Flooring: Tread Softly

Flooring is a big source of stress for the renter nomad: that carpet can stain so easily; that laminate is slippery, cold and vulnerable to scratching/chipping; those bare wooden boards, though they look so “vintage” or “country” or “homely”, are draughty and vulnerable to marking.

Renter nomads really ought to carry their rugs with them, from place to place, like the furnishings of a yurt. It’s lovely to “nest” with a cosy or familiar rug underfoot, cover up something hideous, prevent staining, insulate a bit better. Yet not everyone wants carpeted floors. There are those with dust mite allergies and those who simply prefer a hard floor underfoot. Moreover, rented accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes, so it is more than likely that at some point you will end up with floor coverings which don’t fit, and that will be added to the temporarily-useless detritus of a Renter Nomad (and where will you store it? In the landlord’s locked loft?).

Here, therefore, are some considerations for flooring if you do need to buy something:

You will never regret:

  • a carpet protector, like the ones used in offices. This protects carpet and hard flooring alike, and when you are in a carpeted house, it isn’t too thick to cause doors to stick (unlike adding a rug on top of carpet). They are thin, and will stand up to store behind furniture, if you are ever in a position not to need them.
  • Plastic-backed runners and mats, like these from Lakeland. We have three of these: two runners and one mat. They are currently down in the front hall, which is covered in pale carpet (why do landlords do this?! There is no benefit and quite a lot of downside). It’s worth mentioning that, in our current rented house, there is no hard-floor exit from the kitchen, meaning the bins have to be brought out via the pale-carpeted hallway. Plastic-backed mats are essential.

You will probably regret:

  • Large area rugs. Are you sure you’re always going to have such a big space? Where will you store it if you can’t use it in your next place?
  • Anything in bold colours. Remember, not all landlords cleave to the magnolia colour scheme, particularly accidental landlords, who are renting out their home due to a job move, inability to sell even though they needed to upsize, or other personal circumstances. Accidental landlords in particular are unlikely to have budgeted for redecoration, as they are already aware of the costs which drove them to let out their house/flat, and letting agents will take considerable up-front payments off them. You don’t want to clash with the colour scheme: it will just make you feel less at home.
  • Shaggy carpet/rug. This is not just prejudice on my part. A shaggy rug is cosy underfoot, and can give a look of luxe, but is very high-maintenance and and can look a mess very early in its life. It is bulky to store and, on the subject of storage, remember that it will need cleaning before being put away for six months or more (or should that read “six moths”?): a shaggy rug takes longer to dry, and adds to the time pressure of a rental move.

You will definitely regret:

  • Anything shaped to the space, unless it’s a conservatively-sized rectangle. It may be very beautiful, and will make you feel at home, but for how long? Consider this question seriously, since many is the tenant who is caught off guard by being given notice. I’ve been moved out of three, possibly four, places, for the landlord to sell, and the two-month notice period – although short for arranging another place to live – is long enough to regret money spent on something like a good wool carpet, whipped round at the edges and indented to accommodate a fireplace, for instance.

Repairing the Damage

No matter how careful you have been (unless you’re like my incredibly houseproud friend Charlotte), you’re going to have to do a clean at the end of your tenancy. Wooden floors can have a good mop, even if only to deal with that faint stickiness which agglomerates in corners. Do not go any further than this, because renting a floor sander is not your responsibility, and things will go badly for you with the hire shop if an exposed nail damages the sander (o, those Victorian wooden floors!).

With carpets, I have no better recommendation than hiring a carpet cleaner (NB – it should shampoo, rather than steam. Steam cleaners just kill dust mites; they don’t do much about dirt) and doing it yourself, which means spending £25+ rather than £200+ (and the latter was a quote from about 2009, in outer London). The Rug Doctor is widely available, but I can’t make any personal recommendation as I have always used HSS Hire, which has a choice of machine sizes, and has upholstery attachments, so you can clean your things as well, for a change. Take photos afterwards, and include then with pre-tenancy photos and a copy of the carpet cleaner hire receipt, when handing the property back, and that will look good for you in case of any nit-picking.

Transient People, Settled Surroundings

An alternative is, of course to buy or inherit items from previous tenants. We have acquired a dishwasher, curtains, a stairgate and all manner of items from previous tenants. You save on the purchase of the items, and the items fit and suit because they have been bought for the space. Equally, you could try to do the opposite at the end of a tenancy, for your bought- or made-to-measure furnishings or appliances: you might make some money back, and save on transportation and storage of something which is not going to suit your next place. This method is not a sustainable guarantee, though, what with:

  • tenancy voids (particularly relevant if you are reading this as a student)
  • not meeting successive tenants
  • successive tenants’ not being interested in a transaction, even an inheritance. For one thing, they may not like your taste: as Oscar Wilde had Lord Goring say, in An Ideal Husband: “Other people are quite dreadful.” I myself have been exasperated to “inherit” broken vacuum cleaners, dishes and pots, and twisted and moulting old “Christmas trees”. It’s also worth noting that some tenancy agreements include a clause about clearing all possessions at the end of a tenancy, lest the landlord/agent charge for removal: previous tenants may not trust that they will not be charged fined.
  • no “next tenant”, if the house is being put up for sale. Your effects could end up on the “fixtures and fittings” list!

Charity shops and freecycle can help you acquire and/or dispose of rugs and any other effects which are not going to get on the “boat” with you, to your next stop. However, too much of that means you risk living in almost total flux, a transient person living amongst transient movables, and that is a very hard way to live, especially if you have children. As I write this, my son is not yet five, and has not lived anywhere for more than a year and a half. Our last move, to a different town, was the worst. Starting school, he got more clingy, rather than more confident. I really hate to think of what he would have been like if we had changed our furnishings, from floor to ceiling, at each move. As it is, he still goes to sleep under this Ikea leaf  and the first thing he sees when he comes home are our green mats in the front hallway. So please take care what you buy for your rental house or flat. Make sure it is as much a part of your household as a pet, and will make the next move with you.

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