Life

Rental Opportunity of the Week: The Reason Landlords Make Our Flats So Bland

After a short break, welcome back to Britain's most beloved column.
March 23, 2021, 9:15am
FLAT-LROTW
Photos via Gumtree
What is living in London like? Hell. Here’s proof, beyond all doubt, that renting in London is a nightmare.

What is it? The trick, of course, with lockdown is that every day is more-or-less the same – aren’t you tired of thinking what to have for tea? – in a way that has gone beyond noticeable, gone far beyond interesting, and is now something more abstract (conceptually) but still impactful (on the direct day-to-day of your life), the same way “high pressure” leads to headaches and rain clouds. Time moves gloopy, here in a prison we have made of our own moral prerogative. Everything is the same. Everything is the same. In years to come, when our grandchildren study this pandemic for their G-Levels, they will ask us, “What was 2021 like?” and it won’t be a juddering episode of PTSD, nor will it be an intense flashback to that month you moved your sofas around in a brave new way. You will scrape out the very back of your brain and tell them what this year was like. “I couldn’t tell the good days from the bad ones,” you will tell your children’s children. “I couldn’t tell the Monday from the Tuesday. And then they all became one – one mecha-day, the ur-day, the day of all days – and I don’t remember any of them.” And your grandchildren will look up at you, their eyes bold and full of wonder, and will say: can you give me a bit more than that though, please. The teacher said we have to write a 500-word report about it and what you’ve just said means nothing. What the fuck is “banana bre—
Where is it? That is to say: welcome back to Britain’s Most Beloved Column.
What is there to do locally? The point of Rental Opportunity of the Week is obviously to point out inconsistencies in the ideas of “a liveable property’” as understood by both i. estate agents and ii. human beings, and in that grey zone between the two concepts, jokes can be found. But the issue is that, over time, these properties start to mash together into something beige and unrecognisable: how shocked are you, really, by a toilet in a kitchen? How blown away now, truly, are you by a very small bedroom? A kitchen with a bed in it is tiresome, now. For this to remain fresh, we crave innovation. But that means pretending what we thought was bad two years ago is no longer bad enough to shock us. Our knees are deep in the swamp but we can’t stop walking. The only way to feel anything now is to make things worse
Alright, how much are they asking? By my calculations, £1,029 pcm.

Here is a flat, and it has been skimmed to a bland high standard, like every flat, like so many flats, an aesthetic choice I fundamentally disagree with but have come slowly to understand. I have been renting for 15 years now and I’ve never been allowed to put a shelf up, because my need for practicality is trumped always by the landlord’s need to have a smooth skimmed wall finished to a smooth high standard. The wall is always painted white in a very anaemic way (white painted walls can actually be extremely cool – everything looks good against the background of a stark white wall! – but landlords somehow get their paint not from paint suppliers, but somewhere weirder, wronger than B&Q – hospitals, maybe? Medical centres? Somewhere that somehow gives its paint jaundice – and so we have to live in their colour schemes, somewhere between magnolia and beige and off-white, a Bermuda Triangle of inoffensive non-colour) and is buttressed up against hard-to-open fire doors painted to a high glossy sheen.

This is every inoffensive flat in London: beige, laminated floors, curt neat little sideboards, marble-effect tiles in an already-small bathroom that works to make it feel tiny, &c. &c. &c. The point is to make the flat so bland, so featureless, that any damage you make by the act of living there is amplified and made huge by the blandness behind it: every small scuff on the wall, every tack of grease left behind by some Blu-Tack®, every strange scratch you put on the floor by “having a sofa there”. Landlords make our flats bland to live in to make the wear and tear we cause to them by living appear untenable. The aesthetic is part of the scam.

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Anyway: what I’m saying is this flat is fine – bland, sure, but the kitchen is separate from the bedroom, so it isn’t that bad, technically. Apart from, well. The living room has a fridge on top of a washing machine in it. 

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Parse it again: The living room. Has a fridge. And that fridge (in the living room: the “living room” fridge) is on top of the washing machine This thus makes it “the living room washing machine”. Which is beneath the already dizzying “living room fridge”. One white good in the living room, where it doesn’t belong, I can deal with, but two? At once? Stacked on top of each other? Psychotically? No.

WHY IT IS BAD TO HAVE A FRIDGE IN YOUR LIVING ROOM

Technically, realistically, it is not that bad to have a fridge in your living room. Fridges do make a tinkling sort of ambient background hum, but it isn’t the worst thing in the world. The presence of a fridge does not drastically affect a living room beyond being un-chic. Your living room could have a fridge in it. If anything, it’s probably quite useful if you want to get a beer without missing even one second of watching the TV. 

That said, when it comes to cooking, I feel like constant trips outside of the kitchen and into the living room to go to the fridge will quickly become tedious. Cheese: take it out, use it, put it back. Butter. Milk. Yoghurt. Meat – you might have meat in there. I feel like this back-and-forth will become tiresome quickly – especially if you live with someone who is easily annoyed by being disturbed all the time, like I am (if I were in a room and someone kept popping in and out of it “just to grab the mince”, I would rapidly lose my mind) – and also if you were the one cooking you’d drop a lot of things on the journey between the fridge and the kitchen (if I were cooking something and kept popping in and out “just to grab the mince” I would drop the mince, almost certainly, and probably like two or three eggs on top of it, and then somehow a half-open Müller Corner).

Fridge in the living room: not the world’s worst idea, no, but there’s a reason why we don’t really do it.

WHY IT IS BAD TO HAVE A WASHING MACHINE IN YOUR LIVING ROOM

I think, domestically, one of the most flat-impeding chores is laundry, because every stage of it forces some sort of awkwardly-shaped impracticality onto the flat as a whole, and makes an oversized impact on your day-to-day life in the way that, say, doing the recycling doesn’t.

So: you have a laundry basket full of laundry (Step One) but you can’t take the basket to the machine because it is too ungainly, so you do it in inelegant little batches (Step Two), dropping socks along the way. Then: once washed (Steps Three and Four), you have to pin the drying on an airer (takes up a huge amount of space) (Step Five) or along the radiators (somehow leads to weird flecks of damp both behind the grille of the radiator and in the room you did it in, and so a damp problem takes hold, and no matter how many sprays and scrubs you attempt to demolish it with it just spreads, blackly, making you cough in winter and lowering your immune system, and when it comes time to move out your landlord both charges you for the damp and does nothing about it, they just fine you for living in a flat with damp, basically), (Step Six), and then you have to put it all away again (Step Eight, Step Seven being ironing but: come on).

That’s a lot of impractical crap for one simple chore, and that’s only one load of laundry, done by one person. If you and a flatmate have a laundry clash, for example, then you’re both going to be surrounded by half-damp clothes for days. 

But also: washing machines make noise. Lots of noise. They make beeping noise, and spinning noise, and a huge whirring creaking noise when they are on the final strokes of their cycle, and because your landlord did not spring for this in any way, your washing machine is always bottom-of-the-line, meaning it is loud, hellaciously load, and goes on for ages, and that is always your reality, as a renter, a loud washing machine. A lot of you might not know this because it took me many years to learn it, but: less loud, less aggressively moving washing machines do exist. They are just not ever in rental properties. 

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So the problem with the washing machine in the living room is: every time it goes on spin cycle, you cannot use that room for a good 25 minutes, because the washing machine is going, and it is making washing machine noises, because that is like being in a room with someone who is just screaming. And when that is done you have to take all the damp laundry out and pin it up in the only available space in the flat, which is: also the living room. You basically spend all your leisure time existing inside a laundrette. You’re paying a grand a month to do that, in Seven Sisters. 

WHY IT IS BAD TO HAVE A WARDROBE IN YOUR LIVING ROOM

I’ve not even mentioned the wardrobe in the living room: that’s how secondary it is to the white goods. But it bears mentioning, because that takes the tally of practical-items-your-house-needs-to-function-being-crammed-into-the-wrong-room up to a heady three: the kitchen has loaned us the washing machine and fridge, the bedroom has loaned us the wardrobe. It means, for three particular tasks in this house, you have to walk into the wrong room to do them, and again, though this isn’t the biggest impracticality in the world, it just shows a complete lack of foresight by whoever planned this space, a chilling lack of empathy.

What I see when I see a washing machine in a living room is this: the fact that there are landlords in this city – ones who make over a thousand pounds a month of passive income from us, the renting hordes known as The Flat Cucks – who do not give one solitary thought to the practicalities of living in a space they are renting out. They just bang some white goods in there, skim the walls smooth and list all the nearest bus stops in a monotone voice. Singles and couples welcome, no DSS. Professionals preferred. We are not human to them. All we are to them are strange, faceless creatures who once a year ruin their perfect empty white flats by sitting on sofas inside them, and living our strange little lives. 

@joelgolby