

However, today I have another reason to thank my lucky stars that I’m no longer renting.

A month ago I moved out of the flat where I’d lived for the last two years. Like most rented properties, it is owned by a private landlord but “managed” by an agency. (I say “managed” in the loosest sense of the word, since they didn’t seem to actually do anything. Every time we emailed them about things like the ever-growing patch of damp on the wall, they ignored us until we’d called them at least three times.)

So, last week I called the office to find out why I hadn’t heard anything about the return of the deposit, when we’d moved out three weeks previously. The first thing which pissed me off was the fact that they said they’d called my flatmate, Pete, because he was the principal tenant. No offence to Pete, but I lived there for two years and he was only there for the last six months. I suspect they decided he was the principal tenant because he is a man and I am a woman. But maybe I’m reading too much into it. Anyway, I called Pete and he said they left him a 30 second voicemail about two weeks after we moved out, saying that there would be some extra cleaning charges and they’d send us the details soon. He hadn’t mentioned it to me because he assumed they would have called me too. Fair enough.

I cleaned the place pretty thoroughly before I left, and Pete went back the next day to finish one or two things I hadn’t had time to do. Still, it wasn’t absolutely perfect and we undoubtedly missed a couple of spots. Nothing major though.

Then today, I got an email saying that they are charging us £216 (or $345, for the benefit of any Americans out there) for extra cleaning costs. According to the check-out report, this is why:

1. We forgot to wipe three doors, four window-frames, five light switches and the intercom;

2. We didn’t move a chest of drawers from the living room to a bedroom (it was always in the living room and we know that they haven’t moved it because Pete went round last week to transfer the broadband to the new tenants);

3. We left clothes hangers in a wardrobe (most of these were there when I moved in);

4. We left two biscuit tins in a cupboard in the kitchen (they were also there when I moved in);

5. We left a fork on the dining room table.

AND (my personal favourite) …

6. We didn’t remove the TOILET PAPER from the bathroom.

Yes. You read that correctly. Toilet paper.

Just to clarify, we are not being charged for taking away all the toilet paper and not leaving any behind. We are being charged for the cost of removing the (one roll of) toilet paper we left there. Personally, if I was moving into a new place, I’d be pretty grateful to the previous tenants for leaving some there, because it would mean I didn’t have to go shopping before I could use the toilet. So, if they did remove it, that would actually be more of a hindrance than a help to the new tenants, and if they left it there, they’re trying to charge us for doing something they didn’t actually do (like moving the chest of drawers).

I am literally seething with rage right now.

Firstly, I am livid with this agency specifically for trying to screw us over. But secondly, I am angry with the lettings industry as a whole, and the frequency with which this happens to people like me and Pete. It’s sadly not the first time I’ve been in this situation, and I doubt it will be the last.

What makes me really angry is the fact that most tenants who rent properties through agencies like this are people in their twenties and thirties who are only renting because they can’t afford to buy their own home. The vast majority of these people would have been home-owners by now, if only they had been born twenty, or even ten years earlier.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where we pay huge fees to go to university, and most people graduate with mountains of debt. We then struggle to get decent, secure, well-paid jobs which reflect our level of education. Many people live with their parents and do unpaid internships in the hope of eventually getting a (not very well) paid job in their chosen profession. Other people don’t have that luxury and just end up doing whatever job allows them to pay the bills. So, even for intelligent, hard-working people with all the right qualifications, it usually takes a long time to get a decent job and start earning a proper salary. And then, even if we manage to get a job which pays well, it’s impossible to get a mortgage without a substantial deposit, because the banks just don’t want to lend to people like us. So unless your parents are able and willing to just give you the money, you have to work and save as hard as you can for years and years before you can buy your first home.

This is why people like me are forced to pay ridiculous amounts of rent to live in grotty places we don’t own, which are usually cold and damp and haven’t seen a paintbrush in years. We pay rent to line the pockets of landlords who are already wealthy because they were in the right place at the right time, and who clearly don’t need the money. After all, they can afford to own multiple properties, when we can’t even afford to just buy a tiny flat and live in it. And to top it all, we have to deal with these morally-bankrupt agencies who will use every trick in the book to avoid paying back the deposit.

Luckily, Pete and I are both lawyers. That guy at the agency is not going to know what’s hit him tomorrow.


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