Life For Rent is a housing advice column from VICE. Housing journalist and campaigner Vicky Spratt answers your questions about dodgy landlords, evil estate agents and terrible flatmates with a little help from housing lawyers and Shelter’s expert advisors. Got a burning query? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
My housemates rinse our energy. Like, put the heating really high or leave it on overnight. We split all our bills equally, but I can’t help but feel I use it way less in the shared flat.
Maybe I sound a bit stressed, but I am quite energy conscious and hate when it's too hot, especially somewhere small that’s quite warm anyway. It just seems so bad for the environment. Are there any non-aggy ways to implement a system that encourages reasonable use of energy and won't end up making my housemates hate me?
There are two types of housemates in this world – those who like it hot and those who spend hours googling “optimum temperature for human sleep” before sending their housemates pass-agg emails linking to articles with titles like “The Exact Temperature Your Bedroom Should Be To Get A Solid 8 Hours Sleep”.
I’ll let you decide which category I fall into. (Incidentally, it’s 16.1 degrees. That’s just science – I didn’t make the rules.)
In the current climate – by which I mean one where the cost of living for younger generations has soared way beyond our earnings and the world we’re inheriting from our elders is literally on fire – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being “money and energy conscious”. Unless you’ve got access to a trust fund, Millennium Falcon and one-way ticket to a spare planet, I’m not sure there is any other reasonable way to be.
The problem is that you can take a housemate to the thermostat but you can’t make them turn it down. When it comes to any disagreement like this – one concerning the fundamentals of how you like to live – there is no surefire way to prevent people from hating you.
In my experience, trying to change other people is pointless. The more you try, the stronger their desire to stay the same becomes. In general, people do what they want to do regardless of what anyone else says or whether they’re making good decisions or not.
If you want to feel good about yourself, live by your values and feel hopeful about the environment, you have to stop worrying about being disliked. I’m not saying you should go full Extinction Rebellion and glue yourself to the boiler, but nor do I think you should try to sugar coat this. You cannot try to be someone you’re not. If you do, you’ll end up miserable.
I used to live with one of my best mates. We used to refer to her temperature preferences as “winter in Jamaica” because she liked it to be around 30 degrees at all times. It drove me round the bend. But, five years later, we are still speaking. She didn’t change; we just stopped living together. It saved our sanity and salvaged our friendship.
Most people are worried about money. Most people are concerned about the planet. But, equally, most people are tired, overworked and overwhelmed. In my experience, the people who are happiest are the ones who create a home environment where they can be themselves and don’t have to go to war over a British Gas bill every month.
Ultimately, I think you need to find new housemates and/or a live-in partner who is the same type of aggy as you. This will eliminate the problem completely. However, I do realise that this isn’t necessarily going to be easy. For one, Hinge is a fucking nightmare. Then there’s the small matter of moving because the private rental market is also a fucking nightmare – and an expensive one at that.
For now, you’ll have to compromise because there is sadly no bit of tenancy law that covers temperature or tumble dryer use (if I could campaign for it, I would). Shelter’s advisor points out: “If you’re sole tenants of your own individual rooms rather than joint tenants of the property, you could ask the landlord to intervene.” This is definitely worth checking but whether any landlord would be prepared to wade into a situation like this is questionable.
Until you can move in with other people and/or find a frugal, energy-efficient soulmate, you can take a leaf out of my book. Go full Martin Lewis on this. Send an email to your housemates linking out to organisations like the Energy Saving Trust and Ofgem, which give practical suggestions about how to save money and be more energy-conscious and then call a house meeting.
I’m not saying it will you popular, because it almost definitely won’t. But it might save you money and it could make you feel better.
I’m an international student from Spain renting for the second time. I don’t have a UK guarantor as I came here without contacts to study my bachelor’s degree. Last year, my landlord asked me for two months' rent in advance for not being able to provide a guarantor, which seemed fair. This year I haven’t been able to negotiate anything more flexible than paying six months upfront.
I tried talking to the agency and they said this was a matter completely up to the landlord and couldn’t be able to do anything if this was what he asked for. I have friends who have been asked up to a year's rent in advance, which a lot of us can’t even think of affording. I’m wondering what’s the actual legality of this and what am I entitled to negotiate in future contracts in the absence of a UK guarantor?
Welcome to Brexit Britain, a place where decent housing is in high demand and short supply. Sadly, situations like yours are far from unusual. I hear from people all the time who are asked to pay huge chunks of rent upfront because they don’t have a guarantor. It affects self-employed people, people on low incomes and those who don’t have family members they can call on, too.
In fact, a really good friend recently confided in me that she had had to borrow rent upfront from another friend because – despite earning an above average salary – she didn’t pass the affordability test when she was trying to rent her new flat.
When rents have risen so far beyond wages in many places across this country, how the hell is anyone supposed to make it work?
But it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness, so back to your situation.
The Tenant Fees Act, which came into force in 2019, has banned letting fees and put caps on deposits. However, according to Shelter’s advisor, “there is no limit on the amount of rent that can be asked for in advance”. In theory, a landlord could ask you for the full rent for the entire fixed term of the tenancy when it begins, “and this would be completely lawful”.
So for someone like you – who finds themselves without a guarantor – or someone on a low or even medium income, a landlord is completely within their rights to ask for a substantial amount of rent upfront. Shelter have some good information about guarantors on their website which might be useful.
Obviously, this totally sucks – and it’s absolutely testament to how in-demand decent rental properties are. Landlords have a lot of power in cities like London where there are more people looking to rent than available properties – they’re able to pick and choose their tenants.
Your email gives me flashbacks to standing in a queue that was basically “one-in-one-out” for a basement flat in Hoxton a few years ago. The letting agent stood there like a bouncer, telling us we had two minutes to show ourselves around. On the way out, they asked us to write what we’d be willing to pay on a piece of paper and submit a sealed bid. The. Flat. Wasn’t. Even. Nice. It had bars on the windows and stank of mould covered by fresh paint.
However, I appreciate that you can’t walk away like I did. Your options are limited – you need somewhere to live. What you might be able to thrash out with your landlord is how much they would accept from you.
Shelter tells me that if you’re already living in the property – which it sounds like you are – then it’s likely youl have a right to remain beyond the end of your fixed term if neither you or your landlord have taken steps to end the tenancy.
Finding new tenants is expensive and time-consuming, so use this to your advantage. Send a thoughtful email, sing their praises and say how much you love the property. They might just be willing to come to an arrangement that’s more realistic.
“If you’re able to prove that the rent is affordable to you on a long-term basis,” Shelter’s advisor adds, “this could also help. Many landlords ask for rent in advance as a means of managing the risk of letting a property, and if you’re able to show that you can afford the tenancy over the course of the fixed term, it may reassure the landlord that asking for less rent in advance is suitable.”
I know how emotional renting can be. To a landlord or a letting agent, it’s a business. To a tenant, it’s home. It can be impossible to put yourself in your landlord’s shoes, but give it a go. Make yourself seem like a safe bet, send them a financial proposal and tell them what you can realistically afford. You might just be surprised by how they respond.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.