Why I Love Renting
Daisy BuchananFollow author @NotRollergirl
Daisy Buchanan is an author, journalist and broadcaster who writes about sex, feminism and reality telly. She's a columnist for The Debrief, The Telegraph and The Mirror amongst others, and lives in a rented flat in Greenwich with her boyfriend, where she enjoys being within walking distance of some of London's loveliest pubs.
There is a yellowing, crumbled piece of paper stuck to my parents’ fridge that looks like a soggy, tea-stained, homemade A-Z. It lists a litany of London addresses, all the postcodes I have rented rooms in since 2007. NW11 to W4, SE8 to E17, SW6, SW2, and then, finally and apologetically, scribbled in the margin, where the paper starts to curl, SE10. Like all the places I have ever rented, written down it looks terribly temporary. But hopefully it is my final resting place.
The tiny two-roomed SE10 lightbox does not belong to me, but it feels more like home than anywhere else I have ever lived – even the house I grew up in. When my boyfriend and I Chuckle-Brothered the heavy, dark dresser over the threshold just under a year ago (“To me, to you, to me, to you,” repeat until someone collapses) I was filled with a sense of peace and hope. Perhaps I would never have to do it again, and not just because my elbows would probably shatter first.
At the moment, trying to buy a home in or around London feels like trying to buy a sandwich during the last days of the Weimar Republic. “It’s a million pounds today, but it will be two million tomorrow! We need to do it now!” friends breathlessly exclaim, alternating tearful telephone calls with the bank and tearful telephone calls with estate agents. Parents are, predictably, worse. Grandparents are more understanding. “Our first house cost £1,100,” mused Granny thoughtfully, while I reflected that if we lived in the 1940s we could buy a house a month and have enough over for council tax and all the black market stockings we could eat. “Of course, these days you’d just put it on Barclaycard.”
The thing is, I love renting our little flat. I’d be happy to live there until I inevitably choke on an olive pit, or pass on peacefully into my hummus and my stiff body has to be lowered out of the window while the paramedics try to wrench the TV remote from my fist as rigor mortis sets in. Realistically, I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a position to buy, and I’m not prepared to press pause on the present while I wait for a future I’m not sure I want. I could live in a 16-person houseshare in order to scrape together a deposit for a shed in Enfield, but I suspect that by the time I have enough money, the market will have become so out of control that it is no longer possible to buy property on land, and I’d be better off attaching a houseboat to the haunted island they found off the coast of Venice.
Kind, well-meaning pals look at our sitting room, marvel at the proximity to the Cutty Sark, envy our proximity to five lovely pubs, the river Thames, the downstairs shop that sells lobster-flavoured Kettle Chips, and then tilt their heads and say gently, “Of course, this is only temporary, yeah? Obviously you’re not going to be here for ever.”
We might not be. Our landlord could double the rent tomorrow, one of us could be summoned to work in Stockholm or Scotland or Stockport, the place could blow up, we might find ourselves in financial penury and living in a little boat that we make from bits of driftwood and old Starbucks straws. But buying does not protect you from any of that, unless the house is made of bolted steel and you purchase the property in its entirety with giant suitcases of money.
When it comes to where we live, fretting about the future has brought out the worst in all of us, and ruined things for future generations. It’s not just about giving them a chance to buy, but ensuring they have the opportunity to rent a safe property for a fair price, and don’t have to worry about slugs in the bathroom, pirate radio stations in the car park or anti-semitic housemates. Renting is seen as the worst case scenario because our aggressive desperation to buy has turned it into one. And once you’ve bought, you’re not allowed to exhale with relief as you christen the hatstand and pour your inaugural brandy. You’re merely on the ladder, and you’re supposed to spend the rest of your working life flipping over slightly bigger, more expensive places, your mortgage disappearing into the horizon like a carrier bag caught in a vertical draft.
This is not a future that takes my fancy, so I choose to rent. I don’t want mates to sigh at me because I am the victim of a bad economy, someone to be pitied, the Jennifer Aniston of estate agents. I want them to be thrilled for me. I get to live in a flat I love with the man I love, in a community I adore. So what if I have to rent? I live five minutes away from my favourite park in the world, and less than 10 from my favourite barman. And I’ve done my time with the slugs and the anti-semites. I know renting can be grim, but it shouldn’t be, and it really doesn’t have to be. Perhaps if there was a little more respect for renters, and the realisation that renting should be about living happily, not waiting and making do, we’d have a stronger appreciation for renters’ rights and more would get the accommodation they’re entitled to.