SOCIETY

Purple Wall Problem

By Penny Anderson

My bedroom has three dirty, off-white walls (magnolia – the blandness of choice for buy to let rentiers) while one (just one) wall is a vibrant, intrusive purple. I hate it. The previous tenant also left me with thick hair in all the plugholes, filthy surfaces, mould everywhere along with that one purple wall.

Of course, I could always paint it. My landlady wouldn’t mind. In fact she’d encourage it. Landgirl (as she styles herself because I wrote a blog called Rentergirl) outsourced certain onerous ownership duties to a letting agent, who in turn outsourced the inventory making to another company, all of whom took her money for no work and left us both with an unauthorised purple wall.

Yes, you are correct, of course. I could paint it. But why would I? I will have to pay for paint, take the time and effort and I don’t know how long I can stay. This alone keeps me awake at night, because any day now I face being given two months notice to leave my home. This is a certainty. I will have to leave.

Landgirl is an ‘accidental’ rentier, by which I mean she bought a flat, then moved in to her partner’s house and is unable to sell my flat due to negative equity. This was in the heady days of the febrile property boom, when she found an affordable home and along with a friend sensibly bought and pays less for the flat than the cost of a mortgage. It’s always wise to invest in property. Isn’t that so?

Not always. The property crash curtailed the rampant profit made by renting out or buying then offloading cheap flats in undesirable areas with leaky roofs. There is no boom, just some doldrums, and as long as that situation persists, I can stay.

But if I knew for certain I could stay long-term, it would be worth my while painting that damn purple wall, and investing in furniture (beyond that which is a bare necessity.) I don’t know how long I have here, or where I will go next: housing associations have long lists, and a freelance tenant with chronic health problems and no guarantor is at the very bottom of every wish list.

So I don’t know where I’ll live next. I don’t know what my home will be like. Or how long I will be permitted to remain in the building I will pay to call home. I will live there until I am moved on again. I don’t know if my next place will be furnished, a flat, ground or upper floor, shared or solitary. I have no choice, my options limited by cost. My next home could be furnished, forcing me to abandon excess possessions once more, and I have no idea if my next rentier will be kind, distant, helpful, intrusive, compassionate, off-hand or even cruel.

Meanwhile I am faced with a purple wall that I could paint, when to do so feels like tempting fate. It used to be that tenants were given a rent free week, or even received expenses for decorating houses when they first moved in. Landgirl might (if interest rates rise) put up the rent so high that I can’t afford to stay, by as much as she sees fit. She can in truth give me notice whenever it suits her. She controls my destiny. Amateur landlords are a problem. They routinely see their investment (my home) not as temporarily out of their control, but as their property still, when renting could be considered a form of temporarily ownership for tenants. Other owners visit and inspect unannounced or with a few days warning, when tenants cannot be at home. They fail do complete even basic repairs, even when this causes damage to the building’s fabric.

Owners can raise rents on a whim, issue capricious or speculative notice and revenge evictions, and provide rickety furniture. Amateurs are rarely professional business people with property as their main source of income. They are dilettantes and my home is their sideline. They are resentful of even the barest minimum of time spent managing their meagre portfolio. Tenants need to stay. We need security, and the ability to establish a life free from regular costly, debilitating moves. We need the ability to make our home homely, and comfortable, which only happen if we are allowed to stay for decades, if we choose (not months).

And so you see, an oppressive purple wall is the least of my problems.

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