The phone rings. It's the letting agents. "This is a courtesy call to let you know that the landlord wants to sell your flat and this is your two months' notice."
The words hang over your head, making the air oppressive . "Courtesy call." It's what you associate with a computer helpline ringing to check you're happy with the service provided, or with a hairdresser confirming that you will be attending your hair appointment. A "courtesy call" to inform you that you're being turfed out of your home. Yes, your home – no matter what landlords and letting agents bully you into believing. For as long as you're paying rent for it, it is your home. The home that the agent comes to check every six months to make sure you haven't trashed it. The home for which you have to pay rent six months in advance because you're self-employed. Where you have to ask permission before hammering extra picture hooks into the walls.
Once you've stopped reeling from the news, a list of questions pertaining to the required move starts multiplying in your head. You call the letting agents. "We'd like to pop in and see you –"
"What is it concerning?"
"Well, we have a few questions –"
"Can you ask them over the phone?"
You raise your voice, "Look, is it all right to come and see you or are we not allowed to?"
At the letting agents' office, the individual who deals with you enunciates their syllables as though they think you can't keep up. Their politeness has so much added artificial sweetener, it positively makes you want to retch.
You’re told that, even if you've been asked to move out, you still have to abide by the contractual obligation of giving a month's notice if you find another place earlier. That you still have to have the flat professionally cleaned, even though it's going to be sold and not rented. They don’t sound particularly interested when you tell them you'd like to stay on the agency's books. You wonder why, and then it occurs to you that letting agents may consider it too much effort to notify renters if a suitable property becomes available – it's up to the renters to hunt through the internet, find properties, and hassle the agents.
Moreover, you discover that your deposit will be returned "within 28 days" of your moving out. This not only means that you have two months to raise a substantial sum of money, but that you won't be there when the agents examine your flat, and can't protest if they decide to deduct any "damage" costs from your deposit.
Renters in the UK are second-class citizens. You've known this for a while, so why are you so shocked, so upset? Haven't you heard, on numerous occasions, your neighbours (who own their properties) make comments about rubbish being left around or other nuisance being caused, undoubtedly, by "the renters in No. this or that"? The law is on the side of the landlord, not the tenant. The landlord has rights. The tenant has obligations. It’s back to the Middle Ages.
You walk into the other letting agencies. They rush to you before you've had the time to close the door behind you. "Hello, can I help you?"
"Hello, yes, could I speak to someone about rentals? –"
"What's your budget?"
No come in, no take a seat.
You wish you could find your next home without going through letting agents. From what you've experienced, they actually appear physically incapable of any warmth, feelings, or respect. From the robotic way they act towards you, they seem impervious to any sense of shame. Remember that word? Shame. You haven't heard it used for a while. Shame. It seems to have gone missing. Disappeared. Like honour.
You look around the flat you've cared for and made your home, your sanctuary, for the last two and a half years. Only two and a half years. You had so hoped you could have been allowed to stay longer. You see all the books that need packing. All the CDs, clothes, crockery, and all the odds and ends that can't be categorised but which make it your home. You notice that the bathroom sink needs to be cleaned. You reach out for the scourer then stop. What's the point? You're moving out soon. You go out for a walk to clear your head. It starts to rain. Let's go back home, where it's warm. But, suddenly, it's not home anymore. It's an assembly of walls, floor and ceiling where you no longer feel welcome. Where you no longer feel safe.
Time to pack. You tell yourself your next home will be even better. Yes, much better. But how long will you be allowed to stay there?