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True Stories of the Ingenious Ways People Outsmarted Their Landlords

From hiding a cat in the cupboard to haggling down the rent, there's more than one way to make a house a home.

by Ruby Lott-Lavigna
20 January 2020, 9:15am

Photo: Emily Bowler / VICE staff. 

It would be too ambitious to try and list all the shitty things about renting. However, were I to start writing a 700-page novel, entitled, Landlords: Scum of the Earth, it would probably begin by listing the loss of fundamental liberties that happen when you're a renter. In the last five years, rents have risen by 13.5 percent and continue to rise, trapping renters in homes that are often badly maintained. Then there’s the difficulty of sharing your personal space with friends, strangers or even a partner, exchanging your autonomy to be able to afford rent each month. And after all that, you’re probably living in a mouldy flat above a kebab shop in zone 4.

Considering the above and the fact that most landlords don’t allow pets, it's a pretty bleak picture for the increasing number of renters in the UK. When you have so little control over your surroundings, sometimes you need to take the law into your own hands, you know? I mean, not kill someone, just, get a secret tabby that you stow away in your airing cupboard when the landlord comes round.

Here are some stories of renters taking back control.

"I saved myself about a month's rent over the year"

I outsmarted my landlord years back. I needed to pay my rent late one month, only by a couple of days and was going to ask my landlord's permission, but never got round to it and just paid it late. He didn't say anything so tried it again the next month... and he didn't notice again, so I paid my rent a day or two late every month. I saved myself about a month's rent over the year. He never noticed. He must have been disorganised.

I also used to negotiate rent increases by demonstrating what percentage my salary had increased, then asking if he thought it was fair to raise rent out of proportion to my salary increases. I think my rent went up about £20 over five years. Ellen*.

"We'd hide her traditional Taiwanese ornaments because the guy who was meant to be in there was a Chelsea FC boy"

I was living in a three-bed house, sharing with two other people. One of the housemates wanted to move to a different house in London, but the landlord wasn't having it. The housemate just moved out anyway and found someone to replace him via SpareRoom – this girl called Mary* from Taiwan. She needed somewhere pretty immediately, so we gave her the room for about six months.

In the first months, a sink broke so the landlord would come and replace it. When this happened, we really pushed the whole, "Give us 24 hours notice" rule and tried to explain to Mary – whose English wasn't the best – what the situation was. We sort of communicated to her that when the landlord was coming over, we all had to be out of the house, which she went with. She'd just go to Costa for half an hour.

Then, either me or the other tenant would go into her room – she knew we were doing this – and take all the clothes and make-up out of there, put the make-up in my other housemate’s room and put loads of my clothes into her room. We'd swap the bedding around because she had this really pink bedding. We de-girled the room. We'd hide her traditional Taiwanese ornaments because the guy who was meant to be in there was a Chelsea FC boy and had Frank Lampard posters and the landlord knew this. After he'd left, we'd message Mary to come back.

The landlord didn't really ever cotton on. There were a few instances where the landlord would be like, “It's weird that Max* is never here," and I would just say that he was really busy at work.

For the last two or three months, we were having house viewings almost every other day, but it was just the same arrangement. At one point, I bought a bottle of Lynx Africa to spray the room. Marcus*.

"I barefaced told him I'd paid when I knew I hadn't"

Once, I told my landlord I'd paid my last month's rent as I knew we wouldn't be getting our deposit back – like, barefaced told him I'd paid when I knew I hadn't. Long story short, he was a rubbish landlord, who left stuff broken, messy and rotten. There was vomit in the sink on the day we moved in and he only reluctantly cleaned it when we demanded.

However, this was all compounded by the fact that one of my housemates was a goon and hadn't been paying his rent for months (we learned), so the landlord tried to bill us all. Essentially, we all just said we'd paid and he mustn't have checked his accounts properly. By the time he figured it out, we were long gone. Eddie*.

"We had to very quickly put both the cats and a lizard into a cupboard"

I moved in with my now husband – he was my boyfriend at the time – in Edinburgh. We had been asked to provide a deposit of two month's rent, plus a month's rent upfront so it was quite a big financial contribution going in.

When we'd lived there for about a year, the rent went up. We were putting quite a lot of money between the two of us into this place, because it's not cheap in Edinburgh. But it felt like it wasn't our home. We weren't allowed to adjust anything, we couldn't move any of the furniture, we weren't allowed to repaint anything. So, when the rent went up, we were feeling rebellious. We got our first cat, then within six months, we got our second one. Then we got a gecko.

We had inspections in the flat every six months. At the time of inspections, you'd get a day's notice, so we'd just put them in cat boxes and take them to the on-site parking and hide behind a car.

The closest we got to getting caught was when we were moving out, we had people coming round for viewings. We had to very quickly put both the cats and a lizard into a cupboard and just pray they wouldn't start meowing. Bethany.

"Full deposit returned."

I negotiated £100 off my rent. The landlord had struggled to let out another flat (I saw it on Rightmove for months), so I argued that he could have another empty flat or take £100 less a month.

In another flat, we had a wooden desk that sat in a hallway. It was basically just a plank of wood in a useless space, so we took it out and put it in the basement where it got wet and completely warped. We even bought a sander to fix it, but, no luck. Eventually, we just decided to prop it up with a box for the internet router. The landlord couldn’t be arsed to come round and check it out for themselves and our photo had the box just out of sight. Full deposit returned. Reece*.

"The landlord was like, 'Who is this cat that looks really comfortable here?'"

When I first went to view my house, I completely forgot I had a cat so afterwards, I was like, "Oh crap, I didn't mention: I have a cat," but they were like, "it's cool, she's really cute."

There was one time when the landlord came round to look around. We just thought we could lock the cat outside the house. Obviously, the landlord went outside to the garden and left the door open, and [the cat] wondered into the house and sat on the sofa. The landlord was like, "Who is this cat that looks really comfortable here?," and we were like, "Oh, um, the brown one or the grey one?" He was like, "The black cat." We just said that cats always come in. We hid her for ages until she sadly passed away. Nina*.

"We took him to court"

My friend and I moved into this flat in 2003. About a month after we moved in, we got a letter in the post from the people who lived there before. They warned us that the landlord had taken their deposit, so we had to be careful about it, and could we confirm to them that the flat was cleaned. We thought, “Oh no, we're gonna have problems, but we've signed a contract so what can we do about it?” Then forgot about it.

After we moved out, the landlord came round to the flat, and told a neighbour that there was no way we were going to get out deposit back and that we'd left it in a state. Actually, we'd scrubbed the sofa, we’d hired a contract cleaner to come in: we did everything we possibly could.

He just refused to return it and didn't really give a reason in the end. So, I started a county court thing. I thought getting a letter warning him that he was going to get taken to court was enough, but it wasn't. So we took him to court – we didn't actually have to go and see him (he didn't turn up) and the court ruled in our favour, and said that he had to pay us the amount of money and the court fees on top.

One day after this, I got a phone call from a repo man, and he said, "Look, mate, the court pay for me to come and get the money off this guy but there are like three or four people in front of you to get money – you're not going to see a penny, I'm afraid." That was really annoying. Joe.

*Names have been changed.

@RubyJLL

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