Port Out Starboard Home

A few months ago, I was contacted by the letting agents I rent my flat through. They were letting me know that the landlord had arranged for a contractor to visit my flat to do some works.

If you rent a property, and your landlord is on the ball, then you’ll know this kind of thing happens fairly regularly; boiler checks, smoke alarm checks, gas checks – my life is a constant flow of people interrupting me, more noticeable since I’ve been working from home, I suppose.

Anyway, time has faded my memory to the point where I can’t quite recall what this particular visit was about. But I was at home, I let them in to do whatever they had to do, after donning my Covid-compliant face mask, diver’s suit, hi-vis jacket, rubber gloves and gas-mask.

A couple of weeks later, another message, another contractor. This one was a cheery young lady, equipped with an A4 pad and one of those laser pens used to measure distances. She visited each of the four rooms in my flat, pointing her laser at the walls and studiously making notes as she went.

After she left, I emailed my letting agent. “Somebody has just been to measure the flat. Reading between the lines, is the landlord considering selling?”

“Yes,” came the reply, “but they’re only thinking about it at the moment. Don’t worry. Selling a property takes a long-time, and even if he does sell, then the new owner may want to keep you in place rather than look for new tenants. And if they do want you out, we have to give you six month’s notice. But we’re a long way off that happening.”

This did not sound good to me, and so I started considering my options. With working from home continuing for the foreseeable future, I could see no reason why I should remain in London, paying London prices for everything. I floated the idea of me moving out of London to management, who said they would have no objection, so long as I was able to visit the offices for a monthly team meeting, and/or can pop in and work in the office once or twice a month.

Best I start looking for somewhere commutable then, I thought, and it didn’t take me long to land on the cathedral city of Peterborough; about an hour’s train ride out of London, it has the added benefit of being the closest town to where I grew up, of still having one of my best friends living in it, and it being close enough to my parents and wider family to make it seem like I was more accessible, when really it made it no more likely that any of them would turn up unannounced and catch me slobbing out in front of the TV watching Police Interceptors! and eating pickled onion Monster Munch in my dressing gown.

So, Peterborough it is then:

The Long Blondes – Peterborough

Home to Peterborough United Football Club, nicknamed The POSH:

Lionel Jeffries – Posh!

But no rush, eh? Selling the property will take ages.

A week or two passed. Another message from the letting agent: “The landlord has agreed for some people to visit the property tomorrow. They are potential buyers, so please make sure the property is tidy and try to make them feel welcome.”

Quite why they thought I should be complicit in making myself homeless was beyond me. I was reminded of when Hel and I shared a flat, and a similar situation arose. But when potential buyers arrived, we would ensure both of us were in our nightwear and dressing gowns, laying on the settees looking hung-over (not that much of a chore, as it goes), and when the latest fresh-faced couple were escorted in, one of us would waive our hand in the direction of one corner of the room, where a dirty great crack lived (the one in the main bedroom was worse, literally so wide you could see the traffic light controlled junction outside through it), and say “Told you about the subsidence, have they?” The landlord soon removed it from the market, and presumably waited until we had both moved out before trying again.

I didn’t have time to point out the many flaws in my flat when these visitors came; they literally arrived, walked through the entire flat (one of them letting out a little laugh as they entered my bedroom), then turned around and walked out.

“What was so funny about my bedroom?” I asked, as I had spent a long time making it look as un-sex dungeony as I could.

“Nothing. Bye.” they replied, as they left. They can’t have been there for more than 2 minutes.

Well, they can’t have been impressed, I thought. No need to worry about them buying it.

Another couple of weeks passed. Another message from the letting agents. “Hi, just to let you know the property has now been sold. We will let you know what the new owner’s intentions are as soon as we know.”

Who on earth would buy a property this quickly, with no surveys done, particularly when the property has the history of subsidence that this place does? Frankly, I smelt a cash sale, with all the possible crimes that might involve, be it tax evasion, money laundering, the lot.

My question was answered a week or two later, when I was advised the new owners would be visiting the property the following day. The arrived mid-morning, and it was the same two men who had laughed at my bedroom previously, this time accompanied by their own person with an A4 notepad and a laser pen for measuring distances. They let him go around the flat, doing his stuff, whilst they stood in the living room, glaring at walls and the TV I was watching but mostly, it seemed, at me as I was watching the TV (Police Interceptors!, of course). It was probably the most awkward ten minutes of my life, and as regular readers will know, I’ve experienced a lot of awkward moments in my time.

They left, their verbal output this time expanded to “Cheers mate. See you again.”

It was around this point that I realised that at no point had the letting agents referred to the new owner as the new landlord. And let’s be honest, when they turn up and start measuring up after they’ve already purchased it, the signs for keeping me in situ were not looking good.

I contacted the letting agents. “They’re going to evict me, aren’t they?” I asked, not unreasonably. “They’ve told us that they have no plans to change anything,” was the less than reassuring reply, a bit like Harry Kane saying he’s decided not to leave Spurs “this summer”.

“Then why have they just been round and measured the flat up?”

“We have no idea. Perhaps they want to refurbish it for you.”

That sounds likely, doesn’t it, dear reader? Having just spent a few hundred thousand pounds on purchasing the flat, they’re bound to want to zhuzh it up for the current tenant – and pay for him to live elsewhere whilst they do it – as opposed to, say, kicking me out, doing it up and doubling the rent for the next poor sod who has to try and negotiate the perilous staircase into my flat.

Sure enough, shortly afterwards, a letter from the owner’s solicitors, serving me with a Section 21 Eviction Notice, telling me that ordinarily this meant they only have to give me one month’s notice, but due to Covid they were going to give me four months (phrased as if they were doing me a favour off their own back, rather than following the temporary rules imposed on them by the Government in a rare moment of clarity).

So, I have until mid-November to find somewhere new. And, I have learned when checking this post, that when the notice period ends, the landlord – because he’s not just the owner anymore, he’s trousering my rent so he’s my bloody landlord now whether he likes it or not – has another 4 months to apply to court. If they don’t start court action within this time, the section 21 notice expires. They then need to give me a new notice if they still want me to leave, and so we go round again.

Not that I particularly want to bank on them not applying to the Court the moment the 4 months is up. Nor would I want to rely on the fact that, due to years of neglect and under-funding coupled with Covid, the Court system has a monumental backlog of claims, complaints, disputes, criminal hearings and evictions to hear.

So I’m actively looking. In Peterborough. And to my delight, I have found that, for less than I currently pay every month to live in a pokey one-bedroom flat, too small to house a washing machine, with it’s death trap electric hob, and kitchen with no windows and no air flowing through it, coupled with a belatedly fitted smoke alarm that knows all of these things very, very well and reminds me every sodding time I make toast – for less than I pay for these luxuries, I can get a three bedroom house, with a garden, a utilities room….oh, my, get me out of here, I can’t wait.

On the Friday before the recent Bank Holiday weekend, I booked the day off work, and arranged to view five properties. On the way, I received a barrage of apologetic texts and emails, so that by the time I got to Peterborough, only one property was left. One had been let, potential tenants had paid holding fees on two of them (which, for the uninitiated, means that nobody else can have the property – they’d ‘bagsied’ it, in essence), and one had some mould discovered in it which needed to be addressed before viewing could happen.

My old mate Richie, who lives fairly locally, kindly agreed to drive me between properties. He accompanied me to view the one that was left. I’d already decided this place wasn’t for me the moment I walked into the kitchen and saw there was an electric hob, but Richie looked out of the rear bedroom window, surveyed the neighbouring properties, and said: “That side hasn’t cut their grass in years, and that side has a hot tub. Do not move in here. They’re sex people.”

I was due to return to Peterborough the following day, to see two more properties; soon that was down to one and then, the inevitable text: “Can we reschedule your viewing for this Wednesday at 4:30 please?” I decided it wasn’t the best plan in the world to refuse a request by someone I was hoping would find me somewhere to live, so I agreed.

Took more time off work, arrived at the property early on the Wednesday. And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

At 4:40, I rang their office, and politely enquired why I was at the property but they weren’t.

“We’ve got no viewings booked in the diary, I’m afraid,” was the reply.

I explained they had rearranged my appointment from Saturday, and gave them the name of the person who had acknowledged my agreement.

“He must have forgotten to out it in the diary.”


“Can we reschedule it?”

“No. We can’t. You asked me to be here now. I’ve taken time off work and travelled up from London to be here at the time you asked me to be here. Either I view this property today, or not at all.”

This is as close as I ever get to snapping. Friends will tell you I’m the most easy-going of blokes, although Hel will doubtless counter that with a story about how I lost my rag at Glastonbury 2004, with a friend who wanted to go and watch Muse on the Pyramid Stage, whilst all the rest of the group wanted to watch Orbital on The Other Stage, and who had not stopped whining about it all day.

“If you want to go and watch Muse, go and watch Muse,” I apparently said. “We are staying here to watch Orbital. So either shut up or fuck off.”

I was right, of course (even if it wasn’t the year Matt Smith appeared on stage with them):

But I digress.

“We’ll have someone there by 5:15.”

At 5:17, he arrived, poor thing. Clearly just told to get his arse over to me, didn’t have a clue about the property, or the area.

But it was alright, ticked all the boxes I needed, so I asked how we move things forwards.

“I’ll get somebody to call you tomorrow to go through all the details.”

The next day, I waited for the call.

And waited.

And waited.

On Friday, I emailed them: “Have you forgotten to call me, as well as forgetting to show me the property?”

On Saturday, three missed calls, all when I had fallen asleep on the sofa (whilst watching Police Interceptors! and eating pickled onion Monster Munch). I called back – office closed.

Ah well, I thought. They’ll probably call me on Monday.

So on Monday, I waited for the call.

And waited.

And waited.

On Tuesday, I rang them. “I’m beginning to think you don’t want anyone to move into this house,” I said. I knew the house was ready to move into immediately, and had wondered why it hadn’t already been snapped up. I was starting to draw my own conclusion as to how that had come about.

To be fair, the lady I spoke to this time was great, really helpful; she emailed me all the documents I need to sign, along with a list of what they need from me, and took a holding fee so nobody else could take the property before me, subject to me passing all the checks they have to do. Property bagsied.

That evening, I saw I had a missed call from them, about twenty minutes after we had last spoken. I called back: office closed.

On Wednesday, I called them again. “We have some bad news,” said the really helpful lady. “I notified the landlord yesterday that we thought we’ve found somebody to rent the house, he seemed really pleased, but then he rang back and said that the sale of the house was taking too long and he didn’t want to rent it anymore. I’m very sorry. I’ll reimburse the holding fee for you now.”

And so, today, if you’re reading this on Saturday, I’m travelling back to look at two other properties, one of which looks pretty amazing. Wish me luck!

But that’s not the end.

On Thursday, the nice helpful lady called me.

“Guess what?” she said.

“Go on…” I replied.

“The landlord came into the offices earlier, one of my colleagues spoke to him, and told him he was being very foolish not to rent the property out, and he’s changed his mind again! So, what would you like to do?”

I’d like to tell him to go fuck himself is what I’d like to do, I thought, but decided a more measured response was required.

“I can’t say he’s filling me with confidence. And what did you say the other day, about the sale of the house taking too long? I didn’t quite understand that….”

“Oh, he’s in the process of buying the property. We’re handling the purchase for him. The sale hasn’t gone through yet, but it will.”

Huh? How can you rent out a property you don’t own? And what happens if the sale doesn’t go through, and I’ve already moved in, where does that leave me? Getting evicted again, that’s where.

To misquote Oscar Wilde: To get evicted from one property may be regarded as a misfortune; to get evicted from two in a row makes it look like you’ve been smearing shit on the walls in some kind of dirty protest.

I’ve told them I’ll let them know after I’ve viewed the two properties today.

I bet you they’ll be calling me before I call them…

This, then, is for my current landlord, the one who blew me off (stop it at the back there!) and any others who might be just be acting in equally bastardly ways, along with any letting agents who haven’t got the balls to give a long-standing tenant a heads-up that his days are numbered:

Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine – Sheriff Fatman

At what point do you think I should I tell my current landlord that the subsidence cracks have started appearing again?

No, me neither.

More soon.