Lime Legal

I need a shower!

Published 21 October 2023

There is little incentive for landlords to spend money creating a pleasant environment. But Penny Anderson argues that the poor standard of furnished or partly furnished accommodation is cause for real concern

I’ve spent a lot of my life in a spartan, featureless, magnolia void, so visually impoverished that I underwent long spells of sensory deprivation. The reason is simple – I am (and was) a tenant, and tenants (unless they are wealthy) have little control over their surroundings and little say about the furniture or decoration provided.

Our homes are functional to the point of being institutionally grim, or packed with the owner’s cast-offs.

There is little motivation for landlords to spend money to create a pleasant environment. They rarely consult tenants – they don’t have to – and we must their lack of taste or wild flights of decorating fancy.

Two friends moved into a flat in a hurry, only to find the landlord had transformed the neutral space they had earlier viewed into Barbie’s palace of pink. The walls, fittings, furniture, crockery – everything – was shocking. Redecorating was forbidden.

Tenants are prevented from painting over even the most extravagant adventures in proprietorial creativity on pain of losing their deposit. I was once refused a flat after requesting permission to remove the oppressive royal blue vinyl wall paper covering the entire wall space. The landlord had made the walls impossible to paint because one former tenant had used fuchsia gloss in the bedroom.

Another flat was covered with what at first appeared to be wall-hangings by the hip Scottish textile designers Timorous Beasties, who use stunning but grotesque insect motifs in their work – except that these bugs were real, as swarms of dead crane-flies had been painted on to walls.

I’ve seen a house adorned with stalactites of chalky, flaky pure-white plaster, giving the rooms a glacial appearance, as if the Snow Queen had spent her winters there.

When landlords do their worst, the most nerve-racking result is the home-as-minefield, with snares throughout, like white carpets, or cheap, easily scuffed laminate floors. It’s as if owners have set the flat with baited booby-traps, inviting tenants to slip, spilling a glass of Ribena or drop an espresso – and bingo, we forfeit our deposit.

Tenants emerge with their sensibilities so blinded by beige they are dazzled by the vaguest hint of pastel. I’ve lived this way so long I can’t be trusted with, say, vivid shades of sunrise. Even the slightest hint of colour evokes the moment in The Wizard of Oz when it changes from monochrome to Technicolor.

Furniture is another source of contention. My friend’s flat was kitted out with four enormous cracked vinyl sofas. She was also thoughtfully provided with not one, but three plastic hostess trolleys, all sprayed gold.

This is a common problem. Landlords regard furnished accommodation as the ideal dumping ground for their hoard of strange and wonderful things. One landlord gifted me with three punctured airbeds, which he insisted I kept, as he was definitely going to mend them, honest. He also left me a salad spinner, and some string.

When it comes to furniture, landlords define ‘essential’ differently from everyone else. I saw one flat (and yes, I have seen a lot of flats) which had no hob or stove of any kind. I questioned the landlord, who pointed tetchily at the microwave. Another flat still contained its original 1930s gas cooker.

And I’ve learned the hard way to be pernickety about beds. I’ve seen beds so stained and disgusting they looked like biological experiments. I recently viewed a flat in what is considered an upmarket development, which had two single beds in the double bedroom. I wonder if the landlord also provided Mr Men pyjamas and a fluffy teddy.

Some landlords insist on lumbering renters with their own, frequently vile, prints and artwork. My last flat was mercifully studded with picture hooks – hooray, I could stamp my own identity on the place.

Landlords furnish houses to suit themselves, as there is no legal framework detailing minimum standards, or a law banning shocking pink walls or ornaments from a holiday in Bognor. The definition of ‘furnished’  and ‘partially furnished,’ needs stricter legal clarification. The term ‘partially furnished’ is largely unclassified, and usually means that white goods are provided, alongside exotica like a fringed lampshade or a nest of mismatched, wonky tables – rarely anything essential.

‘The term "partially furnished" usually means white goods are provided, alongside exotica like a fringed lampshade or a nest of mismatched wonky tables’

Furnished? Anything goes – usually all white goods although not necessarily a washing machine, but sometimes a dishwasher. Yet another of my rejected flats had no washer, but no space or capacity to plumb one in and no local launderette. And when renting to students, landlords should supply a desk, and bookshelves. There should also be somewhere to stash boxes and suitcases, as tenants are nomads and we move around.

Ideally, there should be some sort of wardrobe. Many flats contain wardrobes with vast, old-style mirrored doors, a bit like the Playboy mansion, which is quite unnecessary and very disconcerting, especially where they are grubby and cracked. I own a clothing rail, bought cheaply from a shopfitter’s, which over the years has proved invaluable when faced with slim, rickety pine wardrobes, or no wardrobe whatsoever. I once rejected a flat with a white plastic bedroom set, which looked like life-sized Sindy dolls had recently vacated.

Now let’s talk chairs. There should be a seat or sofa place for every member of the household (with a notional minimum of three) and a few guests. Oddly, many landlords omit a dining table, assuming I suppose that all renters sit alone with congealed ready meals balanced upon their knees, as they never cook, and have no friends. One flat had just one armchair but a telly in every room.

Then there’s the bathroom, where apart from the obvious, we’d like some shelves and a few towel rails, as we are penalised for drilling into walls in order to install our own DIY version. For the sake of economy and the planet, we’d like a shower to be fitted. Well, wouldn’t you?

A nasty house, with shabby furniture and grubby paintwork is depressing. In extremes, broken furniture might actually be dangerous.

Here then is the root of the problem: despite the recession, almost everyone still looks down on tenants. We are viewed as losers, restricted and infantilised, while bad furniture and prohibitions on redecoration ram the point home, repeatedly and savagely.

There is a solution. We must cultivate a more mature attitude to tenants, as in continental Europe, where renting is the norm and renters are permitted to decorate and make a place their own. If that’s impossible, then remember how money used to be knocked off rent when tenants repainted? Could we reintroduce that, because a coat of emulsion and a decent sofa would remind tenants that we are paying for a home, not living in the owner’s house-shaped piggy bank or trespassing in a storage centre.

Penny Anderson is a private tenant and blogger at