Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Strange Case Of The Missing Architect

I am rarely lost for words; you might even describe me as chatty (well, that’s the polite way of putting it) but the other day, I discovered something that left me absolutely speechless.

I’ve always wondered just who designs those nasty little orange euroboxes like my former home of Dovecot Towers which are disfiguring cities everywhere. Whoever they are, they express their hatred of humanity by designing homes that are less about domestic bliss and more about smiting people with vengeance. I imagine their wizened yellow faces contorted with malice, manically intoning their evil plans and cackling until dawn as they draw up the blueprints, satisfied at the huge amount of misery they inflict upon their enemies.

Who else could be held responsible? I know that developers pay this evil piper to call their tune, but seriously – what were the architects thinking when they designed those meagre little box flats? Does nobody ever reject their demonic plans and drag them out by the scruff of the neck, slapping them as they shout: “You’ve been a very naughty architect!”

In fact truth is worse than that. The architect is invisible and powerless. The architect is absent. You see, there is no architect. Buildings urban twat-flats are designed by anybody who fancies a try.

The excellent blog Bad British Architecture (see links) has coined an excellent phrase, which always makes me laugh: ‘developer vernacular,’ that is, buildings styled and envisaged by developers, who favour cost-saving uniform grey metal fittings and orange brick infill stuck onto a concrete box.

Exactly who is responsible, then? Anybody who fancies giving it a go, basically: the work experience girl, some bloke who was wandering by, the cleaner, the man who delivers the organic veg box, Jeffrey from Rainbow, and (on more than one occasion) a troupe of semi-trained gibbons.

Here’s what happens: they draw a childlike box, with no fripperies, no extras, no fancy accoutrements like strong doors, insulated walls, space, or cupboards. They squeeze everything into their tiny little closet and afterwards put a window-box outside and call it a balcony.

Seriously though – can you imagine the same happening anywhere else, where rank amateurs intent on torturing humanity are given free rein to meddle in what should be a skilled profession and thereby ruin innocent lives? (oh right – apart from letting agents.)

Please tell me I’ve been misinformed: please tell me there’s a law stating that houses must be planned with great skill by people specially trained to this, allowing for safety, comfort and even beauty (shouldn’t our homes be beautiful – if only for the sake of the poor blighters standing outside dumbstruck with horror or pointing and laughing.)

But apparently, that’s the way it is. The plans are drawn up with a stubby crayon, and if we’re lucky, they’re in a straight line and everything! Please tell me that’s not true.

Although thinking about it – why be so churlish? Why not embrace this notion of can-do. Since you’re asking, I’ve always fancied trying a spot of brain surgery, and I’ve also got this great fantastic idea for a nuclear power station. Somebody hire me please – after all, what harm could I possibly do?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Your Name's Not Down - You're Not Coming In

Last week, I emailed my Letting Agents stating firmly but politely that they mustn’t come round if I was out. They had (if you recall) left a hand delivered letter on the floor in the communal hallway giving 24 hours notice of a summary inspection.

So there I was bubbling with righteous anger, having cancelled appointments and set aside waiting time (the LA’s allowed themselves a whole day, not even specifying morning or afternoon).

I did some work, typing very fast (I do that when I’m angry) and was speaking to myself in a high-pitched angry voice when, at about ten am, I received an email: they weren’t coming round after all.

How thoughtful of them to them let me know. Were they aware I had complained about my house-keys being passed around like free newspapers? “The office manager is aware of it,” apparently, but not so aware as to apologise.

I reminded them that despite being furnished, there is no shelving or cabinets in the bathroom, so everything is piled up on the floor: not nice, not really hygienic, and so easy to remedy.

But here’s the trap: if I plough ahead, I could be hammered for repair fees. I pointed this out when the LA visited last time (I just the leave the door on the latch for them now) when their response was: “You could buy something yourself.”

I am reasonable. I bought my own towel rack, and I have a clothes rail, since for many landlords, ‘furnished’ is a vague and whimsical term. But drilling into a wall was not the way forward, as I’d lose my deposit (yes, I think I think I’d get it back after a court case, but even so…)

I have as yet received no reply to any of my queries.

So here then, is a thought. Let’s say, hypothetically, that a friend owns several large houses. And let’s say that my hypothetical friend, knowing that I was flat-hunting, had asked me to report on Letting Agents, in a mystery shopper capacity: you know, tell him how they treated me so could select a firm to manage his property portfolio. Let’s say that he wanted them to be fair to tenants, having (hypothetically of course) been a private tenant for years himself. Not wanting to work with a company who abused, disdained and trampled on the rights of residents, he wanted nice people, fair people, to oversee his houses.

And let’s just imagine that I’ve done just that, ensuring that the Office Where The Nasty People Are didn’t get the gig.

It’s sort of a motto of mine: never shaft people unless you’re willing to accept the consequences. Not for one minute do the spiny sharks ruling my world imagine that I have any standing in the world, or that I am willing to stand up for my rights (they believe that renters, like slugs may be eradicated with impunity.)

Be careful who you pick on - very careful. You never know who can bite hardest.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Come Round Anytime!

Last Thursday, whilst sucking at an oxygen tank, sick with altitude fever after traipsing up the many flights of stairs, I realised the rubbish needed taking down. Cursing at the journey and the rain, I noticed a hand-delivered letter soggy and discarded on the floor. It was addressed to me, and had apparently been left on a first floor ledge but had been moved or made its own way down.

And guess what’s inside? A cheery letter from my letting agent. Apparently, they’re inspecting my flat between 9am and 5 pm next week. How thoughtful of them to let me know.

The letter says: “It is not necessary for you to be present.”
Erm…actually people, yes it is, since you mention it. I have no intention of allowing strangers free-rein to gambol in my lounge, poking their sticky beaks into my affairs. And they intend on doing this every three-four months “…on behalf of the landlord.”

Whatever next: summoning tenants with a whistle like the Von Trapp children, compelling us to wear uniforms and stand by our beds military fashion while saluting?

To be honest, it’s like Piccadilly Circus in here. A fortnight ago, my flat required a small repair, and I was expecting the contractor to arrange a convenient time. When I called, he said: “But I’ve already been to your house; the agency gave me the keys and I was round last Saturday.”


At least he had the grace to be embarrassed at having marched uninvited in my home, and was astonished that I hadn’t been informed. In fact, he was mortified, but not as horrified as I am. Furious doesn’t cover it, and words are inadequate. The letting agent are so keen to protect themselves and yet stomp over my rights, crushing my privacy and legal entitlement to peaceful enjoyment at every turn.

God, I was angry. The cheek of it: I have no idea who has the key to my home, how many keys exist, and (this is the terrifying part) how many copies have been made. I will allow reasonable access in an emergency, but surely frequent, random spot-checks is against the spirit of the law (I might add that an agency employee had already called two weeks ago so they know I’m not wrecking the place.)

I wonder if I’m allowed to change the locks (which I really want to do, considering the amount of unauthorised visitors who’ve had my door key in their grubby little mitts). Also, can the letting agents insist that the law is on their side?

It’s so demeaning, and I feel powerless, since I know full well that - as retaliatory evictions are widespread - dissent will lead to me being shown the door. On days like this, I loath being a tenant, I really do. I hate it because these measures are less about inspection – more about making me feel unwelcome in my own home, the one I pay rent to live in.