Bongos and dirty windows

They call it nostalgia. That trait we have of looking at the past through a prism that highlights fond memories and relegates flaws to the background.

But if I look back at my first flat through that lens, all I can say is that it must have been horrific. Even after 20 years I struggle to think of anything good about it.

We rented privately in Edinburgh. The flat was in a decent part of town – a euphemistic way of explaining it was expensive. It was no guarantee of quality.

The walls were thin, the bedroom damp – wallpaper-peeling-off damp – and our neighbours could have been plucked out of a Rebus novel. The guy upstairs regularly played his bongos in the early hours of the morning. Bad enough, but early on I discovered something even worse than a guy playing bongos at 2am. It’s a guy playing bongos at 2am very badly.

Our tenancy wasn’t helped by naïve mistakes we made signing the letting agreement. We knew there was a building site next door. We just hadn’t considered its significance. Over the year of our tenancy – it felt longer – the thud of piledrivers jolted our nerves daily, weekends included. Our windows were frosted by a film of dusty sediment caused by brick dust. Clean the windows one day and they’d mist over the next.

It irks me now how unaware of our rights we were. Uncomplaining, we paid our rent on time every month. But we weren’t prepared for the humiliation when our tenancy ended. A big chunk of our deposit was kept back – to pay for window cleaning.

“The windows are dirty,” the letting agent said.

“They were worse than that when we moved in,” I explained. “I spent two days cleaning them then. We’ve lived next door to a building site all year!”

“You should have told us that at the time. We’re still charging you.”

There was nothing much we could do apart from learn from it and we were smarter renting our next flat. But thinking about it, first-time tenants as glaikit as us must sign a lease every day of the year. Many will have had a lot worse done to them. It’s not their fault.

So I’m glad there is more information around for tenants now. I’m pleased legislation gives better protection to tenants. Though I’m no longer a tenant I’m delighted a Tenant’s Information Pack exists. Maybe if we’d had Tenancy Deposit Schemes, my first experience of renting would have been happier.

Private renting will never be perfect – maybe bongo-man still haunts a tenement somewhere. But things like Scottish Housing Day can only help in making people aware of their housing options.

Housing is important. I’ve known that for 20 years. And I’ve also learned that the better informed we are, the better decisions we make.