THIS autumn, I’m feeling homely. Which is to say relieved, knackered and broke. This month, I’ve finally managed to get the keys for my own wee hoose, having rented accommodation for the better part of 20 years.

Getting my furniture up the stairs nearly killed the movers. The bed, sofas and chairs all went in tidily, but my kitchen table stubbornly decided it wasn’t for turning when it reached the front door.

That table has become a bit of a psychological talisman for me. It’s lovely old wood – but also family and memory. I’ve always loved a kitchen – working away while a meal is brewing, or a loaf is rising.

But this one’s infused with nostalgia. We used to eat dinner off this plank as kids in mid-Argyll, sitting and talking, finishing homework together, trying our hands at crafts, or pulling up our feet to avoid the exploratory bites of schnauzer puppies. A proper kitchen table peoples a place. ­Superstitiously, I tend to think it carries this history with it.

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Thanks to my sister-in-law’s flair for Tetris, we were finally able to navigate the unforgiving lump of oak in – but the prospect of lopping the feet off this family heirloom gave me sleepless nights as it sat accusing and abandoned in the communal hall. My neighbours must’ve been wondering whether it was hunkering down in their way for the long term.

So, for this geriatric millennial, after a long roll of years renting and squirrelling away resources for a deposit, this October feels like a bit of a personal milestone. But it also made me reflect on a dysfunctional housing system which many of us take for granted – but which has changed so much since folk of my parents’ generation put down their first deposit on a family home, years younger than I am now, in starkly ­different economic circumstances.

With power comes responsibility, as the saying goes. If I spring a leak, plugging it is now on me. If the fridge or the boiler goes phut, the replacement is coming out of my savings. But sitting in my new kitchen, with coffee gurgling on the hob and an ­autumn stew in the oven, I’ve found myself ­thinking how much better this feels than the ­combination of responsibility without power which I know all long-term renters know only too well.

For years, renting worked fine for me. At the right time, it has real upsides. I ­graduated into the financial crash in 2008 and coasted out of the recession as a ­graduate student. You didn’t save any money but it was a sociable life. At the time, I wasn’t for rooting myself in a ­particular place either. But even if I’d wanted to buy a square foot of old ­Scotland – like most millennials, I didn’t have the capital to contemplate buying my own hovel until well into my 30s.

Once I got a full-time job, I got better at tucking away savings for the future, but the mythical deposit still seemed like a distant milestone. Covid intervened. Bereft of social diversions, I saved and saved. When the letter came through ­giving me notice to quit from my old flat, it felt like good timing because I realised I’d had it with renting.

As a tenant, the phrase I always found particularly triggering was “Routine ­Inspection” – always with a capital “R” and a capital “I”.

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In the world of the buy-to-let landlord and their agents, the day when they get to wander round your flat unsupervised, nose around your fridge and take a swatch at how tidily you store your ­lentils seems to be a real Occasion. The ­gratuitous ­capitalisation signals not only that it is Important, but puts you – the poor wage-labourer working to pay off their mortgage – on notice that your comfort is conditional and ultimately subordinate to the interest of The Landlord – another character who would often level up to a capital letter in official correspondence.

I appreciate that owners have legitimate interests in their tenants not wrecking the place – but this kind of persistent surveillance is just one feature of life long-term renters are obliged to internalise. And if it isn’t your experience, I’m not sure you fully realise how debilitating it can be.

Just as I’ve managed to escape the joys of the rental market, folk still in its grip are highlighting still more examples of how perversely it is now functioning.

Ultimately, there’s the existential insecurity all renters face – that at any time, whatever is happening in your life and whatever other commitments or plans you might have made, the owner might want vacant possession in as little as a couple of months, packing you out bag and baggage. But short of this, to rent a home is to have a house constantly and unpredictably subject to external interest, intrusion and overregulation.

You might agree for handymen to ­appear tomorrow, and come home today to find randomers had been in and out of the flat in your absence. Even if nothing nefarious is afoot, this is the inevitable consequence of a cast of random strangers having not only keys to your house but a lively sense of entitlement to go ­poking around in it when you’re not there.

On social media this week, a woman told the story of settling down to a quiet first night in her new flat – only to hear the sound of a key in the lock and a body moving around, followed by the fizz of the kettle and the clank of cutlery at 4am. It transpired this was a letting agent’s handyman who’d let himself in while she slept – having kept a key, assuming it was still vacant. The mind boggles.

SOME manifestations of this are less ­obviously nefarious. There’s a generation of folk who’d have liked a pet, but finding themselves capital-poor, can only stay in places where having a cat or a dog in your life is verboten.

You can’t choose the colour of your walls. Hanging a picture in the wrong place is just an investment in losing a percentage of your deposit down the line. And if fixing a basic problem with the property isn’t a priority for your landlord, then you’re lumped and live with theconsequences, unable to take ­initiative.

These power dynamics are underscored even at the end of a tenancy. Because these days, landlords don’t have your ­deposit in their pocket, letting agents seem prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to justify keeping as large a percentage of your money as possible.

When I quit my last flat, having made every effort to scrub the place down, I was sent a disturbing montage of well over a hundred photographs of every corner of the property, including a stoorie image of a stranger’s thumb which had been run disapprovingly down some overlooked shelf and was now presented to the camera as proof of the surchargeable squalor I’d left the place in.

Talking to friends – and my students, who’ve faced a much more challenging rental market in Scotland’s cities in recent years – I feel like I’ve been lucky. The properties I’ve borrowed for the last few years have been owned by basically benevolent people who didn’t try to rinse me for cash and who’ve been generally responsive when things have gone wrong.

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In some parts of the country, ­restricted supply of rental accommodation is ­creating its own perverse and ­exploitative economy, where would-be tenants are ­effectively auditioning for vacant homes on an ­“offers over” basis, with ­potential renters facing closing dates where they pitch for the ­opportunity to pay the ­landlord the greatest sum of money every month.

This competition seems to be driven by the basic economic logic of supply and demand. This month, the BBC reported new Rightmove figures, showing that “the average queue of tenants requesting to view a rental property in Britain has lengthened from 20 to 25 in five months”. Pre-pandemic, six people nosed around the average property before the “let” sign went up.

Needless to say, this feeding frenzy isn’t benefitting tenants. Living Rent has highlighted that the spirit of the ­Scottish Government’s rent cap is ­routinely ­being flouted in jointly rented ­properties, with greedy landlords ­seizing on the ­opportunity of a single tenant moving on to hike the liabilities of all the survivors.

British politics is entering a period of change and flux. But it’s far from clear that the economic experiences – and economic challenges – faced by my generation are a priority for any party.