Is your SHA (in) a Strip Club?

By: Dr Gaby Wolferink @drgabywolferink

Image from: Savethechildren.net

STRIP CLUBS? WHAT? ON A SOCIAL HOUSING WEBSITE? WHAT? WHY?

Whaaaaat?

Have I got your attention? I hope so!

When I started working in housing here in the UK in 2017 I could not help but compare everything I encountered here with what I was used to in the Netherlands, both in terms of working for a social housing provider and living in social housing myself.

To put it bluntly, sometimes the grass actually is greener on the other side of the fence, or should I say, North Sea. Or at least it was when I left.

The big turn around

One of the major differences I encountered with the organisations I worked for was the approach to ‘turning around properties’, which is what happens when one tenant leaves and the home is prepared for another tenant to move in and make the place their home. It apparently is not uncommon to completely strip a home, or expect the leaving tenant to do this themselves, from all flooring, fixtures and furnishings, regardless of their condition, re-usability and the ability for the leaving tenant to be able to re-use it in their new home.

To be fair, I was astounded (and I remain astounded) as it all seems very illogical, money and time-wasting to me, and above all of that, not in the best interest of the new tenant(s). Hence the title: Strip Club. Get it?

A tenancy agreement in the Netherlands, at least for the 5 organisations I have worked for and rented from, contains a clause that if you terminate your tenancy you have a termination period that lasts a minimum of 4 weeks or one calendar month. During that 4-week period, you are expected to do the following:

  1. Allow a lettings officer in your home within the first week to assess the state of the property and agree on any furniture and fixings to be taken out, returned to previous state or to be offered be taken over by the new tenant or even by the landlord if they decide to do so if there is no new tenant found before you leave.
  2. Allow at least one viewing for potential new tenants
  3. Be present at the final inspection, handing in the keys and making sure all the agreements made at the first visit have been lived up to.

Of course reasonable exceptions would be made for a variety of reasons, but this process was the standard from which the exceptions would be made, and it was amazing. At least, I thought so when I rented social homes myself.

It was specifically that second expectation that allowed for the new tenant to discuss with the leaving tenant what they would be happy to take over, such as flooring, but also cookers, washing machines, curtains, anything really; similar to going through a fixtures and furnishings form when buying a house where even the window handles are mentioned separately.

My own experience

Between 2004 and 2020 I have moved house 6 times, 3 of these were moving into a house managed by a social landlord. The first was when I moved out of my parental house, 3 years later I moved to a second social housing apartment at the other end of the country to make a fresh start, and 1.5 year after that I moved in with my now husband. In 2011, we packed everything up to move to the UK in a private sector rented house. The last two homes we have owned (or, well, mortgage and all that).

My first place to call home: Every little helps

Like many people, when moving out at age 19, I wasn’t rich. If anything, I was just about managing with the jobs I had while studying at university for a year (and then I bailed out), and managing a lot better once I had a full-time job after that.

So when I was invited to view the apartment I had been shortlisted for, I really hoped there would be some good stuff for me to take over from the previous tenants. It would really help get me started properly and without having to invest a lot in making the place into a real home.

While it could have been a lot better, I was really happy to find they were open to leaving the flooring in the apartment for free. It wasn’t my taste AT ALL, but at least it would do a really good job as an underfloor for laminate flooring. Yes, that was still quite the expense to buy and a significant job to get it in, but every little helps. In fact, it helped both me and the leaving tenant. If I would have said ‘no’, they would have to take out the flooring which would mean a lot more work for them. And that is A LOT OF WORK (I’ll come back to this later!).

With help of some friends I put in an affordable laminate floor in myself (or, well, I paid for it, friends did all the actual work, I wasn’t that DIY-ey back then). Luckily the walls were all white, the kitchen was of a really great standard, and soon, with a lot of second hand furniture, I had made it my first real home, and it was ace. I lived there for about 3.5 years and I loved every second of it. I took care of it as well as I could (I really do hate cleaning…) and learned some tips and tricks along the way about what it means to have your own home.

When it was time for me to move on (to the other side of the country), I wrote my termination letter, received a call a day later about an inspection date. The inspection took place a couple of days after, within 7 days of me sending my termination latter, and the lettings officer and I agreed that I would leave the laminate flooring, the curtains if the new tenant would want them for an agreed price. A really small amount really, think it was around 80 euros for everything, and it would save them the trouble of putting in a new floor, and me taking it out, because that is a terrible job! (like I said, I’ll get back to that).

The new tenant was happy as a lark with the 3.5-year-old laminate floor and the curtains, both of which were quite neutral in colour/style and would really not offend anyone, I thought when I bought them, and I was right.

A fresh start – in a tiny apartment ready for demolition!

In turn, my new home, in Arnhem, the landlord and its rules about taking over fixtures and furnishings made me very happy.

It was a quite the old house (it was down for demolition in a few years..) and the rent was very cheap, 223 euros for a calendar month. Homes that became available were mainly rented to students for that reason, on temporary flexible contracts, depending on when the regeneration project would progress to that street. This meant you didn’t want to spend a fortune to ‘do it up’, but you could well live there for quite a few years (in the end, they would stay up for another 8 years or so due to the 2008 financial crash!), so you also would want to make it a home as much as possible.

For 25 euros the previous tenant was happy to leave the flooring in which was mostly similar in colour to the one that I had left in The Hague. Win! Again, the walls were white and the kitchen was in a really great state. It was a matter of moving in with all my furniture, some curtains and a bit of paint here and there to make it my own, and it wasn’t long before I felt at home without spending a fortune.

When I moved to Arnhem, the other side of the country, this was closer to my now husband. When moved there, we decided we’d not move in together, because we had only been dating for 6 months, and that would be a bit fast, wouldn’t it? Well, from that first day, he only really went home to his shared student house on Sunday evenings because he had lectures on Monday morning, and soon that really really REALLY tiny apartment became our home. Our really cramped home. So, we started looking for something bigger.

Luckily, my husband had built up quite a bit of time on his social housing application (if you live in regeneration homes the count doesn’t start again in the Netherlands!) and after about a year and a half (but a total of 8 years of time on the application… don’t get me wrong! Waiting times are still long there…..!) we came third on a generous apartment in the outskirts of Nijmegen, on the fifth floor of a 6-floor building.

When we left, again, we had an inspection, a viewing, agreed to leave the floor and the curtains, because again they were just right for those windows and a neutral colour, and made the new tenant, a young student in their second year of university very happy.

A step up – Literally, to the 5th floor we went!

The new apartment had a large open plan living/dining/kitchen room, a large bathroom, one bedroom and a storage cupboard, as well as separate storage/bike room at the ground floor of the building. Because, well, Dutch people have bikes and use them every day!

When we did the viewing, like with the two homes I left behind myself, the current tenant was still living there. As she was moving in with her boyfriend, they would have a lot of stuff to spare, including the hob, the sofa, and some storage racks in the cupboard. Also, the entire house had lovely laminate flooring which they would not be able to use elsewhere and, really, is quite a hassle to take out! So, we agreed a really sensible price that would save us a lot of money, and her a lot of time and effort having to try and sell it on, take it out and/or move it with her if she couldn’t find a buyer before that time. Time = money they say!

The hob, the flooring, the sofa, the storage, everything lasted for the full 3 years that we were living there. As we had no kids and pets, and the occasional hoover and damp cloth would do just nicely, it all remained in a great condition and when I heard I had a scholarship to study for a full year in the UK (and my husband decided to go on the adventure along with me) we thought it would be a breeze to move out and pack our things and leave it to the next tenant(s), at least to start with.

Totally floored

Well. It wasn’t. It started off well, like always. We handed in our termination letter, booked an appointment for the inspection a few days later, and were ready to go through the forms with the lettings officer.

However, when they came in, they said that everything would need to be stripped bare as they were going to sell the flats that came available now, eventually the entire building. So there was no new tenant view and to agree taking over anything with. You always kind of know that there is a good chance you have to take your hob, sofa and other things with you, because people might already have that themselves, or don’t want a second hand sofa (fair enough!), but flooring is a huge investment and not really something many people can and will pick up and move with them because it is cut to size and shape for that specific house.

The lettings officer was adamant however, and we had to take the flooring out before we left. Great. That was a terrible job. And it looked really bare and small once it was out. It would have looked more appealing with the good quality floor in there. In the end (we kept an eye out) it took them over a year and a half to sell it, and I’m convinced it would have gone faster if we could have left the floor in.

Strip Club

Going to a strip club, based on what I know from television of course, it’s not something I know about from expeience, you spend a lot of money on something that you only get to enjoy for the time you’re really there, and once you leave, it’s really gone. If someone else wants to enjoy that same thing, or if you go to the next strip club and want to enjoy something else, both they and you have to pay again for something that lasts only temporarily, even though it’s proper high quality you’ve invested in (previously).

If landlords keep stripping (see, I’d get there eventually!) homes bare every time a tenant moves out, they’re no better than strip clubs, and in a way are their own kind of strip club, in a different way but similar way.

Let’s face it; a lot of people living in social housing don’t have heaps and heaps of money. I know from experience that in such a situation every little helps. Not having to spend loads on buying new things that only weeks before had been removed from that very same property is something that can mean the difference between relaxing and enjoying your new home and worrying about how you’re going to afford making this place an actual home.

When I moved in to that first apartment it was the right thing for me to do and start living independently, but the floor was a huge investment that took a lot out of my budget and into my overdraft to make it work; it took me over a year to fully recover from that, and I realise that I was very lucky that I could indeed recover from it. One or two more bad luck moments and it would have cost me a lot more, both in financial and mental health. When I left I was in a much better place, financially, and I really was glad I could help the next tenant get a cheaper and easier start than I had had myself.

I am not the only person in this situation. In fact, I had it quite good and the set-up was very helpful, but not something I couldn’t overcome or get access to myself. There are people wo just really DON’T, and having a roof over their head might be one thing, but, as I wrote above, to make it a home, you need more than just the bricks and mortar. You need to be able to sleep, relax, feel safe and warm.

(End) Furniture Poverty

Furniture Resource Centre (FCR) Group is running a campaign called ‘End Furniture Poverty‘. Their vision is one of “a society where people can obtain good quality, affordable furniture without experiencing the devastating impacts of furniture poverty – no bed to sleep on or unmanageable debts [to be able to cook food].”

The campgain have recently published a guide for support workers with information on where to find support and help with finding furniture and white goods for clients who do not have access to them. An excerpt from the guide is telling and should be enough to convince social landlords as well as private landlords to make sure it doesn’t happen to their tenants:

Furniture Poverty is the inability to access the essential furniture items, including white goods, that we all need to live a ‘normal’ standard of life.
Furniture Poverty is a continuum, best represented by a ladder.

The impact of furniture poverty can be devastating. Not having a bed to sleep on means a poor night’s sleep, affecting your ability to live, work and study. Not having a cooker to prepare food or a fridge to safely store it can lead to an unhealthy, expensive diet relying on takeaways.

Needing to use a launderette can add approximately £1000 to the annual cost of washing your clothes. Not having a sofa to sit on means you can be unwilling to invite friends or support workers into your home.

Moving from a hostel into an empty box can lead to people giving up tenancies and returning to a hostel because at least there they have a bed to sleep on. There are harmful physical, emotional, and financial consequences to Furniture Poverty.

‘Finding Furniture & White Goods: A Guide for Support Workers’, page 5.

Their advice to landlords is to offer (partially) furnished tenancies, which could be a major help indeed to those who have to start from stretch under difficult financial circumstances.

Incentives

There are so many ways to make the best use of what is already in properties to help both the leaving and the new tenant out. Some of them require a different approach to lettings processes; whether you’re working with voids or choice based lettings, there are ways to incentivise leaving tenants to allow viewings during their termination period. I’ve seen it working first-hand.

The biggest incentive, however, isn’t vouchers or to be entered into a prize draw with a chance of winning an iPad or a TV. The best thing they get out of it is saving themselves loads of trouble and money, and if anything, the social landlord if people just pack up their stuff and leave everything they can’t take behind, adding extra hours, time and financial loss to their bill to get it all out.
This only works if taking over fixtures, furniture, fittings and white goods becomes a widely accepted process where you equally have a very good chance of taking over things in your new home if you’re moving to another home.

Don’t be a strip club

Just don’t. Read the information on the End Furniture website, their information guides and anything related to it, and ask yourself ‘Really???!!!’

That’s it. That’s the article.

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