Knowing Our Place


Napoleon was partially right when he described England as a ‘nation of shopkeepers’. Actually, it is a nation of shop assistants living in fear of the owner and his undue authority. I was in a local supermarket this weekend and watched an exchange between managers which resonated of the iron grip of the class consciousness which holds this country together like shit mixed with superglue. A middle manager was being upbraided by a sharply dressed visiting dick swinger about some trivial, banal nonsesnse relating to cheese. I could tell she was a middle manager because she was wearing her own clothes and gripped a clipboard as if it was Ceasar’s Eagle and she was naked beneath. Her terror lay in the idea of a return to the ranks which may involve the humiliation of branded overalls, lifting boxes and directing halfwits to the tinned soup.

If you give somebody just…

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Advice for tenants

Property renting is becoming ever more popular which means more and more people are joining the buy-to-let bandwagon. This in turn has led to a variety of people offering advice to potential landlords on how to avoid the pitfalls surrounding the rental quagmire. However, other than the basic information, there seems to be very little detailed advice available for the tenant, until now. I’ve been renting for most of my adult life. To date I have lived in over 80 properties, which gives me some insight into what a tenant should reasonably expect a landlord to provide, versus what they actually do provide.

Even if it’s only for 6 months, the place you rent is going to be your home and you have a right to expect a minimum level of quality. Also remember, the landlord wants a good tenant, just as you want a good place to live. You should not allow yourself to be treated as the underdog, accepting anything the landlord or agency offers. Everything is negotiable, even the rent. Be fussy, but be reasonable. Above all, check things out before you move in.

Let’s take a detailed journey down the renting road.

Finding a property to view:

  1. You can sometimes get lucky and find a private landlord, thereby avoiding the fees that agencies charge. But be careful, there are a lot of rogues about, you could find yourself renting from a scum landlord, or worse, finding your belongings out on the street when you get home one night because the landlord found someone prepared to pay more than you. At least with an agency you will have a legally-binding tenancy agreement.
  2. You can use an estate /letting agent. There are plenty to be found on any high street. Much as I despise them, because sometimes they can be just as bad as scum landlords by withholding the truth about a property, i.e. not telling you about bad neighbours, my advice is to use them. Be wary though. Some agencies place ads saying it is a private let when in fact it isn’t and they will try to get key money out of you. Also, there will be many ads for properties that simply do not exist. The agency is just trying to get you to register on their books and some will try to charge you for the privilege.
  3. Search websites for properties (most people use Rightmove) but don’t ever pay anything online or over the phone before you have viewed and want to take the property and you are sure you are dealing with someone that has the authority to let the property.
  4. Never sign anything until you decide you want to take the property. It is illegal for people to charge you to view a property. Be careful here, many agencies will not tell you what their full fees are until after you have signed the Tenancy Agreement (TA) and paid a ‘Holding Deposit’. Pay nothing, sign nothing, until you have thoroughly read the TA and had the costs put in writing. The agent will tell you the TA is standard. It is not. There is no such thing. The agent will also try to charge you as much as £200 for ‘customising’ the agreement. This is another lie. All they do is print it out, refuse to pay for it. The agent’s fees are negotiable. They want to let the property so they can get their monthly fee and their landlord’s fees. So give it a go and don’t be fobbed off.


Don’t put blinkers on when viewing. Be fussy, it’s your home and your money. Some of what follows is applicable only to flats, but most of the points also apply to houses.

Let’s view from the outside in.

  1. Look at the surrounding area. Is it clean? Are there abandoned cars? Construction works? Loud traffic noise?
  2. Is the external of the building in good order? If it’s shabby, the chances are the inside will be too.
  3. If there is a garden, can you use it? Who maintains it? It might be your responsibility.
  4. Is there somewhere to park a car or a bicycle if you have one? Do you have to buy a permit?
  5. Where are the dustbins stored? Are there proper bins or just plastic bags left outside?
  6. Is there a doorbell? If it’s a flat, are there clearly marked doorbells for each flat? Entry-phone?
  7. Are the hallway and/or stairway in good order? Decorated? Clean? Clean carpets? Does it smell? If you have children, can you leave the pram in the hallway? All of this gives you clues about the landlord’s standards. Are they up to yours?
  8. Does the staircase run above the ground floor flat? You might be upsetting a neighbour each time you walk up the stairs because there is poor sound insulation. This can lead to conflict.
  9. Is the flat door in good order? Painted, clean? Does it have a good lock? A peephole in the front door?
  10. Check the condition of the paintwork etc in each room: Walls, ceilings, window frames, doors, skirting and radiators. A pot of paint and a brush cost sod all. If the landlord cannot be bothered to do it, that should serve as a warning. If you really want the place, offer to decorate it for a reduction in rent. S/He’ll bite your hand off.
  11. Is there any damp or signs of damp having been covered up with fresh paint? You can smell damp a mile off. If only one wall is newly painted, something is not right. It might look good now, but it won’t in a few weeks. Don’t be afraid to ask!
  12. Are the windows in each room secure? Are they free from drafts?
  13. What condition are the carpets in each room?
  14. Are there any curtains or blinds? Even if it’s unfurnished, often they are supplied. If not, add it to your costs, curtains are expensive.
  15. Are there any white goods in the kitchen? If so, switch them all on to find out if they work properly. Who is responsible if they break down? If it is you, try to renegotiate the rent.
  16. Fridge/Freezer – Is it noisy? Smelly? Does it need defrosting? (A sure sign it is damaged)
  17. Cooker and hob – Is it clean? Are there any racks inside?
  18. Washing machine – Switch it on. Is it clean inside? Be aware, if you bring in your own machine don’t damage the flooring when you leave, you will be liable.
  19. Central heating boiler – Switch it on. Do the radiators and water get hot?
  20. Electric heating – Beware!! Beware!! It is expensive to run. If it’s Economy 7, take note, stupid people run their washing machines and tumble dryers through the night because apparently they run on the same cheap tariff as the heating! You may not get much sleep.
  21. Test the water in the bathroom, all of the taps, the shower and the toilet flush. Is there enough pressure? Do they make a noise? Is there a water pump under the bath? It might seem silly, but you could be disturbing your neighbours if the pipes are noisy and you are an early riser or a night owl.
  22. Are there enough electrical sockets in the dwelling for your stuff, lamps, TV, PC?
  23. Is there a television aerial in the lounge? If not, they are expensive to erect.
  24. Is there an active telephone line? If not, it currently costs £122.59 to have one installed, although prices may vary depending on the mood of the BT sales person you deal with. Get the landlord to pay at least half, when you move out, you can’t take it with you and he will make money from it.
  25. If people live above your flat, are they noisy? Insist that you view the flat in the evening when they are home. Can you hear footsteps, music, televisions, bathroom noise, voices? If yes, there is insufficient sound insulation and you will be moving into a nightmare. Unless of course you are the noisy one. In which case you won’t care, but your neighbours will and it could lead to ill feeling.
  26. Is there a water meter? If not, it could add as much as £36 a month to your outlay.
  27. How much is the Council Tax? If the landlord/agent does not know, ask the council.
  28. The inventory – Don’t expect the agent/landlord to be truthful about everything. A few are fine, but most are in the business of getting you to be responsible for anything they can get away with. Check everything. An agent I used recently charges £20 for every tiny mark on the paintwork. For crying out loud, there has to be an allowance in the TA for general wear and tear!
  29. When you come to move out, an agent will charge you what they call a checking out fee. This could be as much as £100.

I swear that before I die I will find a home to rent from an honest estate agent representing an honest landlord. I’ve more chance of dating Jeri Ryan.

It’s not right that a tenant has to sign a lengthy contract before they get to know the truth about the dwelling. There should be one months grace before signing, so that people can leave without penalty when they discover they moved into a factory.

I wrote to my MP about the current shorthold tenancy arrangements. I received a polite reply saying I had a valid point and they would look into it. Well, watch this space, let’s see if they do.

White words

Do you really want to work for a company that won’t even bother to read your application unless a piece of software tells them to? The software sifts through the applications looking to see if you have used the same keywords that are contained within the job description. If you chose to use your own words to describe skills and experiences, tough, you won’t even get a look in. They won’t even read the application let alone invite you for an interview. But isn’t this just laziness on the part of the company? If that is how they treat applications, what else are they capable of?

Agreed, there are a lot of applicants for every vacancy these days. But does it really take up that much time to read through them? Really? What about individuality? Some applicants, myself included, might be highly qualified for the position they are applying for, but they don’t like using jargon and keywords, they want to stand out as the one who is different from the rest. Why is that now considered to be unacceptable way of applying for a job?

You can get into the second stage of the application process either by ensuring you include the keywords in the description of your skills, or by copying the job description and pasting it into the application form or your CV, then making the font white so that the software still reads it and puts you forward, a process called White Wording.

I confess, I only recently discovered the concept of White Words. I know it has been used in website pages for many years, that is how sites get themselves at the top of search engine results, or at least they used to, these days the likes of Google claim to have latched on to the practice and put a stop to it.

They say that you should never put the White Words into an application that is being sent directly to an employer because the HR people highlight all of the text to check for them. But do they? Would they? If the company cannot be bothered to actually read the applications, instead accepting only those that contain the White Words, then why bother to search for them afterwards? It doesn’t make sense.

However distressing it is to have found out about the practice, I now know that if I want to work again, I have no option but to start doing it too, but I’m not at all sure I will feel comfortable working for the firm that hires me that way.

Looking forward to looking back.

I live in the past

Because I have no present

Which means I have no future

Therefore, what has been

Is all I have to look forward to

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