Life

Life for Rent: My Housemate Keeps Bringing His Girlfriend Over in Lockdown

Plus: what to do if your washing machine breaks down during a pandemic.
30 April 2020, 1:29pm
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A housing advice column for all your renting problems from VICE UK columnist Vicky Spratt. Got a burning question? Email lifeforrent@vice.com.

I am paying an agency loads of money for my room in a shared flat, which I share with two guys they put together. I have some underlying health conditions I told them about. I begged them to please follow the guidelines as I am at risk, to no avail.

One flatmate still goes to the shops every lunchtime to get a sandwich and fails to wash his hands when coming back in. The other is a paramedic, but don’t be blindsided by his profession. He just started dating this new girl – she doesn’t live in our area, but he feels the need to keep on seeing her as often as his job allows. In our flat.

I have spoken to both flatmates and the agency, but nothing really helped. The agency keeps on saying they can not really do anything to help as they are not allowed to evict anyone during lockdown. (I got the feeling they really need the rent and [must] talk to the boys – who now have formed a unit against me – as nicely as they do to me.)

Do you have any more information about what legal action my agency can take so I can forward this on to them? I am worried about my health and no one in my household seems to care.

People keep referring to coronavirus as a “great slowdown”. But isn’t it strange that our own private lives – unfolding in the homes we are currently confined to – seem more hectic than ever?

The text from an ex who wronged you in 2008; the misguided lockdown booty call from someone you snogged once, a pass-agg text from your best friend who just lost their job and is annoyed you haven’t called, or, as in your case, flatmates who are playing fast and loose with the rules, bringing added stress into your home and putting you in danger.

One of the worst things about living in a shared house is other people. (Pretty sure it was Sartre who said that.) Beyond the daily horror of the death toll, one of the most uncomfortable realisations forced upon us by this crisis is just how much of this is beyond our control. I don’t just mean an invisible virus – I’m talking about the behaviour of others.

Firstly, let me say that your flatmates are being reckless. If I were you, underlying health conditions or not, I’d be pretty pissed off. I usually find myself drawn to people who break the rules (figures, I’m an Aries) but right now I’m very into when people do things by the book.

The guy who doesn’t wash his hands really needed to sort himself out, TBH. You must imagine viral particles swarming over your door handles, taps and drawers just because he can’t do something so basic. As for your other flatmate – the paramedic – I wonder if it’s worth stopping to consider why he is behaving this way.

Presumably he’s dealing with a lot. The fact that someone – particularly a person who is spending their days in close proximity to death – would want to see their sexual partner right now (dangerous as it might be) shouldn’t catch you off guard. Who doesn’t want to distract themselves from all the death around us by indulging in its cousin: sex?

Can you try and talk to your housemates one more time? I know you say you’ve already begged, but – and I really wish I could deliver better news – I’ve double checked with the advisors at Shelter. They told me: “Unfortunately, despite the obvious dangers in their irresponsible behaviour, legally there’s not much you can do to influence what your housemate does.” In terms of housing law, there’s nothing explicit that protects you.

Things are so bad now that you’re describing domestic warfare, with the boys and the agency as one unit and you another. Shared houses are so often divided along these lines, but this is literally life and death – the guys you live with are so wrapped up in themselves that they’ve forgotten you.

You feel alone because you are alone in taking this seriously in your house. If you could afford to live alone and shield because of your health conditions, I’m sure you would. You want to know what your legal options are if talking gets you nowhere? Let me clear: this is going nuclear and I’m not sure I would recommend it because you’d be looking at trying to get evictions proceedings brought against your flatmates or even a court injunction. However, you can’t force your landlord to do this and it’s likely they wouldn’t want to get involved in a situation amongst housemates. Would you want to share your space with people who knew you’d tried to get them evicted, anyway?

I know this isn’t what you want to hear. I know it isn’t what you need.

Choosing who you live with is as (if not more) important than choosing who you date. You can dump a partner who behaves badly, but in a houseshare you’re legally bound to the people you live with, regardless of how well you know them or who they turn out to be.

This pandemic is peeling away all of our carefully constructed defenses and showing our true selves. What you’re seeing is that you are just not compatible with these people. You are still allowed to move house as long as it’s urgent and necessary during lockdown and properties are still being advertised. If you can afford to – both financially and in terms of your health – and a talking cure fails, perhaps the best medicine here would be to move on.

Our washing machine has decided to break in the most terrible moment possible a.k.a. during a lockdown. Our place is managed by the estate agents, so it's their job to sort. At the best of times, they're pretty slow, but even if I start ringing them every hour like I normally do, how much can they actually do in this pandemic? Am I allowed to have a repair person over to the house to fix it? Surely we can't wait two months to get this fixed!?

Reader, forgive me if I find it oddly reassuring that letting agents are still “slow”, that washing machines still break, that the banality of our existence (read: our basic need for clean pants) still continues even when it feels like a decades’ worth of news happens in just one week.

I’ve checked and I can happily confirm that yes, your letting agent or landlord should repair or replace any broken appliances they've provided in the property. This applies “unless you broke it”, Shelter’s advisor cautions, which I very much doubt you did.

Unfortunately, they’ve also told me: “Housing law doesn’t give any guidelines on how long the letting agent or landlord should take to repair or replace broken appliances. Having said that, if your letting agent doesn’t sort it soon, you could try to seek compensation for any expenses you incur because the washing machine is broken. You could keep any receipts from using a laundrette and a diary of the impact this has on you until it gets sorted. Laundrettes are on the list of places that can stay open during the lockdown.”

OK, now onto your letting agent. Lockdown absolutely does not preclude them from getting this sorted out for you. The government’s rules for repairs and maintenance during lockdown clearly state that “urgent issues” can still be addressed. Shelter’s advisor confirms that this would fall under those terms “as long as it’s safe for them and for your household”.

Any works carried out do need to follow Public Health England guidelines, according to the Ministry of Housing. They’ve said that “carrying out repairs and maintenance, can continue, provided that the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms” as long as “a two-metre distance from any household occupants” is maintained.

The only reason, according to those guidelines, why you should think very carefully about whether having repairs done is a true “emergency” is if you are living in a “household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded”.

So go forth and get your washing machine safely and socially distantly fixed. There’s a lot of things that we can’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) do during this pandemic, but getting essential appliances repaired is not among them.

@Victoria_Spratt