Landlord: “I’m putting your rent up. Reply within 3 days”.
Me: “The walls are crumbling. Reply within 3 days”.
Landlord: “Your rent is now overdue. We will be starting legal proceedings”.
Me: “OK, here it is. What about the walls?”
Landlord: (no answer).
Me: “The walls have collapsed”.
Landlord: (no answer).
Me: I’m trapped under the rubble”.
Landlord: (no answer).
Landlord: “Wanted: new tenant for beautiful Battersea home.”
This is what happens. Instead of paying £1000 a month for a flat where the living room doubles up as the kitchen and you can’t open the bathroom door without hitting the bedroom wall opposite, The Other One and I are now paying £1100. Are you shocked? I doubt it. If you rent in London you’re probably used to such things. You anticipate and accept them. You may even be thinking “£1100 a month? In Battersea? That’s really cheap!” If so, congratulations – Foxtons owns your soul.
In the old days, the wealthy people in Chelsea used to joke that Battersea was far enough away that you didn’t have to deal with the peasants living there, but near enough that you could throw sticks at them. Now-a-days, the river running between the two isn’t so much a divide between rich and poor, but rich and even richer.
Tiny terrace houses, like the one I live in – with eight other tenants, crammed into three flats – now sell for millions of pounds. These used to be owned by the people who worked in nearby factories, for the railway or Battersea Power Station. What was an average two-up, two-down little place is now a premium ‘period’ property.
Despite rising costs, I love living in Battersea. It’s friendly in the way people tend to think London isn’t. With council estates next to glassy penthouses along the river, it’s one of the few places in the city that feels neither edgy nor pretentious. It’s full of bizarre little shops that only manage to exist because someone bought them for three pounds four decades ago. They sell things like desk lamps, rat poison and different sized nails in cellophane bags. Best of all, there is Battersea Park. It’s a magical place that it’s impossible to tire of, no matter how many times you walk around it. But I grew up with grass, trees and flowers on the doorstep and it didn’t cost an extra hundred thousand every time you moved a street closer to them.
While rent is going up, landlords are enjoying some of the best mortgage rates ever. Many of them are people who bought property when it was cheap and then lucked out due to rocketing inflation and interest levels being kept artificially low. Well done them! Only now they’ve made some money, they want some more. They aren’t increasing the rent because they have to; they’re increasing it because they can. They are leaches sucking the blood from those less fortunate themselves and justifying it by spewing out phrases such “in line with market value.”
“Why don’t you just buy a house?” homeowners often say, unable to appreciate that if they already own three, they are not creating an environment where this is ever likely to happen. The Other One and I went to look around the block of Barrett flats being built on Battersea Park Road. They were nice. They also cost half a million. Ones with a ‘view’ of one of road even more. “Is there any ‘affordable’ housing?” I asked the pleasant lady who was showing us round. “This is the affordable housing,” she smiled. “Will any be available to rent?” I asked. “Oh yes,” she replied. “Lots of the people snapping them up would love a tenant like you.”
All along the river, from Nine Elms Road to the Power Station and beyond, new houses are being built in Battersea. They are tall, glass monsters covered in billboards of affluent looking city workers slipping wine, using gyms and laughing with friends at how they’ve managed to get one, two or ten rungs on the property ladder.
Even if I could afford to buy one of these fish tanks in the sky I wouldn’t. I want to own a real house with real people in a real street. And one day I will. Things can’t continue like this. At some point the property market will crash – and when it does I will cheer. What home owners and politicians dread, I am desperate for, waiting for, willing on. The fact our economy will then be fucked, none of us will have jobs and a black cloud of despair will engulf the country is insignificant to me. It will all be worth it if I can have the satisfaction of watching all of my landlord’s sixty properties repossessed, as I hand him a cheque for three pounds fifty to buy just one. This one.