So we’re pretty much up to date around here: Naomi’s got a place on a doctorate, we’re moving in together for the first time, and we’re moving aaalllll the way south. Great!
Except not quite so straight forward as that, of course. I’ve been incredibly fortunate when looking for places to live in the past. I took the first place I saw (twice!) in Birmingham, and then did have a bit of trouble finding somewhere in Cambridge until my school-friend popped up and said, “Hey! Fancy living in our spare bedroom and paying a frankly ridiculously low rent and we’ll feed your cat on the numerous occasions you’re away and not complain too much about the smelly litter tray?”. Turns out this isn’t because I’m an expert flat-hunter. It’s because until now, I have been incredibly uncomplicated to house. One room, running water, a roof, electricity and heating, I was good to go. Not any more!
Complication 1: I have a cat. She is lovely, well-behaved, fairly clean and structurally incapable of causing too much damage (hard-core scratching attempts stymied by lack of front left leg). Nonetheless, she is viewed by landlords and letting agents as some kind of destructive demon bent on ruining their valuable investment property by her mere presence. I had not realised how hard it is to rent a somewhere when you have pets (if you remember, I moved into my lovely Birmingham nest and then just adopted a cat, getting retrospective permission from my landlord – risky but it worked out).
Complication 2: Naomi mostly uses a wheelchair, and while she can walk a little, stairs are her nemesis. That rules out houses, any flats without lift access above the ground floor and any ground-floor flats which have those fancy steps leading up to the entrance. Here’s a fun challenge for you: walk around your neighbourhood today and look at the entrances to all the properties. Assess whether or not you could get into them in a wheelchair. 90% of the time you can’t. Half the time you couldn’t even if you were allowed to build a ramp, and I’m betting landlords who think the existence of a cat or even a hamster is a risk to their property are not going to allow any doorstep construction.
Complication 3: I will be at home most of the time. My mental health causes a nicely conflicting set of requirements: I need to be somewhere that isn’t too busy, noisy and full of people – I once had a panic attack walking through Birmingham city centre, and central London gives me palpitations – but I also need to be able to get out of the house easily and interact with people, do various small jobs, buy things we need, all without a car and while battling my constant impulse to just stay indoors, stay home, stay where it is safe and I am in control and things are fine. I almost never leave the house on an impulse. Every trip out has to be planned in advance, which often means ridiculous delays in getting stuff done. I wrote to my grandmother on May 24th, and the envelope is still there, waiting to be posted. The postbox is less than a minute’s walk away, but the idea of going out just to post a letter when I don’t absolutely have to leave the house anyway is too overwhelming. When I am leaving the house for other reasons, I forget to take the envelope because my brain is full of the current plan. I’ve blu-takked the blinking thing to the front door now, so I can’t miss it next time I go out.
That sounds a bit feeble, although it’s a very real problem for me, and I don’t intend this to become a big post about my anxiety, but to summarise, we need to live somewhere that’s not right in the centre of a town but also that isn’t too far out of town. Somewhere within walking distance to all the things we need, like shops and a library and a post office and ideally a train station. Not the city. Not the suburbs. Not the country. Um…
So we have been looking and looking and looking almost daily for months now. We’ve contacted several dozen letting agents in the south east, which was an interesting learning experience in itself. I would have thought that if your entire job was centred around matching potential tenants to available rental properties, you might consider replying to emails from potential tenants enquiring about available rental properties, but that does not appear to be a universal strategy. We have a grand total of three agencies who are actively contacting us with possible properties, and two more who can’t actually summon up the energy to email or phone us, but do respond eventually when we contact them. The rest, radio silence.
We also have automatic alerts set up, but those aren’t great because they can’t seem to filter for the ground floor requirement. I tried specifying that we needed a garden, on the basis that it’s hard to have a garden if you’re on the ninth floor, but that included properties with communal gardens and excluded perfectly good ground floor places which didn’t have a garden. So we just have to look at every single advert, sometimes scrutinising the photos closely to see whether we can spot any clues as to which floor the flat is on. Again, I’d have thought that sort of detail might be worth mentioning in an advert, but apparently not. I’m becoming increasingly aware of how unaware I was of all these access issues before I came into close contact with them through Naomi. The world is not designed to be easy for people on wheels. (It’s not well designed for people full stop – I have a theory about stairs and general building design relating to the absence of shoulder or elbow replacements, if anyone would like to hear it.)
If you happen to live in East Sussex, or know anyone who does, or possibly in Kent but preferably a more East Sussexy bit than a Londony bit, and have or know of a bungalow or ground floor flat which is available for rent and would allow a cat and a currently-hypothetical dog and has at least one bedroom and isn’t too astronomically priced, please do let me know. We will invite you to our housewarming party. There’ll be a vegan ice cream cake. We’ve already sourced the cake. Finding vegan ice cream cake is easier than finding accessible pet-friendly houses. Go figure.