For many people living in London, those who cannot or chose not to buy or get a mortgage to purchase a house, then their existence, their sense of belonging is precarious, and usually challenged on a yearly basis, as the one year contract they have with their landlord comes up for renewal. In some cases news of a rent increase, an announcement from flat mates that they will be moving out and away, or news from the landlord that they will be selling their flat or at any rate will not be renting it out, can revolutionise your life, and means you will need to up sticks and get used to a completely new life, completely new flat mates and completely new neighbours and neighbourhood. When you are young such change can seem exciting and provide a fertile ground in which you can develop life skills and become a more adaptive person. As you move into your third decade of life, it starts to become traumatizing, as the perpetual ploughing up of one’s sense of belonging causes havoc with one’s sense of place in the world, security and identity. Existentialist crisis is the permanent state of the London lodger.
Besides the serious challenges to identity, belonging and mental and emotional well-being that renting brings, it also means having to deal with estate agents and landlords, many of whom are hell-bent on minimizing expenditure, which often means failing to respond quickly or not at all to requests for repairs to be done, and in many cases usually trying to take your deposit off you, irrespective of whether you have caused any damage or not.
Whilst the process of looking for a new place to live can be exciting, it can also be quite depressing, given the amount of work involved. If you have to share your rented place with someone else, this can be even more exhausting as you need to put on your best appearances, and appear to be the kind of person who could get on with anyone, with people, who even as you talk to them you feel severe doubts forming in your mind about. One blogger, writing in 2006, reflecting on the process of finding a place to rent in London said, “At first, this is exciting: you get to have a nose round loads of different flats and get carried away with imagining yourself living there. After a while, though, when you’re being shown round absolute shithole no. 10, the novelty wears off and you find yourself seeing ‘certain charm’ in a flat with no kitchen or pigeons in the bathroom, such is your desperation to find a dwelling.
It would seem that having bad experiences of living in shitty rented accommodation in London makes those searching for rented accommodation more organised the next time round. Lost in London blogger said, “Such was my rush to find somewhere I forgot to check that it had central heating (it didn’t) and failed to notice that it had mouldy, metal-framed windows, a beige carpet and a bed that had a huge dip in the middle. We spent a fairly miserable two years there, freezing our balls off in the winter and then sweating them off in the summer. Never let it be said, however, that I don’t learn from my mistakes. Last year’s flat hunting was pretty streamlined, but this year I’m taking the organisation of it to an almost maniacal degree. I’ve already set aside my special notepad and have begun prefilling it with key points, questions to ask and a handwritten form for each separate viewing so I can rate them or slate them accordingly.”
If you’re looking to share a place with other people then unless you know them well, you are likely to be vetted for whatever particular set of characteristics they are looking for. Not only will people vet you, but you also will be vetting the people that you meet, a random assortment that you would never chose to mix with or come across in your day-to-day life, but who in your desperation for a place to live you are prepared to suspend normal social expectations and consider the possibility of spending a year of your life with. Consequently, an Italian woman, commenting on her experience of trying to rent a flat said it was an experience, she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. She commented, “It exposes you to the weirdest humanity you can imagine meeting… a Muslim woman willing to sharing a flat while waiting for the right one to whom to devote myself… the lesbian frightened by men to the point of not allowing, just in case, even my father to come, visit and sleep… Not to mention all the 20-something idiot girls I met who told me: “Sorry, but you seem to be too old to get on well with us”…the eco-vegan-animalist willing to recycle every tiny little thing I use to show how much I care about this planet…”