Life

Rental Opportunity of the Week: The Worst Stuff to Expect While Living in a House-Share

Including, but not limited to: a sofa so old it smells of coins.
February 16, 2021, 9:15am
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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? In the very simplest terms: a kitchen someone turned into a wardrobe, that they now expect you to sleep in.
Where is it? “Tottenham”.
What is there to do locally? I have to admit my experiences of Tottenham have been glancing, terrible. Either I am driving through it to go to IKEA Edmonton on the afternoon of one of the most exhausting days of my life, or I am baffled and lost and fresh off a night bus that took an hour-and-a-half, somehow, desperately trying to find an off license so I can buy a dusty bottle of wine and some cans for a house party that is supposedly happening round here (desperate for a piss, at it), even though there are no vital signs of life here – lights are on but the houses make no noise? There are cars on the roads but they are not moving in a way that seems alive? Squint distantly into the darkness and you realise there is a single old man sitting in the middle of a park on a bench, muttering (laughing?) to himself? Do those houses above the shop have intricate cement facades upon them, or is that just the crystallised formation of years of road smog? Where’s this address? Google Maps led you to this road, cheerfully pretending the post code existed, and now it’s just pulsing infinitely on a white blank page? Are you in Tottenham? Or did you get struck by a lorry and descend into hell?
Alright, how much are they asking? The lower end of the LROTW spectrum: £725 pcm. 

GOLBY’S RAZOR, OR: THE HOUSE-SHARE PRINCIPLE OF SHITHOLERY

I have pointed this out before, but it bears repeating: there are a lot of flats that I look at that I don’t feature on this column (beloved column), because they sink just a bit below the financial threshold that I deem it “alright for me to have a go at”. The rough logic is this: this city runs on the lungs of millions of people, from wildly variable backgrounds and income streams, and if someone really needs to live in this city – really, really needs to – and can only pay, say, four or five-hundred pounds a month to live in some hovel carved out here, then who am I to have a go at a microwave being next to their bed, or something. Like: yes, it is unideal. Yes, in a perfect world, this sub-prison level of shelter wouldn’t exist, and anyone who tried to sell it as such would be in stocks. But we don’t live in a perfect world and we never will. Allow a single curtain stapled above a window like a blind, sometimes. You are not a god. 

That said, the rough rule of thumb when I look at a shithole is: for the same amount of rent or less, could I just rent a double room in a house-share? I understand house-shares are unideal, too, but having separate rooms for kitchens and showers seems an affordable luxury once you are paying a certain amount: house-share problems exist (EXAMPLES: big pile of local newspapers on the kitchen table, for some reason; housemate upstairs is European in a way that seems to make him keep slightly different hours to every other human you’ve ever met and you don’t dare say anything in case it turns out to be a cultural thing; Guy In Basement Learning Trumpet; nobody knows how to bolt-lock the door, so you all get into the habit of not bolt-locking the door except that one day where you get back from football – sweating, exhausted in your kit, cold and drenched from a fine drizzle of rain that started to fall as you walked from the bus stop – and the door is bolt-locked and you no longer have the bolt-lock key and no one is answering their phone because they all, on the exact same night, went to their separate girlfriends’ for the evening; next door neighbour owns the property and is doing ten months of building work on it, and every time you go over to complain he says, “You guys rent, right?” in a curiously demeaning way; frozen pizza charred black under the grill so the fire alarm goes off at 3AM; sofa is so old and soiled that it has taken on a shiny patina and smells of coins; ISP blocked your access to WiFi because you googled “are dutch people nocturnal?” too many times; recently unemployed housemate who’s convinced that if they collect enough broken furniture from the side of roads and leave it in the hallway for long enough they will think of a “business idea” that will allow them to “upcycle” it all for “profit”, but they’ve gone away for a long weekend to Rotterdam at the exact same time you’ve discovered an infestation of weevils; landlord only communicates with you because you’re “the only one who seems to have email”, and anyway can you tell the others rent is going up £60; &c. &c.), but they are worth working around if it means, say, not living and sleeping inside your own kitchen.

If a property marketed is a shithole, and the monthly price asked for it is the same or more than just house-sharing with some MA students in Chalk Farm, then that makes it fair game. That is the rule.

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This place, then, despite straddling the lower threshold of such a rule, is fair game. It’s a bit of a throwback, in a way:

  • The photos that it was someone’s job (a human being’s job! A human being took these photos, as part of their job!) to take but, somehow, don’t seem to encompass anything, photos of shelves and sofas and entire portions of rooms but not, actually, with any focus to them, that grey fuzzy “forum user” effect over the top of them, taken on what seems to be a phone camera kept running from 2003.
  • The sagging magnolia IKEA sock tidy, hanging from an errant shelf, back from a distant history when Lisa Scott-Lee could command her own show on MTV.
  • In-built furniture made from offshoots of wood presumably leftover from the last time someone installed a floor inside a van.
  • A curtain over one window, a blind over another; a bit of cloth hanging between the washing machine and the oven, in lieu of an actual cupboard door.

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This really is a very retro shithole, in a way. It makes me yearn for the old days, to before a time when shitty London rentals could be gleaming and grey and pre-meditated builds, when they were just a shit room in a shit house that someone put a lock on the door of and tried to pass off as a studio.

My brain is reacting to looking at this the same way it does when Facebook reminds me of a tagged photo from university: nostalgic in a way that fundamentally depresses me. This room makes me want to wear Livestrong bracelets and have really long conversations about what order to drink cider and beer in, so as not to “do red sick” in the Student Union urinals.

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Sadly, though, it’s shit. I’m assuming the room itself was once a very small front room, or an office (it has a bay window – that’s normally a pretty primo room), but has taken a number of scarring interior design changes over the years: one wall is pretty fixedly a kitchen now, with an oven locked into it like a barnacle; the other side has been converted into a sort of sprawling wardrobe space, shelves extending out of it like tentacles.

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In the middle is your sofa bed, obviously (you pull the sofa bed – which smells like every single meal you’ve ever cooked – out from directly under the window, which has no real curtains or blinds over it, every single night when you want to sleep; this means that when you are sleeping you are both inside your kitchen and your own wardrobe), and then, off to the side, someone’s somehow crammed in a tiny shard of bathroom.

Do you think London’s rooms have thoughts, feelings? Do you think they are haunted by ghost-like memories of what they used to be? This was once a front room, with a sofa in it, a family curled up warm by the fire, staring enchantedly at the TV. This was once a place where happy memories – Christmas trees, birthday balloons, the introduction of a family dog – all happened. Then the property got sold like scrap to someone who painted every wall a fingerprint-smudged white, just about put the structure and shelves in there to fit around a sofa bed, and tried to rent the very outskirts of Tottenham to whatever prick would take it for £725 a month.

We wound this city by living inside it. History will not be kind to any of us. 

@joelgolby