Forget what they say about Navy SEAL training or Google's recruitment process, by far the worst interview you'll ever endure is trying to secure a spare room in London. I've donned a crisp Uni-Qlo button up, spread a winning smile across my face and feigned an interest in nights out with the flat – but also the occasional chill night in – all in an effort to impress my potential new roomies. I've been asked impossible questions, like "What do you do in your spare time?" only to flounder for an answer beyond "drinking Tyskie and staring at my phone" (I didn't get that room). I thought I'd done it all; experienced the highs and abject lows of London's savage rental market.
Turns out I hadn't seen anything. I hadn't seen, FLATSHARE RULES.
FLATSHARE RULES – a very important document – came into my hands via a friend of a friend, who pulled out of moving into a flat when the current tenant emailed it to him. It is 20 solid pages of prime PDF, filled with the most unbelievably pedantic, detailed house rules and "norms", which any potential flatmate would have to adhere to should they wish to move in. It governs how you shower, instructs you on wiping the hob (horizontally), and even tells you how to clean your pebbledash off the porcelain (with toilet paper, FYI). It truly has to be seen to be believed, which is why I'm showing it to you.
Before we unpack these extensive commandments of cohabited living, let's check out a few select quotes:
- After showering or bathing, dry yourself while standing in the bathtub or shower area and not on the bathmat…This minimises persistent dampness of the bath mats.
- If you drink tea or coffee on a regular basis and would like to take these into your bedroom, please use a closed lid mug (e.g. see "ThermoCafé Plastic and Stainless Steel Desk / Travel Mug" on Amazon).
- Lodgers should not invite guests to stay overnight in the flat unless they have personally known the guest for a reasonable period of time - ideally measured in weeks and at a minimum measured in days … and not hours.
- Don't use a bathroom at the same time as your guest is using the other bathroom – unless you really have to go !!
- Ensure that any hair that falls onto the carpet, whether from yourself or visiting family, friends and partners, is removed through regular vacuuming.
The author seems particularly hung up on the bathrooms. There are three pages dedicated to them, complete with pictures of both the right and wrong way of placing the bath mat, adjusting the shower head and hanging the hand towel. If you're sick, you have to use the bigger bathroom (more ventilation), and if your guest is using one bathroom, you can't use the other. Not that the bedroom is anymore relaxing. God help you if you don't have a reasonably priced, closed lid travel mug – let alone if you mum moults next time she comes to visit.
Seeing as the whole thing bears more resemblance to the students' handbook at a Victorian boarding school than a double bed in NW3, I was eager to know if it is, in fact, all above board. To see if any future tenants of this Zone 2 gulag would have the grounds to fight such "rules" and "norms", I got on the phone to Portia Msimang, co-ordinator at Renters' Rights London, an organisation that campaigns for the rights of private renters in the capital.
VICE: Hi Portia. So what do you make of this inDesign opus?
Portia: My first reaction was laughter.
Me too, me too.
At first glance, it's really funny just because it's so long, but on closer inspection, a lot of the details are actually perfectly ordinary things that people would like in a rented house, like cleaning up after yourself.
I suppose it's not all ridiculous – not wanting to live like a student who watches YouTube tutorials on making gravity bongs is obviously understandable. But surely you don't think all of these rules are reasonable?
Telling people to dry themselves in a wet bath – that's downright dangerous. The bath will obviously be wet, presumably, the door will be locked, somebody can slip, knock themselves out, anything can happen. It's dangerous and stupid. That's what bath mats are for.
It was the bathroom rules that made me wonder: is any of this stuff actually enforceable?
If this is a list drawn up by tenants for a co-tenant, you can rip it up. If everyone is equal on the tenancy nobody's in any position to dictate these terms. If it's a live-in landlord then the person renting is not a tenant, they're a licensee, and unfortunately, they have very few rights – they do not have the same rights as an assured shorthold tenant.
Who do you think wrote it?
As it refers to a lodger, I think this is a live-in landlord. If you have a live-in landlord you generally have a nicer standard of accommodation, but you have very few rights. You do not have rights as a tenant. You are merely an excluded occupier, which means you have basic protection but can be evicted more easily than tenants. I always recommend people who do find themselves in that situation to get a written agreement, but if one came back like this I would say "run."
What does this document say about the state of private renting in London, in 2017?
I think it says more about the individual than the state of renting. We know the state of renting is dire and people are forced to live in poor circumstances. We know that. But this particular document, to me, doesn't actually say anything in particular except about an individual.
To determine who drafted these rules, I got back in touch with my pal. As it turns out, the document was apparently written by the "lead" tenant – not a landlord, just a regular flatmate. This somehow makes it so much more depressing. We all know landlords are capable of dramatic lapses in human decency, but to know a normal person wasted their time on this is beyond comprehension. To know that they sacrificed, say, learning a foreign language, calling a loved one, or simply enjoying a leisurely stroll round a big Lidl, in order to ensure their housemates weren't shitting at the same time as their guests, makes me want to cry.
When you next go to view a spare room in a house or flat, and the current tenants sit you down to get to know you, just remember this: no matter how punishingly awkward their faux-investigation feels, they are never going to be as bad as the deeply troubled individual who authored "FLATSHARE RULES." That said, maybe bring your closed-lid travel-mug just in case.