What I Rent: Emma, £1,600 a month for a one-bedroom flat in Hackney, east London

  • london
  • September 15, 2020
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Our weekly series, What I Rent, is all about getting honest about the reality of renting.

That makes Emma, 35, the perfect fit for taking part, as she holds nothing back when it comes to talking about what she describes as the ‘crap flat’ she rents.

Emma, a content consultant from Hackney, has gained thousands of followers and readers for her no-holds-barred approach to discussing the truth of renting behind the glossy exterior of minimalist interior photos.

Along with photos of her gorgeous rented interiors on her Instagram, @thecrapflat, Emma will openly rant about the struggles of renting, from burst water pipes to the lack of power given to tenants.

She rents a flat with her partner – ‘the long-suffering Mr Crap Flat, who’s learned never to question the constant furniture shifting, faffing and general moving-around of everything in sight’ – and talks us through her space below.

Hey, Emma! How much do you pay to live here?

We pay around £1,600 a month in rent, and then a few more hundred on top for bills.

And what do you get for what you pay?

Our flat is an amorphous nothing of a space with a cooker at one end.

There’s a bathroom coming off the kitchen end, in an insult to hygienists everywhere, and a bedroom that has a kind of weird annexe we put wardrobes in.

Oh, and a very small entryway that’s of no use to anyone. And a yard where mosquitoes go to have their children.

Do you feel like you have a good deal?

A good deal on rent in London feels like a fantasy, but for the area we’re in I reckon we’re paying pretty much average for a one-bed.

Do you like the area?

Our crap flat is in wonderful Hackney. I love East London for its people, its creativity and its general vibe of being interested in new things. There’s something about the constant evolution of the area that very much matches the way I feel about my space – always being worked on.

I always said I’d never stay in London for longer than five years, but I’m currently 11 deep and showing no signs of leaving. In fact, I was just speaking with an Insta-follower last week about how hard it is to leave an area you’ve bedded into – you build a little life in a place and it really does become home.

How did you find the flat?

We were all set to move into another rental when that landlord pulled out with only two weeks to go, leaving us in a blind panic.

We saw a LOT of flats with cupboard doors hanging off and damp and so on, and then happened upon this place online, signed a deal and away we went.

How have you made this place feel like home?

The flat’s basically a crap box we fill with nice things. These days I treat this place as my actual home – my own space that’s both my sanctuary from the world and an extension of my personal style. But it took a long time to get to that point, and I really do think you go on a little journey with any space, but particularly a home.

The day we moved in here, I looked around and thought, ‘What have we done – this is awful!’ and for a long time I just wanted to leave.

But gradually, gradually, I spent time and money making it feel less horrible. And I learned. A lot.

First thing: we zoned. When you’re in an open-plan flat, you gotta create little spaces you can move in and out of. They may not have walls, but if you think of them like rooms, it makes it easier to decorate.

So we have our living area, our workspace, our dining area – they all have a separate look and feel, but work together as a cohesive whole.

Then we painted. That was one of the biggest things. With permission from our landlord, we painted the walls in a gentle off-white-nearly-grey, and even painted the offensively-yellow kitchen cupboards so they didn’t assault your senses every time you got home.

I felt out my decor style by listening to my mental health (anxious-minded introvert, reporting for duty), which means I’ve gone for calming colours and organic shapes, designed to cocoon me away from the busy city and provide a little respite from the world.

We’ve also brought in a LOT of closed storage, which is essential in a flat with no cupboards. So our bed is an ottoman style, our TV unit is cupboards and there are drawers as far as the eye can see.

Have you found it difficult to decorate when renting? Is your landlord happy with you doing bits?

We’ve been here for a while and have developed a great relationship with our landlord, by always paying our rent on time, being respectful and generally upholding our end of the bargain.

He was resistant to us painting at first – I actually deal with some of the How To Get Your Landlord On-Side in my Painting The Crap Flat blog post over on my blog All Up In My Space. Gradually, he’s trusted us to do more.

Almost all tenancy agreements will say no pets, no drilling holes in the wall, no this, no that, no wearing red pants on a Thursday – but, if you’re a good tenant, you’re extremely valuable to a landlord, and there’s space to build on that.

Always ask, that’s my top tip. And be prepared to spend a day putting things back to how they were before, when you leave.

For my money, one day of DIY for however many months or years you live there is 100% worth it.

Do you feel like you have enough space?

Through lockdown my personal trainer partner and I have been running both our businesses from this tiny flat, online.

It’s hard to put into words quite how intense that’s been, but suffice it to say that we’d both like a bit more space now, please.

Are there any problems with the home you have to deal with?

How long do you have? Apart from the nonsensical shape and kitchen from 1992, there’s the draughty windows, the damp, the slow internet, the sagging ceiling that has to be replaced once every two years, the heat alarm positioned over the oven that goes off every time we cook, the burst water pipes that flooded our electrics, the boiler that constantly loses pressure, the bath plug that doesn’t work, and just today, some sort of liquid coming up through the floor. Stay tuned for more on that one…

Do you have plans to move again?

See above. Yes, yes we do.

Do you want to own a place some day or are you happy to rent?

I’d like to buy if only so I can design a space that feels like it was made for us (I see concrete walls with those little recessed niche shelves in in my future).

Other than that, I’m happy renting, for now. I think the general narrative with renting has always been that it’s a stop-gap between leaving your parents and buying your own place, and so the laws we have in place here reflect that, with tenants having very little power.

But I’d love to see the UK adopt a more European attitude to renting, with longer leases and people able to live in one place for decades and treat it like their own. I think it’d lead to greater care from both landlords and tenants.

There’s a great freedom in renting that you don’t always have when you own, and I know plenty of renters who have no intention of buying.

I reckon if you’re able to treat a space like it’s your own, it really doesn’t matter whether it’s your name on the paperwork or somebody else’s.

Shall we have a look around?

What I Rent is a weekly series that’s out every Tuesday at 10am.

Check back next week to have another nose around a rented property.

How to get involved in What I Rent

What I Rent is Metro.co.uk’s weekly series that takes you inside the places people are renting, to give us all a better sense of what’s normal and how much we should be paying.

If you fancy taking part, please email [email protected]. You’ll need to take pictures of your kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom, plus a few photos of you in your bedroom or living area.

Make sure you get permission from your housemates! You’ll also need to be okay with sharing how much you’re paying for rent, as that’s pretty important.

We’re not just after the prettiest places out there, by the way. We want the reality of renting, so if you’re currently renting a place you hate, we’d love to see that too (and sympathise greatly!).

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