Category Archives: landlord

More endings and beginnings

Today I had what will probably be my last face-to-face meeting with my principal supervisor. He said I’m almost ready to go (i.e., the concepts are well enough fleshed out although I still have some work to do on the content that conveys them). We talked about the draft of my Conclusions chapter (in which I summarize what I did and describe the contributions to knowledge that my research makes), and we also talked about my plans for the Discussions chapter (in which I talk about the limitations of my research and speculate about future research and the possible applicability of my findings). He thinks it’s all excellent. He had a few suggestions to make, of course, but says I’m in very good shape. I still feel overwhelmed by all the editing and pulling together and formatting and printing/copying I have to do to get the thing submittable by late April, but at least I’m not at all worried about how it will be received after I do all that.

This is also my last weekend as a resident of Newcastle. The movers (“removals firm”) are coming next Thursday to pack up most of my stuff, then returning early Friday morning to collect the bed and a few other things and we all head down to Cambridge to move me in. After three weeks of spending 2-4 nights a week in hotels, I am infinitely grateful that my current landlord offered me my pick of the furniture (he’s selling the flat and won’t need it for a new tenant) and infinitely glad I decided to take the beds. I sleep much better in this bed than anywhere else I’ve stayed recently, and it’s not just a matter of a familiar room.

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Downstairs neighbor blues

First I suppose I should make it clear that I am the downstairs neighbor who is singing the blues here. I waited to write this until the problem appeared to be on its way to being resolved. I didn’t want to write it when all I would be doing was grousing, but now that my landlord and I are finally getting some action on it from the property management on the flat upstairs I’m letting y’all in on something that has been a royal pain for me during the last two weeks.

My ceiling has been dripping water.

Directly onto my bed.

Naturally, this started on a Saturday evening. I had come home from an evening out, to find on the duvet a wet spot about a foot by a foot and a half. (I had been hearing occasional drips for a month or two, but nothing I could pinpoint, and until this particular evening I wasn’t even sure that it was dripping into my flat.) A smaller spot had been there the evening before, but it had been raining that day and I thought I had just gotten some water on my day pack and it had drained off onto the bed.

Nope. This time the spot was much larger and I hadn’t placed anything there at all, wet or dry.

Ruined Fitted Sheet

The fitted sheet, ruined by the color of the towel.

When I pulled the sheets back, I saw that the water had soaked through all the way to the mattress. I put a towel over and under my feet (it was late enough that I didn’t feel like making the bed in the guest room) and slept dry enough. I texted my landlord, who said he’d leave a voicemail for the agency responsible for the flat upstairs and would phone them first thing Monday morning.

The next morning (Sunday), the sheets and mattress had all been stained by the dark purple towel. (I don’t have any light-colored towels.)

Sunday night it did it again. But this time I was home and I moved the bed out of the way, and I put a small bin under where most of the drops were coming from. The next morning there was about 3/4 inch of water in that little bin! Some of it splattered onto the sheet, but not in a major way. It’s a good thing I have two lamps, as there is no way I would switch on the overhead light — it might short or (worse) cause a fire! The bed was now jam-up against the chest of drawers, of which I could get into only the top two.

On the Monday, my landlord told me the prop-mgt agency sent their maintenance contractor around. He discovered that a tile had fallen from the wall in the shower area directly above my bedroom. Fortunately, the flat upstairs has a second shower, so they told the students not to use that shower until the wall had been fixed. That would be a while because it needs to dry out. I took some photos of the damage.

On the Wednesday evening it dripped a little, so I found the prop-mgt agency on Twitter and tweeted them about the problem. I figured we were getting nowhere with private entreaties so it was time to escalate by taking the problem public. On the Thursday their Twitter person replied, he or she seemed genuinely concerned, asked for property details and then gave me the number to call. (It was the number my landlord had been calling.)

Dripping Ceiling

The dripping ceiling. Red circles indicate forming drops that can be seen in this photo. There were more.

The following night it started dripping again — about 10:30. (I know the time because of the timestamp on my text to my landlord.) He came over the next morning to look at it and also pointed out a different ceiling stain that was worse than it had been before. I tweeted the prop-mgt agency again and told them the tenants are Chinese students whose English is very poor (I’ve spoken with several of them, or tried to) so they will have to be instructed in Chinese; the agency said they have a Chinese member of staff who could do that.

No drips for more than a week. I was optimistic.

Until last night. I moved the bed out of the way again and put something down to cateh the drips. I texted my landlord, who said he’d phone the agency this morning. We agreed that the only thing to do was disconnect that shower so it couldn’t be used (rather than relying on the tenants to follow the instructions) and I tweeted the prop-mgt agency to say so. When I hadn’t heard from my landlord by 1:30 this afternoon I texted him to ask about the status, and he phoned me back to say he had left several messages for them this morning but they hadn’t gotten back to him. Since I was downtown anyhow, I decided to go to their office and camp out until they took action. That finally got their attention. I explained the situation and they looked it up in their records. I’m not sure that they actually had communicated anything to the tenants in Chinese, but they did tell me that the maintenance person removed several wall tiles and told the tenants not to use that shower until he returned. (Evidently he didn’t tell them why, and they didn’t realize how important it was.)

So I sat in the agency’s office for over an hour this afternoon while they looked in their files and phoned and wrote notes. They did send someone out to remove the shower head. They had a Chinese speaker right there, and he eventually managed to speak with one of the tenants and explain what the problem was and what they needed to do about it. They in turn were upset, he said, because they were told not to use one of their two showers, had not previously been told why, and still were not being told when they would be able to start using it again. I don’t blame them for being upset!

So the property manager and the maintenance contractor and my landlord will have a powwow on Monday early afternoon.

In my opinion, the property management company bears most of the blame for all of this (and I generally dislike talking of “blame”) because they had a responsibility to communicate with their tenants and with the owner of my flat, and they did not do either of those properly (and in some cases not at all).

I do hope that this situation is now about to come to an end. What this has taught me, however, is that if I ever get to the point of being able to buy a dwelling in the UK, it won’t be a ground-floor flat with a student flat (especially one of five or six bedrooms) above it.

I also have to say that throughout all this, my landlord was almost as frustrated as I was. I know that if it had been his flat that was causing the damage he would have had it fixed right away and would have done much better communication with both of the other parties.

And now I’m going to order some new sheets.

Another year in my flat – under the same landlord

My landlord came by last night so that we could sign a contract for another year’s lease (the buyers had asked him to do this before the sale completed), and he told me that the final appraisal had come in substantially below the price they had agreed on, and he wasn’t willing to lose money on it, so he said no to the lower price… and he took it off the market. (He said he thought it was due to a comparison of recent selling prices in the neighborhood.) I liked the (prospective) and anticipated that they would be decent landlords, and although there are a few things I’d prefer to have different about my current landlord, I gotta say he’s pretty good (FAR better than the letting agent that manages the flat upstairs, from what the nice Northern Irish boys tell me), and I like the idea of not changing to an unknown landlord when they might not be as good to me.

So I’ve signed for another year, with no increase in rent (yay!). I told him that I won’t want another whole year after that and am not sure I’ll want even another six months, so we’ll just go on month-to-month after this new contract expires. I expressed confidence that he won’t give me a notice to vacate even then, and he said “absolutely not!” and went on and on (again) about how fantastic a tenant I am. As an example, he said that he checks his two other properties every three months to make sure the tenants are taking care of them adequately, but he feels no need to do that with me.

It’s a nice feeling. :-)

Now I just wish the estate agent would come and take down the “Sold” sign!

My flat is going on the market

My landlord told me today that he has signed a contract with an estate agent (US: real estate agency) to sell the flat. He’s asking about £10K more than what he paid for it a year ago, but I think he’ll take a little less. He said he would sell it only to a buyer who planned to let it (US: rent it out), and added that anyone with half a brain would jump at the chance to keep me on as a tenant. In any case, my current lease is good for another three months, and no buyer would be able to evict me before then.

Lots to think about, and possibly some planning to do.

Re-upping my flat

This week I signed a contract to spend another year in my flat. The landlord was delighted that I wanted to sign on for another year (he thinks I’m the ideal tenant, I’m pleased to say), but from my perspective it makes sense because I lock in the rent for another year. It also ensures that I won’t have to go to the trouble of moving house for at least another year.

I very much like my new landlord. My flat was sold a few months ago, and the guy who bought it is local. (My previous landlady was nice but she lives near London, some 300 miles from here.) Craig has his own letting and property management agency, and he is buying flats to let them. We have talked a good deal about things that I’d like to have done to the flat, and he has agreed to pretty much all of them — with the exception that the full kitchen might not be done all at once, because of cost. I’m willing to live for a while with cupboard doors that don’t match, as long as we go ahead and take care of the sink and the dish draining cupboard very soon.

Here’s the list:

  • General
    • Replace the ancient, nonfunctional alarm system with a modern one that works
  • Bathroom
    • Install a grab bar in the bath/shower area, for safety
    • Replace the exhaust fan with one that does not admit breezes from outside
    • Install a small light above the lavatory/basin
    • Install a small wall cupboard for storage
    • Install a glass shelf in one window well
    • Add one more panel to the folding shower screen (like this one — mine’s got four panels like this, but a fifth would help prevent water from splashing onto the floor)
  • Kitchen
    • Install a dish draining cupboard over the sink
    • Replace the TINY sink with a larger one. This will almost certainly mean replacing the base cupboard in which the sink sits
    • Reface the rest of the cupboards to match the dish draining one (this is likely to wait)
    • Replace the refrigerator with one that has no freezer compartment
    • Buy a small tabletop freezer
    • Install a spice rack on one wall
    • Hang a wire basket set from the ceiling
    • Enlarge the worktop on which the microwave currently sits, so that it covers the top of the washer and extends to the edge of the door (I think this may allow space for both the microwave and the freezer on that worktop)
    • [I’m also going to ask for a utensil rack and a knife rack, but I may have to take care of those myself.]
    • [I’m also going to ask about widening the two concrete steps down into the back yard, for safety.]
  • Lounge
    • Install some sort of mechanism to keep the window, when open, from opening further when it’s windy
    • Re-hang the door, or otherwise prevent it from closing itself
    • Repair the makeshift floor of the step down into the kitchen
  • Main bedroom
    • Reinforce the flooring that doesn’t match, and stain it slightly so that it looks somewhat consistent with the rest of the floor
  • Hallway
    • Remove the stuff from the under-stairs cupboard that is no longer needed or useful, and slide the ladder into that space (the ladder is needed for changing light bulbs in ceiling fixtures)
    • Get the gas people to move their meter slightly, so that I can read it without sticking my head quite so far into that small space
  • Front garden
    • Plant some reasonable things to replace the weeds that were removed
    • Install a self-closing mechanism on the front gate

I hope I’ve got everything listed!

I’m also probably going to buy a plastic/resin table-and-four-chairs set for the back yard, so that I can enjoy being outside and even have company there. Now that the weather is starting to get nice, the idea of spending some time out there becomes rather appealing. If I owned the flat I’d also look into installing a transparent roof over most of the back yard, so that I could enjoy it when the weather is warm enough even when rainy, and so that I could hang my laundry outside without worrying about whether it was going to rain. I may raise that idea with Craig someday, but not until the other work is complete.

Something else I’d like to have, if possible (but again, not right away) is a wrought-iron chair or two in the front garden, bolted to the concrete. There is precious little room for something like that (and no room for a bench), but I have identified two places where such a chair might sit. And it would be nice to sit out in the garden sometimes.

I do wish my neighborhood had more cafes and a pub. We have a wonderful fish&chips place, three Italian cafes (of very different styles), a Chinese take-away (which I’m told is terrible), and an Indian cafe (which does me no good, as I don’t like the cuisine), but two of the Italian places are closed on Sundays and the chippy is a take-away. A friend and I had breakfast this morning in a wonderful, funky cafe in Heaton, and I loved it. I like Heaton’s two streets lined with cafes and shops, and I would be comfortable living there — except that it’s beyond what I consider decent walking distance from the university and downtown. I could do it once in a while, but not on a regular basis.

Update on 12 May

Today it got chilly enough that I gave in and turned on the heat for a couple of hours in the evening. (I am still turning it on for a couple of hours in the morning, so that I can shower and dress in relative comfort, but in the evening I generally wrap up.) In discussing this with some friends, I mentioned that my thermostat doesn’t work, and one of them commented that those can be replaced fairly easily. So I’m adding this to my list of things to ask the landlord about.

New landlord

The sale of my flat was completed last week, and two days ago my new landlord came to the flat. He wanted to meet me, take inventory of the contents, and see what condition everything was in. It went very well, and I am immensely pleased.

My previous landlady is very nice, but she lives in the London area and depended on the letting (rental) agency and her Newcastle-area handyman to take care of things. The new one runs a letting agency and has his own maintenance crew. He said he is planning to put some money into making the place nicer, including redoing the kitchen, so of course I took the opportunity to make suggestions about a few things. When I suggested installing a larger sink and a dish-draining cupboard above it, he said he thought it was a very good idea. I also said I’d love to have a larger fridge (so I could have a larger freezer) and he tentatively agreed. Since he’s going to redo the kitchen anyhow…

He loves the idea that I want to stay for three years. “Music to my ears,” he said. And he was overjoyed when I mentioned that I have a cleaner come in every two weeks (or “fortnightly”, as they say here :-).

I think this is going to work out very well.

Got the keys today, and checked out the flat

I went and picked up the keys today. I had to pay five months’ rent in advance. One month in advance, one month’s worth as deposit (which I should get back), and the “last three” months of rent because I don’t have a rental record in the UK. This means that I’ll have to pay months 2 and 3, but then months 4, 5, and 6 will have been prepaid and I won’t have a debit for that rent. I’ll have to be pretty frugal for a while, but after I pass the first three months, things should settle down. The letting agent asked me if I thought I’d stay after the six months ended or if I’d want to look elsewhere, and I told him it’s too soon to tell. (How could he imagine that I’d be able to answer that already?)

I then went to the flat and left there the suitcase that I had hauled into town with me. Tomorrow morning a friend is coming over to drive me and the rest of my stuff there, and then I think we’ll go to lunch. I have to figure out where I’m going to store all my stuff (although this flat has much more space than I have in the room I’ve rented for the last three weeks), and I suspect I’ll need to buy a couple of chests of drawers (one for each bedroom). I’ll also need to get a desk, I think, which I’m hoping to put into the bedroom by the bay window. Time to hit the charity shops and see if they’ve got any furniture. Would prefer not IKEA, although there is one in Gateshead.

The rental agent gave me the landlady’s contact information and said I’d be dealing with her from here on out. So I have to make a list of questions rather than bothering her for every one. These include where the trash and recycle bins are and how to work the fake fire. (I did find the thermostat.) I’m not sure whom to call to ask for the removal of the “for sale” sign that’s lying in the front yard, just out of sight of passersby.

The landlady left behind a certain amount of kitchenware in the flat (dishes and some pots/pans), so I have to take inventory of that and determine what else I need to buy. The charity shops should be good for much of it, and there are several of them in central Newcastle (including at least three in the huge — and I mean sprawling! — Eldon Square mall).

I walked to the Jesmond Metro from the flat, and it’s barely more than 10% further from my new flat than the Whitley Bay Metro is from where I’ve been staying. In other words, it’s closer than I thought. The time won’t be quite proportional, though, because there’s more traffic in Newcastle and I’ve got traffic signals to deal with… so let’s say it’ll take about 20% more time. Still, that’s not bad.

And there are three Italian cafes/restaurants within a couple of blocks of the flat. This too cannot be bad.

I have a flat!

I spent most of today viewing flats — two in Jesmond, three in South Gosforth, and one in Sandyford. I went ahead and decided on the one in Sandyford (that should probably be “Sandyford/Heaton”, even though I have some concerns about it, because it was the best of the five and I’m committed only for six months.

Four of the six flats involved going through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. Although I don’t like this, I can see why it’s that way: The bathrooms were added later than everything else, and that’s where they had available space to put them (beyond the kitchen). Three of those four had TINY bathrooms, and I ruled them out right away. (Plus, they were just kind of chintzy.)

What I ended up with would be absolutely perfect if it were on the first floor (that’s second floor in US speak) and were closer to Metro and other amenities. (In particular, I’m concerned that I might not find a supermarket close by.) But the flat is just less than half a mile from the Metro and about the same distance from the Design School, so there’s something to be said for that.

But the real clincher is that inside is gorgeous. This flat has never been rented, and it shows. The owner has moved to Surrey (south of London), and evidently (from a sign still lying in the front garden) she tried to sell the flat before deciding to rent it out. The floors are solid wood beams, not that cheap laminate that some places have. The bathroom has granite tile on the floor, ceramic tile on the walls, windows on two sides, and (yay!) a mixer faucet. The large bedroom is beautiful! I’ll also put a desk in there and make it double as my office, because I know I’m going to enjoy spending time in there. The ceilings are at least 10 feet high, except in the kitchen and bathroom, where they’re probably 9ft. The kitchen is smallish, but it has everything I’d need (including a gas hob/stovetop), and the agent thought the landlord would be willing to leave the dishes and pots&pans so she wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of packing them up and moving them out.

Some of the plants in the (very small) front garden are certainly weeds, but there’s an azalea and what looks for all the world like a small sweetgum tree. (The letting agent was delighted to learn that I too am a landlord.) The back yard is paved (sigh) but it does have four clotheslines strung across it, so in good weather I won’t have to dry the laundry inside. Also, the flat has an alarm system.

So I signed the papers and will get the keys in two weeks. Although I have to give 30 days’ notice to my landlady-by-the-sea, I accepted that I would have an overlap in rental periods, so as not to lose this new place. When I gave my notice this evening my landlady was sad, but she thanked me for doing this as early as possible so that she would have maximum time to find someone to occupy the flat while she’s gone.

I’m still going to keep my eyes open, but I’ve learned a few things today and I know I’m going to be happy with how the flat feels inside.

I’ve found a tenant!

(Probably. :-)

I had a gathering last night, a Trifecta! to celebrate my heading off to Newcastle, finishing my new space, and turning 60 — all within three weeks of each other. All of my guests were overwhelmed by the beauty of my new space, and several of them asked about my plans for renting the house while I’m gone. One followed up this afternoon, asking if I would take a slightly lower rent in return for a three-year commitment. I said yes right away, and she and her roommate came over right away to look at the house. They are incredibly excited about what it will be like, and for my part I’m delighted to have a tenant I already know I can trust (not to mention being able to spend my time in grad school not having to worry about getting a new tenant). Plus I know she’ll send me photos. :-)

So I’ve just sent off an email to the rental agent introducing my friend and asking how to proceed. Cross your fingers!