What is it? A lot of the properties we interrogate via this column have the same foundational truth running beneath them, and that is, ‘this room is inconvenienced by the fact that someone has to live inside it’. This week, in Brighton, the room takes this concept to the logical conclusion. Every single thing in this room has had to be devolved and rammed in there to make it just about habitable for a human being, and in doing so, it has ironically made itself (close to, almost) inhabitable. Hold on, been four sentences without any sort of gag or punchline. Auh. Um. Why did the baker have brown hands—?
Where is it? In Brighton, a beautiful city that is approaching a bank holiday weekend, meaning it is about to briefly become the worst place on earth.
What is there to do locally? As best I can tell all anyone in Brighton ever does is like launch a soap company or follow Nick Cave around seeing if he does anything interestingly goth, but there are probably other things happening too. There’s, uh. What is there? There’s. I’ll fill this bit in when I think of something
Alright, how much are they asking? £950 PCM.
One aspect of property listings typed up single-finger by an estate agent that I consistently find interesting is who, they imagine, could live in the flat they are renting. There is always a broad spectrum – ‘perfect for students, the elderly, or couples’ – and they are always informed by literally nothing. It makes me wonder what hour-or-so of morning training each estate agent gets before they are shuffled into a shiny-lapelled suit and handed the keys to a Mini actually entails: “Here are some sentences about houses from a Word document, copy the ones over that best fit, then when you’re actually at the property always tap one foot and pretend you’ve already had ten phonecalls about it today. And that’s it, that’s the entire job”.
This is how you get dingy basements described as “bright and airy”, for instance, or single studios described as “perfect for working couples”, how a bed on a mezzanine is a “clever use of space”. There is a disconnect in the brains of estate agents between the signifier and the sign: to them, language is just a series of symbols they claw desperately into a blank field on the Zoopla website and hope for the best. It doesn’t mean anything.
Anyway, this place is apparently, “Ideal for working professionals, mature students or couples.” I would like to ask: how?
You will see of course that every single feature of this room is an inconvenience. The bed: it is inconvenient you need to sleep at night, apparently, because the bed is a single bed that a child might sleep in. It also doubles as your sofa, and the end of the bed frame creeps out past the opening of the door. If you didn’t have to sleep every night in a bed, that would be better.
The toilet: the toilet is mounted at a diagonal angle, the cistern at the back a special corner-shaped cistern, and no I do not know what special warehouse landlords keep buying these specially misshapen sinks and toilets from. If you didn’t have to defecate every day into a toilet, that would be better.
The window: the sole window is a skylight that is around about the size of a single sheet of A4 paper, and also it is cluttered up there in the ceiling amongst some blocky shelves and out-jutting architecture. If you didn’t have to absorb Vitamin D from the sun every day without going insane, that would be better.
The wardrobe: a single pole mounted above your bed with four coathangers on it, so technically you sleep beneath all your hanging clothes, which if you’ve seen the dark dingy bottom of your wardrobe – all those shoes you don’t wear, that crammed-flat Bag For Life, an old TV you don’t use anymore, a small empty suitcase – you’ll know isn’t the best place to be. If you didn’t have to have clothes and wear clothes every day and have multiple clothes that need storing when you don’t wear them, that would be better.
The TV: I have never seen a more insanely-mounted TV in my life. Just sort of flumped into half an alcove, at an angle it is impossible to really twist and see from any vantage point in the entire property, despite it being so small? If you didn’t need to be entertained away from the immediacy of your white-washed, grey-floored, terribly cramped reality, that would be better.
The hob: the hob is a single-burner on top of a work surface and if you want to heat two things up at once then actually you can fuck off (if you did not need hot meals up to three times a day to sustain your body, that would be better); the fridge, a tiny unit that I think can hold, at best, four cans of Coke, is for some reason mounted high above your head (if you didn’t require fresh food or even cold items then, again, that would be better). The kitchenette and the shower and a dining table with two chairs are also rammed in here, for some reason.
Again, the entire layout shows how a landlord prioritises how a flat might be categorised, rather than how a person might exist in there: it has a kitchenette, so it qualifies a studio flat and can be rented at the rate of one, even if the bed and the wardrobe and the position of all the toilets are an afterthought. If you hollowed this dreadful room out entirely and only put a bed in there, it would be a (small, but just about) usable bedroom in a share house. Instead it is everything, all at once, in a room that can barely support the aforementioned bed.
It terrifies me that the mind that invented this room is just walking around, outside, wholly unarrested. They could be sat next to you on the bus. Can you imagine that? They could be queuing behind you on a plane. And they just stare at you, with their blank grey eyes, and you feel all at once a jolt of primal terror. Like an animal just crawled over the tips of every one of your nerves, and the nerves of your ancestors, and the nerves of your ancestors’ ancestors, right back way until the fish crawled out of the sea.
“Ideal for working professionals, mature students or couples,” remember. No. ‘Working professionals’ are a key desired demographic for landlords, despite them not being part of that class themselves: they love their tenants to have jobs, but not just jobs but clean-edged, anodyne, ‘professional’ jobs, at offices that they have to leave the flat to go to every day, presumably so, distracted by work for eight hours plus the hour or so each day of the commute, they have less time in the flat to notice how shit the flat is.
Again: why a professional person with a professional attitude who has a regularly-paying salaried job at a professional company would then abandon all the sense that led them there and instead go, “Yeah, actually, I will sleep in a shit, creaking, single bed in a room that’s too small to have a normal toilet in it”, I don’t know, but landlords live in hope.
Beneath that: ‘mature students’, which I love. Again, what student exists who ‘have £950 a month to spend on their housing’ and ‘would choose to spend one of the most socially exciting years of their entire life instead sleeping in a single bed in a kitchen with their toilet at an angle, on their own’, I do not know, but that’s irrelevant: the landlord only wants mature students, lovely well-behaved mature students, in case a normal student lives there and takes up all of the available floor space with a single stolen traffic cone.
And then: ‘Couples’. It is fairly close to mania to walk into this room, smelling of paint and the newly-fitted kitchen remnant sawdust, and the single window mounted in the ceiling, and go, ‘Yes: one human being could live here’. That is already an insane sentiment to hold. But two? You want two people to live here? In a single bed? With the toilet right next to the bed on a diagonal angle? No. No, no, no.
Despite COVID and the cost of living crisis and the fact that we, as a generation, haven’t had a real-world salary rise in our entire working lives, landlordism is still thriving in this country, and arguably getting stronger. This is a very Tory position: everyone who is a landlord votes Tory, and everyone who votes Tory but is poor is convinced landlords are good, actually, because they are entrepreneurs who offer a service, and if you don’t like that service then work harder and buy your own, and also they secretly suspect that they are one inheritance or massive 500 percent pay rise away from getting to that tax bracket themselves, at which point they will thank the government for being so lenient on them.
We let landlords thrive because we never hear from landlords: they are a grey-faced amalgamous mass, a goo or a slime, and often we never actually deal with ours directly (how many of you actually know who your landlord is? Or do you just get communicated to via a lettings company? This is a feature, not a bug).
A proposal to get around this: a live, televised landlord interview, 90-minutes long no adverts, I am willing to host but I won’t mind if you get someone more TV-ready to do it instead, and we just… ask landlords questions. It only needs to be one landlord. It can be this landlord. ‘Why’s there only one window in here? Why’s the toilet at an angle? How did you design the one-hob, high-fridge kitchen? How are a couple supposed to sleep in a single bed?’
And they look down at the BlackBerry they still have for some reason, and readjust the bumbag they have around their jeans, and stuff their hands deep into their gilet, and run their hands through their short-cropped £6 haircut. They pull out a huge keyring and beep open the door to their 5 Series. And then they run, and run and run and run. We only need to make one of them scared for them all to be. That’s all I’m asking us to do.