Rental Opportunity of the Week: Yet ANOTHER Insane Landlord Move

Feels like there's a new one of these every week.
November 6, 2019, 12:44pm
thermostat cage
Photo via @alexmilsom

What is it? More of a "bit" this week, than an actual rental opportunity. Do you like the ones where I do a "bit"? I mean, it's too late if you don't. It's just always nice to ask, isn't it.
Where is it? In Ealing, a place I have learned to – when told by strangers at parties that they live there – exhale all the air from my body, make eye contact with them for one astounding second, then pivot 180 and walk in the other direction, to anywhere, to do literally any other thing. There is nothing to be learned from talking to the people of Ealing.
What is there to do locally? Once again, we learn that the rigid ribs that give form to the sheer lungs of this format are a blunt and ineffective tool when it comes to pacing out the twice-yearly "bit" versions of the column. You know how everyone hated the fly episode of Breaking Bad? This is the fly episode. I'm going to pull down a pipe in a minute and over-act about my gut-wrenching existential guilt. Shout at my wife for having the temerity to have ever fallen in love with a weaker version of me. That sort of thing.
Alright, how much are they asking? It's irrelevant, but it's around the £700 mark.


When we write about a "viral tweet" and we don't immediately cut to the viral tweet but instead filibuster around it – maybe we try to make some smart sideways observation that gets about-turned by the viral tweet, maybe we try to over-explain the shared cultural language between us that sets the soil for the seed of the viral tweet's joke to be planted in, sapping energy from the viral tweet itself – essentially what we are doing is stealing time (from ourselves, from each other: you will never get the seconds you've spent waist-deep in this paragraph back) and from me (I am wasting my time typing this, and we're still not even at the tweet yet) as well as mental energy (both of us), which I am more and more convinced is a finite resource.

Anyway, that's the tweet. In 15 little words, a man with his thermostat in a cage has somehow out-written my entire oeuvre. The facts are this: we're in London, the year is 2019, a landlord has locked a thermostat behind a protective cover. Tenants can see the thermostat but they may not touch or engage with it in any way. The cage is especially built for the function and sold by a business that specialises in it. We inch ever closer to hell.

In a BBC article about the viral tweet titled "Can my landlord lock my thermostat in a box?", the sad, slow answer appears to be: yes, unbelievably, they absolutely can do that. In this instance, the viral tweet author rents for £700 a month as one of between seven to eight tenants (*1), and for the monthly outlay the landlord covers their bills (*2), and that’s how locking the thermostat behind a cage somehow glides through a legal loophole.


"In a multi-occupancy dwelling like Alex's, the landlord is permitted to control the heating, with no rules against boxing off the thermostat, experts say," the BBC writes. "The same is true of a standard rental property with fewer than three tenants, if the landlord pays the bills." Alex, reviewing his landlord locking his thermostat behind a clear plastic box: "It's just quite funny."

It's weird how heat gets weaponised against you when you are poor. In the cheapest property I've ever lived in, when I had the lowest paid job I've ever had (context: once had my card declined while trying to buy a single tub of Philadelphia in a medium-sized Sainsbury’s, and not full RRP: the cheese was on offer for £1), the boiler tapped out in the middle of winter and took a whole fortnight to get fixed. In that time I slept fully clothed and in gloves and under multiple blankets with my coat unfolded over the top, and still woke up freezing cold, at one time waking up crying (I did not know the human body could cry without full cognitive consciousness, but somehow I got cold enough to do it, once), and at no point was the landlord like: "Ah, you’re probably cold, you lot." Or like: "Ah, don’t pay full rent this month, seeing as we made you endure a fortnight of living in sub-human ice block conditions." They were just like: "Hey we fixed the boiler, rent goes up next month, don’t let me find space heaters in your bedrooms again."

Another issue: when you're with housemates and you're all clambering down among the declined-for-cream-cheese income bracket, the ambient temperature of the house in winter soon becomes a warzone, because one person's need to be warm is seen as another person's flippant outlay, and if you have the heating on when you're home alone and your most tight-fisted flatmate comes back to a warm flat, they suddenly start storming into the kitchen and flipping the heating off and yelling, "I'M NOT PAYING TO KEEP YOU WARM," as if being warm is a group activity only, we must only huddle together for heat.

This isn't a dig on tight-fisted housemates, because they are often just suffering a symptom of a wider disease: if you're in a position where you have to track every pound you spend on soft cheese, and you come home and find someone has been – in a way – spending your money without you, you lose the tight grip of control you have to live your life under if you're going to survive. Climb high enough up the rental ladder to pay your own heating bills, and pay them without a clench of anxiety, and these problems soon go away. But when you're just starting out renting in London – say, random example, you're in an Ealing-based houseshare with six or seven other people – being warm can be one of the biggest concerns of your winter. "Put a jumper on" only gets you so far.

Still: the sheer ghoulishness of a landlord putting a thermostat in a box, without warning, just slipping into the house while everyone is out at work and screwing a cage to the wall to stop the heating being on anything other than a timer. An unusual thing to do to tenants if you view them as human. My Dragons' Den pitch is this: when the revolution comes – and it inches ever nearer – we produce clear plastic boxes the size of one standard-issue human (plus phone protector, plus really big hip-mounted keyring). When the mob takes the landlords, which under my command they will do first, that is what we will screw them down into. They can watch the soil fill up above them one spadeful at a time.



(*1) Nowadays, I take £700 as a pretty rough mean for the London rental market, i.e. you can get a fine enough place to live in for £700 a month, even if it feels a bit much sometimes, and anything less than that you are lucky, and anything more than that you are probably overpaying a bit, i.e. that’s about what I pay, per month, full disclosure.

But I would like to say: if you are sharing with seven other people, that is an unideal living situation, and that should be reflected in your rental rate, which imo should be lower to accommodate the sheer number of people using the showers and clumping up the stairs at midnight and leaving washing up out and inviting their weird large silent looming mates over to drink four warm cans of Foster's on the sofa while watching a dodgy football stream; that should also be reflected in the fact that it is in Ealing, which is a safe if uninspiring area of London that is actually quite a fucking wrench to get out west to. I mean, when have you ever been to Ealing? You haven’t, have you, unless you’ve been really champing for a shag. So basically, what I suppose the point of this footnote is, is: I think paying £700 a month to live with half a football team in a new-build in Ealing is actually a bit over the fucking top, rent-wise, and that's before your thermo gets locked in a cage

(*2) Convinced that the biggest possible scam is the landlord pays your bills, because it means a fixed rate monthly charge and you never get to see the cost of the bills they cover, and if you control your own bills you know vaguely how much you spend on bills every month, and it's more-or-less the same but spikes in winter and dips in summer, and I just refuse to believe that paying a blind fixed-fee to a landlord is in any way a value-for-money way of paying for yourself, and not just a fun way landlords have invented to skim another, all told, about £12 a month out of you*

*That said, if it's a household of seven or eight people and they are all paying a fixed bills fee every month to one central person (landlord), then the landlord is absolutely fucking coining it on an electricity bill that is probably barely touching £100 a month.