My first flat out of university was the kind where the landlord pays the council tax and recommends you don’t tell anyone else that you live there. It had rats, broken windows and a “no more than three people in the property at the same time” policy, after my flatmate and I once played a record too loudly on a Friday night. The bathroom was shared, and situated on the floor below. We once hung our underwear out to dry in it one day after using the washing machine and three pairs of pants mysteriously disappeared.
What we lived in, during that four-month stint, could justifiably be called squalor, although we didn’t think of it that way at the time; we were just glad to be able to live in London, even if it did mean working eight-hour days for the landlord in lieu of rent, weekends included. Crazily enough, the whole scenario felt like a good deal; hell, it was a good deal, especially when compared with what else was going on in the same city for some of our friends.
If you’re the kind of person who has never lived in a rat-infested condemned apartment with a sociopathic landlord then you might think that I’m either lying or that what I experienced was reassuringly unusual – but neither is the truth. The problem with the housing crisis is that people know what it is in theory, but only like to acknowledge its existence in very specific, extraordinary circumstances.
A Kent landlord banning what he referred to as “coloured” people from renting his properties “because of the curry smell” is one such case. Fergus Wilson, who is reported to own a property empire comprising 1,000 homes, also updated his criteria for tenants at the beginning of the year, instructing estate agents not to rent his properties to a range of normal individuals including “battered wives”, single parents, low income or zero hours workers, and – bizarrely – plumbers. The multimillionaire, seemingly completely unaware that his remarks made him sound like a caricature of a Disney villain, responded to criticism by saying: “We are in business to make money, so we make a selection based on a sensible business plan... If ever a person came in wearing pink socks and defaulted on rent, then we would stop renting to people who wear pink socks.”
Call me a bleeding heart liberal, but it seems that Wilson has forgotten what he’s taking to market: homes, not identikit houses from an abstract portfolio. Homes are things people rely on, make memories in, have emotional attachments to, consider their place of safety from the outside world. You have to make allowances for that if you’re a landlord; you have to accept that you are not selling a sandwich or a jumper or an iPhone, but something integral to a customer’s life and a family’s existence.
You might think that that’s obvious – but it wasn’t obvious to the landlord who recently evicted my friend from the house she’d lived in for three years with one week’s notice so his son could live in London rent-free instead. When she begged for a little more time to find an alternative place to live, he responded with a shrug: “It’s my house and I can do what I want with it.”
When did this logic extend to being able to do exactly what you want with the people inside those houses, and to hell with the emotional damage you might wreak? When did a “property empire” become the signifier of an impressive business brain? When did we agree that being a tenant makes you deserving of disrespect and disregard, while buying up all the first homes in a block of new builds in order to rent them back to the very people they were built for, and at a significant premium, makes you a savvy investor?
The flat I live in at the moment – much higher spec, you’ll be pleased to hear, than the one with the rats – is part of somebody’s property empire, and the secrets of that person or people are so closely guarded that the management company they use to deal with their tenants won’t even tell me their name. It’s technically illegal not to tell a tenant who their landlord is, but everyone involved in the transaction knows that there’s no real legal recourse to force someone to give you the information – at least not until long after you’ve moved out and ceased needing to care.
Outrageous property deals in pictures
Outrageous property deals in pictures
1/15 The Park Lane townhouse set to become one of the UK's most expensive student flats at £4,000 a week
A town house situated in Park Lane, one of the most affluent places in London, is about to become the capital’s most expensive student residence. Most of London students usually live in halls of residence before moving on to house-share. For this reason it is fair to say few will able to afford the 3,540 square foot three-bedroom flat, which is available for £4,000 a week, £16,000 per month or £192,000 per year.
2/15 London's most expensive flat goes on sale at Buckingham Palace near Buckingham Palace priced at £150m
A luxury flat in London’s historic Admiralty Arch, which overlooks Buckingham Palace, could sell for up to £150 million. If sold for that price, the 15,000 sq ft apartment will become London's most expensive flat, topping One Hyde Park, a flat which sold for £140 million in 2014.The Grade I listed property boasts 12 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms
3/15 ‘Little White House’ inside the US embassy complex in London goes on sale for £2.5m
A luxury home inside the US embassy complex has gone on sale for £2.5m. The property is said to be the most “protected home in Britain” and any visitor is asked to carry an identity card at all times. The complex has patrolling US marines, a 24-hour British police presence, checkpoints, anti-tanks blocks and CCTV.But potential buyers looking for a fortress should not get their hopes up as all the security will disappear once the US embassy moves to a new site in Nine Elms in 2017. The home, located at 4 Blackburne’s Mews near Grosvenor Square, dates back to 1732 and owes its nickname to its white façade, grand entrance and sweeping staircase as well as its proximity to the US embassy. It provides nearly 3,000 sq ft of living space and benefits from access to communal gardens.
4/15 First London luxury flats to contain their own private art gallery with prices going from £3.8m up to £7.7m
The first private luxury apartment building in London with its own private art gallery has been unveiled in March. The Chilterns at 24 Paddington Street contains 44 luxury residences, the majority of which were sold in 2013. It contains a signature restaurant, a 24 hour-hotel style concierge service, a gymnasium and sauna and a private cinema. The new art gallery, with original pictures of the area by David Bailey, is part of the lobby of the building and is “one of the most exciting and unique features of the Chilterns”, according to Stephen Conway, CEO of Galliard Homes. With prices going from £3.8 million up to £7.7 million for a three bedroom flat, the residence is located between the local shops of Marylebone High Street and Baker Street.
5/15 Margaret Thatcher's Belgravia home is up for sale for £30m
Margaret Thatcher’s six-floor townhouse in Belgravia is on the market for a cool £30 million. The Grade II listed building on No. 73 Chester Square, one of London’s most prestigious addresses, now boasts a lift, a newly constructed mews house with a roof terrace and a private garage after a three-year refurbishment by Leconfield, a development and construction company. Some features from Thatcher’s time at the property remain. The layout and design of the formal dining room and interlinking study on the ground floor has been reinstated exactly as the Iron Lady had it during her 22 years at the property, from 1991 until her death in 2013.
6/15 Tiny London house that is just 10ft wide goes on market for £800,000
A tiny terraced house that measures no more than 10ft wide has gone on the market in south London for a staggering £800,000. The house, generally labelled "unique" by estate agent Foxtons, looks all the more unusual because it is sandwiched between two regular-sized homes. It doesn't even have a proper back door - images of the interior suggested renovators had sought to maximise the property's space by including a folding aperture to the similarly narrow back garden.
7/15 The Mayfair penthouse that sold for £30 million
A Mayfair penthouse on Albemarle Street, one of Mayfair's oldest roads, sold to a mystery buyer for £30 million in December. The 5,845 sq ft, three-bedroom family home is thought to be one of the most expensive properties sold in the capital this year, and comes with an annual service charge of £61,000.
supplied by Estate agent Peter Wetherell
8/15 The dilapidated pre-fab 'shed' sold for nearly £1 million
A pre-fabricated bungalow in south-east London has sold at auction for just under £1 million. The 1950s property in Peckham comes with 0.6 acres of land, is in need of renovation and has no fitted bathroom, but still sold for £950,000. A guide price of £590,000 was initially set, but increased rapidly during the bidding.
9/15 The starter home flats that went for a combined £60 million
Some 215 “affordable” starter homes, specifically designed for first time buyers, sold out in just three hours in November, after dozens of aspiring homeowners camped overnight and queued in bad weather to get their hands on the flats. The starter home flats at Trinity Square by Galliard Homes went for a combined £60 million, or an average of £700 per sq ft. Londoners looking for affordable housing did not hesitate to camp out for up to two days to snag a flat, despite the fact that the project will not be complete for another two years.
10/15 The longest lateral flat where H.G wells hosted a book club: yours for £3.65m
The 2,200 square foot apartment in Chiltern Court in Marylebone was also home to author Arnold Bennett and political cartoonist David Low. Now on the market for £3.65 million through Rokstone agency, the four-bedroom flat has been refurbished into a luxury apartment, providing an exceptional 40 meter window frontage and depth. It claims to be the longest and most outstanding lateral flat - ones that stretch the full width of a building, or sometimes across two buildings - currently for sale in London’s West End.
11/15 Gatti House: the flats with celebrity links and private "pizza" lift that sold for a collective £16.5 million
Celebrity links, a famous history and a private “pizza lift” has helped set a new record for price per square foot for a block of flats in central London. The four flats have sold for a collective £16.5 million at Gatti House on London’s Strand. Gatti House, a magnificent grade II building built in 1867, was sold as four separate apartments priced from £2.95 million to £5.95 million by CBRE Residential and Beauchamp, which has completed the last remaining sale.
CBRE Residential and Beauchamp
12/15 London’s most expensive office
A newly refurbished office in the heart of Mayfair measuring 6,000 sq ft was unveiled by Enstar Capital in October. At £500 per sq ft, it is set to be the most expensive commercial fit out ever undertaken in the West End, according to the developer. The workspace on 54 Brooks Mews features gold-plated executive washrooms inspired by Armani-hotel in Italy, timber flooring imported from a 16th century monastery in Tuscany and an Art Deco entrance restored with a new “54” entrance logo replicating Steve Rubell’s famous “studio 54” nightclub logo from the seventies. While the director’s floor include a rooftop terrace dressed with loungers and an outside meeting and dining table.
13/15 Former garage in Mayfair become world’s most expensive mews house at £24m in Mayfair
In September, the world’s most expensive mews house, in Reevews Mews, sold to a Qatari buyer for an eye-watering £24 million.
14/15 A penthouse where you canoe from your front door, yours for £16.95 million
London luxury dockside complex located on Chelsea creek is due for completion by the end of 2016. But its luxury flats are already on sale including this penthouse yours for £16.95 million. It’s future residents will be able to slip down the river for a work out on the water at anytime of the day.
15/15 The only property in London too expensive for the city’s super-rich property buyers
A 45 bed-room mansion near Hyde Park, previously owned by a Saudi Prince, received a private bid for £280 million. If accepted this would have made the property he most expensive single home ever to be sold in Britain. It was originally listed with an asking price of £300 million –more than double the price of the UK’s second most expensive home.
It’s also illegal to suddenly evict a tenant with a few days’ notice, and illegal to make off with someone’s deposit for no reason at all, and illegal not to maintain basic standards of health and safety within a property, but landlords continue to do all of these things with impunity because they know that tenants can rarely afford the time or the money to pursue claims against them.
These apparently shocking incidences are not unusual; anyone who’s rented a home in London in the last 10 years will have encountered them, likely on multiple occasions. But if we only reserve our (justified) outrage for people who use offensive racial epithets and publicly say it’s “just not good business” to let women who have experienced domestic abuse rent their homes, we allow the housing crisis to quietly grind on as we turn our attention away.
When the headlines disappear, the rats are still there.Reuse content