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Life For Rent: How Do I Deal With My Nightmare Housemate?

Plus: how to fix a property guardianship that's gone very, very wrong.

by Vicky Spratt
02 January 2020, 9:00am

I’m living in a really stressful situation because of my flatmate. She just totally hates me. Whenever she sees me she rolls her eyes. She has accused me of stealing money because she doesn’t believe me when I saw how much the bills are. I haven’t stolen anything. She banged on the wall recently because our rooms are next to each other and she thought I was being too loud. I didn’t know her before we moved in together but she’s making me feel like a criminal, I really don’t know how to fix this.

Oh, mate. This sounds awful. Sit down before you read my response. Get comfortable. Let’s take this step by step.

Sadly, there is no piece of legislation or clause in your tenancy agreement that can help in this situation. But before we really get into it, I’m going to share something with you I wish I’d figured out long before the ripe old age of 31: some people just aren’t going to like you.

You can’t do anything about this. You can’t manage it and you can’t change it. They’re just not your people and you aren’t theirs. It will feel like the most personal thing in the world but it’s quite the opposite. You just aren’t compatible. You can hold onto the feelings of pain and rejection your flatmate is provoking. Or you can let them go.

Your flatmate sounds (to me) as though they are very much not OK. This does not, of course, excuse their behaviour, but it might provide an explanation for it. Perhaps they’re already in therapy, I don’t know but all this eye-rolling, wall-banging and accusing you of serious things that you haven’t done – this is not how someone who is happy with their lot and adept at talking about their feelings behaves.

Does your flatmate have trust issues? Have they in the past or are they currently going through something personally? Could they be projecting? I’d suggest you try to talk to them about it as the first port of call. Communication is key in all of our relationships. Without it, we misunderstand each other. You need to do this face to face – no hiding behind mobile phones or laptop screens.

It’s important, though, that you go into the conversation with one thing in your mind: even though their behaviour hurts your feelings, it has absolutely nothing to do with how trustworthy or loveable you are as a person. You and your flatmate share a home but it sounds like you weren’t necessarily friends before. Circumstances have brought you together and you probably aren’t supposed to be BFFs. No matter how this chat goes, the worst thing you can do is to create a scenario in which this person is rejecting you.

Tell them you want to chat. Make a list of the things you want to go over. Keep it light and polite but practical. Be open and honest. Don’t cross your arms. Say clearly that you want to understand what the problem is and ask what it is that your flatmate would like from you (within reason, obviously).

If that doesn’t help, you might need to look at moving out. I don’t know how much time is left on your tenancy but it’s worth having a look. Speak to your landlord. If it’s several months, they might be prepared to be flexible as long as you can find a replacement.

At the end of the day, is this really how you want to live? Surrounded by so much negativity? Does anyone?

We all have sharp edges. We are all complicated. We can all be dicks sometimes. Life is not all heart emojis and praise hands. You need to be brave. You need to be prepared that you might not “win” in this situation. You might just have to cut your losses now in order to gain the healthy home environment you deserve. So, go on, take a leap of faith. I know you’ll be so glad you did.

For the last few years I’ve been a property guardian because it’s cheaper than renting and, until recently, I was living in a flat above a shop. I knew there were issues with damp and I kept raising it with the property guardian company but they. Did. Nothing about it.

And then, one day, the ceiling just collapsed. I didn’t feel safe living there and I was worried about my belongings so I moved into a friend's. I’m really worried about getting my deposit back from the company. Please help.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

In housing crisis terms, the property guardianship industry is equivalent to Dante’s eighth circle of hell. This inferno is reserved for thieves and scammers; only worse is the ninth circle of hell where you’ll find those who have betrayed their loved ones’ trust and must be frozen in a lake for all eternity.

Brace yourselves.

I looked into the practices of property guardian companies in an investigation earlier this year. In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know about them:

They’re unscrupulous. They’re largely unregulated and they flout the law even where it does apply to them. They market themselves as a solution to the housing crisis, preying on people who cannot afford extortionate private rents. At the same time, they market themselves as a tax break to people who own empty buildings.

The majority of companies put their guardians on licenses rather than tenancy agreements. This basically means that you don’t have the same rights as a private renter on paper and allows them to evict you at short notice.

More than this, while they might provide cheaper accommodation than the private rented sector in some locations, they have been found to house people in unsanitary and unsafe buildings. One of the biggest guardian companies, Camelot, recently pleaded guilty to 15 breaches of the Housing Act after placing people in a former care home in Colchester which was deemed not to be fire safe!

Just let that sink in for a moment.

Okay, back to the specifics of your situation. Your ceiling caved in and the guardian company did nothing about it. I’m sad to say that I am shocked but not surprised to hear about this at all.

I’m so sorry that you’ve had to go through this and that you’re still fighting for your deposit. However, despite my disclaimer, I actually think there’s hope to be found.

First, a word of caution. Shelter’s advisor points out that because “property guardians have licence agreements which means deposit protection does not apply”. So, you need to read carefully.

I’d suggest politely following up with your company. If that doesn’t work, you can send a more strongly worded email. And, if you still get nothing it’s time to bring out the big guns.

Beyond Camelot, there have been several successful cases of property guardians securing rent repayment orders recently (RRO). Check out the aptly-named community interest organisation Flat Justice who recently succeeded in getting rent back for property guardians in east London.

Another option would be taking court action. I really hope it doesn’t come to this but, if it does, you may have to provide evidence of the disrepair (aka the damp walls that caused the ceiling to eventually cave in) to show that you couldn’t stay in the property.

You can read information on how to get your deposit back here. Shelter’s website also contains useful information on how to take court action to get a deposit back.

I’m really sorry about all of this. Guardianships really are plumbing new depths of the housing crisis and the companies behind them are slippery AF.

@victoria_spratt

Tagged:
housing
HOUSING CRISIS
guardianship schemes
rental
property guardians
renting
Life For Rent