Life

Foreigners Reveal What Shocked Them Most About Renting in London

"It smelled like cat litter, but we didn’t have a cat."
February 23, 2021, 9:00am
Bags of rubbish in a rented house
Photo: Chris Bethell 

Anyone who's rented in London will have at least one nightmare story. Perhaps the electricity used to cut out mid-shower, leaving you to grope around in the dark for a towel. Or you nicknamed the house rat “Albert Einstein” for the ingenious ways it found to return to the kitchen cupboards. Certainly, you’ll have something to say about the extortionate rent charged by sadistic landlords.   

As the pandemic strips London life of its highs – pubs, nightlife, the chance to spot a C-list celebrity outside Monument station – many have decided that the capital is no longer worth the misery, and moved elsewhere. This seems especially true for those who are not from London. An estimated 700,000 foreign nationals left the city between the third quarter of 2019 and the same period in 2020, according to some estimates. 

But what about those who remain? VICE spoke to foreigners still living in London to find out what shocked them about renting in the capital.

“People just don't realise they have rights”

When it comes to renting, I think people can get used to living somewhere horrible, and they accept it. In my friend’s flat, the ceiling was collapsing into the kitchen. All the surfaces, the carpet, even the toilet, were dirty. It looked more like a squat. 

I asked them, “Why are you living here? You should report this” and they didn’t think of it. People just don’t realise they have rights. Living in these places can lower your sense of self-worth, but we should still complain about these things. Certain standards have to be met.

That being said, the grass is always greener on the other side. In Germany, things are getting really hard with housing. There's much more demand for housing in the cities, and we don't have enough social housing, so the poor and unemployed are being pushed out. The world has got problems with housing everywhere. Silvie, 31, Germany

“My flatmate had taken a shit in the bath”

There was one incident that really shocked me. On a bank holiday morning, I woke up and I was like, “What’s this smell?” It smelled like cat litter, but we didn’t have a cat. And then, to my dismay, I noticed it was coming from the bathroom. My flatmate had taken a shit in the bath when he was drunk. I called out to him and was like, “Do you see what you’ve done?” He’d been so out of it, he had no idea. 

For the most part, though, I’ve been lucky. I’ve met a lot of friends through renting. When you're living together, you can form strong bonds with new people – and that's just not possible back home. Where I'm from, it's more common to just live with your parents and then move out when you buy a house in your early thirties. We don't flat share so much. Unless you go to school with people or meet them through friends, you don’t make those connections. Veronica, 29, Italy.

“When you’re older, you need more space”

I was shocked by the way some of my flatmates behaved. I live with two guys my age, and I feel like I live with teenagers, asking them to do things all the time. It’s like I’m their mum. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman, so they expect me to do more housework. But we all live and share the place, so we have to make it nice for everyone.

The problem is, in London, it’s so expensive, you don’t choose to share. You have to because you have no choice. Most people in their late thirties would love to be on our own. But we can’t – prices are just too high.

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It’s fine when you’re a student, and you can have fun and meet people. But when you’re older, you need more space and quiet. I have a friend who just moved to another house share, and she’s 45. She can't afford to live on her own. I love London, but if I can't find anywhere with more space, I'll probably have to leave. Jasmina, 38, France.

"You can meet people who inspire you"

I love how diverse the different parts of London are. I lived near Regent's Park when I got here and since then, I've lived in all different areas. No matter which borough of London I was staying in, I met interesting people.

One of the best things about renting in London is meeting people you can learn from. Not in a networking setting, but in a more relaxed environment. You can meet people who inspire you. I've lived with CEOs and senior executives, really successful people, and they’ve taught me so much. Peter, 26, Hungary.

“I was shocked by how useless some landlords are” 

I was shocked by how useless some landlords are, especially considering how much you are paying. In France, problems got fixed quite quickly in the house. But here, my washing machine has been broken since I moved into my flat a year ago. My landlord has only just gotten someone in to fix it. 

They worked out the washing machine has had a hole for a year, so the water was going under the floor. It’s fucking stupid! If you came first, you would just have the washing machine to change, but now you have to change the floor, too. Bérengère, 26, France.

“I was like, ‘You have no idea! This is so nice compared to the military’” 

I did my military service in Cyprus before moving here, so I was living in a dorm for two years. We were all in bunk beds, and the conditions were not great. Everywhere I lived after that seemed like a luxury. When I first moved into halls, my flatmates would complain about sharing a dirty bathroom or a kitchen, because they’d only just left home. I was like, “You have no idea! This is so nice compared to the military.” Costas, 25, Cyprus.

“I did not expect rent to be 65 percent of what I made every month”

I'm from Seattle, so I wasn't too shocked by the prices. But I was surprised by how my rent compared to my salary. When I got my first job, I did not expect rent to be 65 percent of what I made every month. That just doesn't seem tenable in the long term. I'll never be able to save up for a house like that, or even a holiday.

You can make way more money in Seattle. A friend of mine from Seattle moved here for a bit, and she was like, “I’m a bit confused by these salaries. I’m looking at these jobs and everyone wants to pay me £35,000 a year.” In America, that job would be closer to £80,000. Olivia, 24, Seattle, US.