No Pets, No DSS, No Single Parents

“Mum, it’s beautiful!” Tom said, as we approached our new house.

And it was.

Finally: south of the city, within budget and best of all, a garden. One of my pet hates is when letting agents market two-up-two-downs in Chorlton as cottages (£850 a month, anyone?) but this did actually feel like a cottage. And it wasn’t in Chorlton, but I’d probably end up getting eco ennui if I lived there anyway.

“I want it,” I said, as we stepped through the door into a room full of sunlight.

Ten minutes later, the fees were in the agency’s bank account, the lady at the office was congratulating me and Tom was choosing his bedroom. Never mind the people who arrived to look at it as we were leaving: it was ours.

Except it wasn’t.

Three days later, I received a call from the agency:

“The landlady has decided she doesn’t want children in there.”

“I’ve only got one child.”

“I know, we’ve tried but she just says no children.”

“He’s nearly seven. What does she think he’s going to do – draw on the walls?”

“Sorry. You haven’t handed in your notice on your current house, have you?”

“No,” I’d been too busy, thank goodness, “Why is this happening?”

“Sorry. She just wants two working professionals.”

We’d already been through this: I contacted the agency initially to ask if I could have a cat in there – and they were more interested in what humans would be moving in. After I told them it would just be me and my son, they said that sorry, the landlady would only accept two working professionals. I pleaded with the agent, offering a guarantor, references and pay slips and suddenly, they were ‘pleased to tell me’ the landlady would let us look around.

Lucky us.

When the news had sunk in, I called the agency back to sort out the refund of the fees. This time, I got a man:

“I just don’t understand why she let us look around then changed her mind.”

“Yeah it’s not discrimination or anything like that,” he said, before I’d even mentioned the word, “All it is is that she’s got some concerns about the safety of the property and outside the property that make it unsuitable for a child.”

“But she knew I had a child. What concerns?”

“Obviously, these are just some concerns she has.”

“What sort of concerns?” Holes in the roof? Local doggers? A poltergeist?

“Obviously,” (no, it’s not obvious) “these are just some concerns she has. It’s for her own conscience, really.”

I checked the website when I got home and the house had gone. Someone had got it, just not us.

Luckily, Tom’s easy-going. “She sounds nasty, Mum. It’s a good job we didn’t move into her house anyway.”

I suspect the landlady hadn’t decided that she didn’t want a child in her property; she had decided that she didn’t want a single mother in her property.

I’d forgotten all this: when Tom was a toddler, I thought I’d be stuck in Mum’s house forever. Following one viewing, I called a landlady to tell her I was interested and she said “Right. Well, you don’t choose us, we choose you. So we’ll let you know if you’ve been successful.” (She never called back.)

On another occasion, a landlord of a ‘student flat suitable for families’, advertised through the university laughed at me: “How can you be studying if you have a baby? Sorry, this flat is not for you.”

This is not the 1950s: single parents are not excluded like they used to be, but the discrimination is still there, subtle. Single parents cannot just find their perfect home, pay the deposit and move in – mysterious force fields seem to see to that. For those who claim Housing Benefit, things are even harder. Moving house wasn’t something we desperately needed to do, but for many it is. You’re not as susceptible to the prejudice when you’re lucky enough to have an education and a job – but neither are you completely immune.

If you’re my landlord and you’re reading this (unlikely, but you have just offered to have the whole house professionally painted) we’re not going anywhere. Turns out getting Tom into a new school would have been incredibly difficult – and he’s happy where he is. And we’re very lucky to have a landlord who trusts us, never comes round, sends a repair man the second anything goes wrong and lets us have a cat. Thanks. I’ll keep making this our home and paying my rent on time, every month, just like I have been doing for the past five years.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “No Pets, No DSS, No Single Parents

  1. Me

    Oh no, that is so frustrating and unfair. Life is full of ‘mysterious force fields’ for single parents sometimes! You’re lucky you’ve got a nice landlord at the moment though, he sounds great, and that stability is important too. Imagine all the hassle and expenses of moving and then the landlord/-lady changing their mind after 6 months. Still annoying to be stuck though.

    • Emily

      Thanks. You’re right about them changing their mind. And moving is a big hassle and expense. Although I hate ‘it just wasn’t meant to be’, it just wasn’t meant to be. Things round here really aren’t that bad. Autumn cleaning day today – ready to settle in for another cosy winter (that’s the other thing – this house never gets cold.) We are lucky.

  2. Witchmountain

    Grrr, I’m so angry on your behalf. I was so lucky when I found this place but I know I only got it because other tenants on the estate who knew me( its all landed gentry round here) vouched for me …otherwise as a single parent on housing benefit, let alone a bit of a weird artist type, there is no way they would ever have considered me. I’ve been here 12 years now. I really hope you find your ideal house but until then it sounds like you have a great landlord and a lovely home with your son. x

  3. This makes me so angry and upset that people could still think and act like this in today’s world. Say the landlady now lets to a young professional couple and six months down the line they fall pregnant, what is she going to do, turf them out? Highly unlikely. It’s prejudice and judgement of the worst kind, presuming that because someone is coming to you under a certain set of circumstances they fit the worst possible stereotype you can think of that also fits those circumstances.

    If it’s any consolation (I doubt it) my Auntie and Uncle temporarily separated a couple of years ago and when my Auntie (in her 40s) was looking for somewhere to rent for her and her teenage son (then 16) she was faced with the snottiest, rudest and downright unpleasant estate agents who literally looked her up and down and said “Oh we don’t think this is in your price range” – she kindly informed them she was probably earning at least double they were and walked out but the fact she was employed full-time in an extremely well paid job obviously wasn’t enough to counteract the fact she was *gasp*, a single mother.

    When I claimed Housing Benefit if at all possible I rarely disclosed it to the letting agents or landlords – they knew I wasn’t able to work because of my disability but as I was required to have a guarantor I just reassured them that I had a personal income and I was able to meet the rent and they rarely asked any more questions. Maybe that was dishonest of me but it meant I was never faced with a “NO DSS” situation and I always paid my rent on time and got glowing references. It’s who you are, not what your circumstances are, that make you a good or bad tenant and hopefully you’ll find the right agents and landlords who know that soon enough.

    • Emily

      Thanks for your comment, Shanna. Loved th story about your auntie! You definitely did the right thing no mentioning HB when you were claiming. As soon as I tell people it’s just me and my son who will be moving into the property, they always ask if I am employed.

  4. That’s a disgrace, am very sorry for you that you were treated in such a rude and disrespectful way. The landlady should be ashamed.

  5. That’s outrageous! What an old fashioned and stupid decision, it makes my (single parent) blood boil.

  6. ska_mna

    More blood boiling here having just stumbled across your post. I’m currently looking for a new private rental and shocked at bad things have got in the rental marketplace since we last had to move (and it was bad enough back then).

    We’ve got a fully blown housing crisis on our hands in this country at the moment and no-one seems to be talking about it.

    I had a rant about it all over on HPC the other day:

    http://www.housepricecrash.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=182182

    The No Children, No DSS, No Pets paradigm really gets my goat too. Considering the fact that most people under the age of 35 don’t have any other option but to become long-term private renters, I find it deeply unethical that one generation (who benefited a favourable housing market) can dictate how another generation lives to this extent.

    Unfortunately there are a large number of landlords who are not in the business “professionally” (e.g. can’t sell, inherited house etc.) so in their mind you are just borrowing the house of them. It certainly isn’t your HOME.

    In my opinion, as long as you pay your rent, aren’t antisocial, and give the house back in the same condition you found it in, then you should be able to do whatever you want while you live in it. After all, you’re paying the landlord £800/month to live there.

    Anyway, best wishes. I’ll be the one leading the revolution charge when I finally blow my gasket. 😉

    • Emily

      Thanks. Your point about the injustices of those who could afford to buy is good. I never will, but my landlord paid for my new boiler last year and it’s he who’ll decorate the place. So, there are benefits (if you can find a decent landlord.) He also saw the number of pictures I’d hung and said “this is your home, it’s nice to see you making it look that way.”

  7. This would be illegal in Australia. If you’ve got the money, have good references that’s all that counts. There are good landlords out there, and sounds like the new place was worth tripping over this one.

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