Living with the enemy
Rhodri MarsdenFollow author @rhodri
Rhodri Marsden is a columnist for The Independent, and has written about technology, social media, dating, music, food, anxiety, relationships and various other ephemera for many publications including The Guardian, The Observer, Shortlist and Time Out.
The dream, at least for those people who aren’t in a long term relationship and possibly for many who are, is to live alone. To be able to potter around in the dead of night without accidentally waking a light sleeper who has anger management issues. To be able to turn the central heating up and skip naked from room to room to the sound of Funkadelic. To implement clinical levels of tidiness one week, then let everything go the next and live in squalor on a whim. Unfortunately, there are harsh economic realities to contend with; the upshot of that is that owner-occupiers frequently have no choice but to bite the bullet and find someone who’s prepared to live with them in exchange for hard cash.
It’s a tough decision for someone to make, and it makes for an intriguing domestic dynamic. Because let’s face it; if your live-in landlord didn’t need the money, you wouldn’t be there. Even if you’re a relentlessly easygoing housepal who does more than their fair share of chores, your presence dents the landlord’s privacy. You’re an inconvenience, one that they’re forced to put up with in order to get a monthly cheque out of you. As a result, this situation creates a hierarchy that you’d never tolerate if it was just a bunch of you who’d found a flat together; it’s someone else’s house, and they’re down the corridor, watching, waiting for you to transgress. Their house, their rules. And your continued tenancy depends on keeping them reasonably happy.
I say this as a former live-in landlord who, over a period of five years, had seven different tenants come and go from his spare room. That turnover rate is something which I didn’t really pay any attention to at the time, but in retrospect I reckon it’s a consequence of the hierarchy that’s inherent in such an arrangement. I’m no domestic Nazi, but it just makes for more harmonious living if everyone’s attitude to, say, the fixtures and fittings if vaguely similar – i.e. defined by the fear of losing your deposit – rather than a live-in landlord becoming disproportionately furious when a precious bit of oak veneer is damaged. None of my tenants mourned when they left, and I begged none of them to stay while on my knees. Easy come, easy go.
One tenant of mine, now a successful media character who surely looks back on his time in my back room as a career low-point, once accidentally smashed a glass of red wine in the kitchen, then wandered back to his room without clearing it up. I remember standing there for ages, looking at it, thinking things I would never say to him, things like “I have certain standards, you know” and “whose house is this anyway?” – but then I wondered whether the money he paid me every month gave him carte blanche to do such a thing. In the end I just cleared it up and went back to my own room, resolving to work sufficiently hard to be able to afford to live on my own. Eventually, I managed it. And is it the dream I envisaged? Not really. Does anyone need a room in E17, £500/month?