Landlords, eh? *mimes rolling of eyes* They nab a quarter of your wage packet, fail to meet any kind of polite standard of discourse and when they do deign to communicate with their tenants, it’s like being visited by the dead, as such a lengthy period of time has elapsed since their last hurried scribble of communication you wonder whether they’ve slipped from this mortal coil into the lower reaches of hell (a place they’d describe in a letting agent’s window as being “warm and cosy”). What do we get in return for our hard-earnt millions? A dishevelled cardboard box with a Fisher Price hob, a damp chill that could keep an ice-skating rink in fine fettle and all the grace and gratitude of an angry four-year-old protesting about eating greens and spitting broccoli over the kitchen table. I fucking hate them.
I try and reserve my hatred for special occasions nowadays, my vitriol compartmentalised and deposited in a Big Yellow Store Space of rage. There are too many bastards and corrupt idiots and charlatans out there for my hatred to be equally split between members of the FIFA International Committee and the rest of the world. But landlords? They make me reach into the murky depths of the reservoir of my hatred, pulling forth a grotty kernel of abhorrence and flinging it post-haste in their general direction.
In January, following weeks of near-biblical rainfall, a large chunk of soffit fell from my roof on to the pavement below, leaving an excrement-like splattering of brown sludge over our street. The falling debris smashed my housemate’s car windscreen and left us mopping up bricks and mortar for a few hours. We were a high-visibility jacket away from doing Community Service, or whatever they call it now – is it Civil Payback or Public Persecution or Humanity Humiliation? Only a desperately unpopular Home Office Minister looking for cheers from the cheap seats and nursing a stiffy seems to know what it’s called these days.
My landlord lives in Cyprus, a destination which (according to my crinkled Ordinance Survey map) is quite far away. Despite this, he felt able to diagnose the problem (wrongly) from thousands of miles away. We told him of the emerging situation and he helpfully responded by saying that we hadn’t cleaned the drains, leading to a blockage and the subsequent rotten roof. We pointed out that the rotten drainpipe, which looked how Jackie Stallone’s face must feel, was a superior guesstimate of the issue. Furthermore, a rotten drainpipe doesn’t just burst into fruition within five months, it’s the result of continued neglect. We even had a video of it, with rainwater pouring through the gutter at a rate which would shame a power shower. No, Landlord Clutserfuck replied, we were responsible. Never mind that our neighbours said they had our gutters cleaned a few weeks before we moved in. Forget the fact that a tenant’s responsibilities do not include climbing a rickety ladder and scooping sycamore leaves from a drainpipe. Landlord Arsewipe still maintained that he would claw back the costs of repair from our deposit, which now looks as secure as a Siberian gay pride march.
In the meantime, our property was in a very bad way. Do you remember when Britain was the “sick man of Europe” ‘cos we couldn’t run a bath let alone an empire, and we had something called a ‘ha’penny’ for currency, which is one step above using goats for the exchange of goods? Well, our house is the sickest in Europe. There are post-earthquake tower blocks in Asia which provide better standards of living. The walls are soaking wet, with moisture seeping in everywhere. The bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen are covered in little black spots of damp. I don’t know whether our walls are radar monitors or suffering from gangrene.
To remedy this, our landlord promised us a series of works which would haul the house, limping and spluttering, past a health and safety inspection. When we were signing our tenancy agreement, his eyes glowing with dollar signs as we filled in the paperwork, he promised that just weeks after moving in, our modest three-bed place would be transformed into a palatial, opal garden of delights, a treat for all the senses. As soon as we were handed the keys, nothing happened. During the summer, we didn’t notice a thing. I was too busy celebrating leaving home with a glass or three of Pimm’s on our patio and watching Miranda box-sets. But as the wild weather came in from shores afar, the house took a battering.
Whenever we pointed out a mishap or emergency, our landlord was lackadaisical at best. I’m not asking him to come round and share a spliff on the chintz sofa we purloined from the streets. I don’t want him to turn up for a night out with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s and wake the next morning, cooking us a fry-up to flush out a hangover. But I do expect human decency. Our shower would pack up for days at a time, while he would send emails effectively asking if we had turned the boiler off and on again so he didn’t have to call a plumber.
Halfway through our tenancy, he finally got round to doing something about the damp-ridden living room. “Two to three weeks” he said it would take. Today marks the commencement of the third month of works. Our kitchen is caked in dust so think you could hold a long jump competition on the breakfast bar. For eight weeks I have given up cooking food, eating a diet solely consisting of Co-Operative meal deals, which after the umpteenth chicken and bacon sandwich, wears a bit thin (somewhat predictably, my waist size if far from wearing thin).
Couched in the nicest possible language – the Queen could have penned the missive – we asked for a rebate, some small compensation for having burly chaps blaring Radio 1 from 8am every morning and for them not knowing the difference between a draining board and a bin when disposing tea bags. Our request was rebuffed with the words “There will be no compensation”, like the bit in a film when a pleading captive begs for mercy, while their accosters look on, laughing.
And that’s what renting a house feels like in modern day Britain. We are tied to the train tracks, desperately scrambling to break free but the oncoming train of a landlord’s shameful neglect looks set to carve us a new skin.