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Horrible Housing

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"If he knew how I was living, if he saw this place, it would make him sick."
Penny Fleck, Joker (2019)

Horrible Housing refers to a living space that is basically a hovel: cramped, messy, possibly pest-infested, and usually in the bad part of town. It may be poorly-maintained government housing, or owned by a Cranky Landlord that refuses to spend on maintenance and repairs. This indicates that the inhabitants are poor and cannot afford to move somewhere better, or are suffering through a bad turn of events. The characters likely will complain about their living conditions and hope for greener pastures, especially if there are wealthier characters in the work or if they used to live somewhere nicer themselves. However, sometimes characters will choose to live in bad conditions for various reasons, such as the "charm" and the surrounding community, or they may be Too Desperate to Be Picky about shelter.


This trope is the antithesis to Big Fancy House, which is a house that is spacious, clean, well-furnished, and usually inhabited by the rich; works may utilize both to contrast its inhabitants. Also contrast Pottery Barn Poor, where a supposedly poor family has a nice dwelling by normal standards, and "Friends" Rent Control, for when an apartment is much nicer than its inhabitants should be able to afford.

Compare The Alleged House, which refers to a housing structure that is barely holding itself together — there can be overlap, but the difference is that Horrible Housing is primarily used to highlight a character's poverty. For example, a seedy, cockroach-infested studio apartment in an otherwise functional building counts as this, but not The Alleged House. Also compare Cardboard Box Home, the more extreme version. If someone lives in a derelict building that's not even a residential structure, it may overlap with Non-Residential Residence. See also the Lonely Bachelor Pad, which may devolve into this if said bachelor is very uncaring or apathetic. Another similar trope is Bad Bedroom, Bad Life, where the poor state of a character's bedroom specifically reflects their life struggles, and Bath of Poverty, for when the bathroom specifically is rundown.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Mankanshoku family of Kill la Kill, as well as their houseguest protagonist Ryuko, live in a squalid, one bedroom apartment in a section of town that would have to undergo massive renovation to be considered rundown because their eldest daughter Mako is a "No-Star" student at Honnouji Academy. Played with in that they're shown to be very happy there and, in an episode where they experience upward mobility due to Mako climbing the ranks of the school's hierarchy, they become much more distant and snobbish as their housing situation improves.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Rei Ayanami's dark origins and cold attitude are highlighted by the squalid one-room apartment she lives in.
  • In Uzumaki, Kirie and her family have their home destroyed by a storm, and are forced to move into one of the cheapest houses in the town; one of the ancient terraced houses that have no furniture or room separation, where two other poor families were shown living earlier in the story. When the spirals start to destroy the town, everyone is forced to move into these terraced houses, as they're the only ones that haven't fallen apart. Kirie and and her family are kicked out of what used to be their house by the people who sought shelter there. By that point, things were so dire that nobody cared how crappy the houses actually were.

    Comic Books 
  • At one point, after getting driven out of California, the Runaways ended up being so hard-up for living quarters that they stayed in an actual tenement in 1900's New York City (it's a long story.) They had one room for all six of them, and had to put of a bedsheet to separate the boys and girls.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Candyman is set against the backdrop of the Cabrini Green project housing in Chicago, which was notorious for its crime and poverty rates.
  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie's family's poverty is exaggerated with their house being a run-down, wooden dump in the middle of an otherwise normal city. It's so shabby that there aren't even any actual rooms, and his grandparents all sleep in the middle of the house.
  • In Dasepo Sonyo, Poor Girl lives with her mother and little brother in a tiny one-room apartment. There's no bathroom indoors, so when her mother gets bedridden, she resorts to relieving herself in a bottle.
  • In The Great Muppet Caper, the Happiness Hotel that Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo stay in is extremely cheap, but it's also in very poor repair. There's even a full musical number Lampshading how run-down the place is.
    Fozzie: Aaah, if that's the Happiness Hotel, I'd hate to see what the sad one looks like!
  • Joker (2019): Arthur Fleck's apartment building is poorly-lit, badly-maintained, and cramped, to the point that his mentally ill mother Penny continuously writes to Thomas Wayne in hopes that he'll move them somewhere better. In contrast, the Wayne estate in the film is incredibly large for a family of three.
  • In The Last Black Man In San Francisco, protagonist Jimmy shares a room in a garage with his friend Mont, a room that has almost no room to move. The only reason they can live there is because it's Mont's grandfather's place. They also live in a neighborhood contaminated with toxic waste and with a long, unreliable bus ride to get anywhere. This contrasts with the Big Fancy House that Jimmy claims is rightfully his and frequently visits.
  • Parasite (2019): The poor Kim family lives in a cramped, smelly semi-basement in a street that easily floods. This is contrasted with the rich Park family's lovely, spacious home.
  • In Queen of Katwe, Phiona and her family live in a shack with no running water. Before joining the Young Pioneers, she'd hardly ever taken a bath.
  • In Shoplifters, the family lives in a tiny, 2-room traditional Japanese home that's filled to the brim with stuff, reflecting their poverty and desperate situation. Shota doesn't have his own room, but has built himself a fort in the corner that he sleeps in. Osamu and Nobuyo have to wait for everyone else to leave the house in order to have sex, because they ordinarily just sleep in the middle of the dining room and have no privacy.
  • Peter Parker's apartment in Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 is one of these. It's small, it's ugly, and the door sticks. Presumably this is because he went with the cheapest option, being stuck in Perpetual Poverty (not that it stops Mr. Ditkovich from taking what little money he can get).
  • For much of Trainspotting, the main characters live together in a heroin den that's an apartment in an abandoned building with almost no light, filth everywhere, and exposed insulation. Once Tommy starts doing drugs, he moves from a fairly normal apartment into a place like that. Once Mark gets clean and into a straight job (ironically real estate, where he's showing off fancy apartments), he moves into a small but clean studio, signifying his rise in life- which quickly becomes more hovel-like once his old junkie friends move in with him.
  • In Season of Miracles, Rafer and his dad live in a run-down, dirty, badly-lit house.


  • In 1984, the homes of the Outer Party members and the Proles are all filthy, dilapidated, and in a very poor state of repair. In particular, the Victory Mansion apartment block where Winston lives is in a constant state of breakdown: the lifts are always out of order, repairs around the apartments are strictly DIY, and the only thing that works are the omnipresent telescreens used to spy on the residents. Not that the Inner Party residences are much of an improvement...
  • In The Big Over Easy, Humpty Dumpty is found dead near his home in Grimm's Row, where he lived in a dingy, tiny room in a boardinghouse run by the world's meanest landlady in a bad part of town. The police are shocked by this fall from grace, as he was once a well-respected local luminary who recently publicly claimed to have a whole lot of money. Prometheus also lives there, due to his poverty and political persecution that resulted from his long imprisonment by Zeus. It turns out that that room wasn't Humpty's actual apartment, just his office, but one of his other residencies was just as bad- a nearly-abandoned row of flats filled with mold and about to be demolished. The reason for these poor living conditions was that Humpty was involved in all sorts of illegal money-laundering and suspected people were out to kill him.
  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as in its adaptations, Charlie's family lives in a one-room shack that is so small that his four grandparents are all forced to sleep in the same bed.
  • The Hunger Games: Present as a general rule, given that the authoritarian government controls everything. Poor locations like District 11 and 12 generally have worn, run-down, cramped housing to emphasize their districts' poverty, while individuals and Districts favored by the Capitol (like Districts 1 and 2, as well as Victor's Villages in every district) are more glamorous.
  • In Pachinko, after Sunja and Isak move to Japan, they live in a very small apartment with a tin roof and thin walls that allow everything to be heard, and located in a bad part of town with untrustworthy, criminal neighbors. Eventually they have two households with six people living there. Despite the crappy conditions, they are relatively well-off because they own the place, a fact they are encouraged to conceal to avoid inspiring jealousy. While some of this is due to the family's low income (Isak is a poorly-paid minister), it's also because, as Koreans, they aren't allowed to live anywhere nicer.
  • In Red Dwarf: Last Human, Lister is sentenced to a long stay in a Mind Prison for crimes against the GELF State, and though the VR scenario allows him civilian housing, his virtual home is easily the most disgusting place he could have ended up in: the bedroom is putrid even by Lister's standards, the kitchen is befouled with dirty dishes and cooking fat, the fridge is overflowing with putrescent gunk, and the neighbors are unconscionably noisy. Everything here is tailor-made to make Lister feel as uncomfortable and disgusted as possible, and it's so bad that Lister does everything he can to avoid staying at home... not that it's any better outside.
  • In Unforgiven by Lauren Kate, Lilith lives with her brother Bruce and mother in a derelict house in a poor part of town. The roof is caving in, the garden is abandoned and full of weeds and there are problems with running water because of faulty plumbing. Lilith's mother works in many part-time jobs, which don't bring her much money, and in any case she spends most on Bruce, who is seriously ill. Lilith calls her house at one point "a rusting eyesore". This contrasts with Rich Bitch Chloe's huge white mansion filled with marble.
  • In Eleanor & Park Eleanor, her mother, stepfather and four younger siblings all live in a tiny two bedroom house. The five kids are all crammed in one room, with the girls in a bunk bed and the boys sleeping on the floor. There’s only one bathroom which is attached to the kitchen with no door and they use the bathtub to do laundry.
  • Stormsong by C.L. Polk: Avia lives in a small apartment in a run-down tenement building since her wealthy family cut her off. Grace is taken aback when she learns that the building is owned by a company owned by her ex-fiancé's family.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Although the apartment from 2 Broke Girls has a fairly large living room and a small yard, it's otherwise not that great — it's in a bad part of New York, the utilities barely work, the girls have to share a bedroom, and at one point it's got a rusty nail pointing up in the middle of the floor. (Yes, someone steps on it.) As pointed out by the title, neither Max and Caroline have much money as they're diner waitresses who run a struggling cupcake business.
  • How I Met Your Mother: In season two, Lily is broken up from Marshall and searching for a place to live. The only place she finds is a tiny one-room apartment where the toilet is in the kitchen and the Murphy bed can't pull down all the way without leaning on the opposite wall. One night it gets stuck and when Lily manages to pull it down, it pulls the wall down with it.
  • Jessica Jones (2015) lives in a dingy and sparsely furnished apartment-turned-office, with a perpetually broken front door.
  • In Lodge 49, Long Beach's economy was ruined when a cult attempted to turn the city into a Company Town back in the sixties, and thus many of the recurring cast live in less-than-ideal conditions. Liz's apartment is small, has a broken dining table, and the bedroom is dominated by an old pool slide. Dud lives in a cramped old trailer on the outskirts of town. And Champ is squatting in the abandoned Orbis factory, where he is apparently competing for sovereignty with other squatters.
  • The Magicians (2016): Season 5 reveals that Hades has been on Earth, holed up in a crappy apartment in Queens playing video games and gorging on junk food. It's a sign of how miserable the God of the Underworld is that he would stoop to such living conditions.
  • Maniac
    • Owen Milgrim has been trying to live apart from his rich-but-neglectful family, but the rent in New York is so high that he can only afford a one-room apartment in a particularly depressing building - and even then the rent eats up most of his salary. As such, after losing his job to a long-term furlough, his worsening financial situation prompts him to take part in the Neberdine drug trials.
    • Annie Landsberg lives in a sharehouse, her room being a cramped, cluttered mess that she can barely keep in order. Though it at least looks a little more welcoming than Owen's apartment, it's still pretty dingy. Plus, Annie's addiction to the drug trial's "A" pill means that she's having trouble paying the rent as well.
  • In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the New York basement Lillian rents Kimmy and Titus definitely falls into this — it's in a gang-infested area, very cramped for two people, Kimmy lives in what's basically the closet, the floors are just "painted dirt", the shower is in the kitchen, and they have no door that separates their individual spaces. Titus lives there because he's a Starving Artist, but Kimmy, who was trapped in a bunker for over a decade, doesn't know any better and finds the place charming. The show is a comedy that runs on Kimmy's pluck and perk, so many of the place's failings (such as "a water stain that looks like a face") are Played for Laughs.

  • The crux of Pulp's "Mile End" concerns a group of desperate squatters forced to live in an abandoned 15th-floor apartment in a Mile End tower block: the place was boarded up to start with, it "smelled as if someone had died", the kitchen sink is blocked, the bathroom sink is gone, someone keeps pissing in the lift, and the neigbourhood is a crime-ridden hellhole where cars are regularly set on fire. According to Jarvis Cocker, this was actually based on a nine-month period stuck in one such apartment - which was so bad that Cocker was convinced that the previous tenant had murdered his wife and stuffed her down the drain (hence the sink blockage).

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the world and ruleset of Shadowrun, most people who live in Squatter or Low lifestyles live in horrible housing. The former, by definition, are illegally squatting in abandoned homes or office buildings and lack an official address or access to the public grid, so no power, running water, matrix access or other utilities. On top of this you live in constant fear of having police show up to evict you: About the only positive thing that can be said for Squatter lifestyle is that at least you have housing, unlike the ones living at Street lifestyle. Low lifestyle means living in places like one-room apartments in the shabbiest part of your Mega City's projects, or in housing owned by the Mega that owns you; your every expense is monitored and the utilities can and will be cut off several times a week during rationing. Gameplay-wise, living at below Low lifestyle means automatically forfeiting several things most players would take for granted, like banking services, access to public transport, or not having all the stuff you don't carry around stolen during a run.
  • Ars Magica: Characters' living conditions affect their aging dice rolls. Once they hit middle age, people in bad housing are more likely to get sick, suffer permanent losses to their game statistics, and die early.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: Living conditions at the "squalid" level, such as a vermin-infested boarding house, expose a character to violence, disease, and deprivation with little hope of aid or legal recourse.

    Video Games 
  • Choice of the Deathless: The cheapest housing option for the player character is a rickety shoebox of an apartment above a bar in the very worst part of town. Which leads to a Funny Moment when Wakefield first shows up for a visit.
  • In Dragon Age II, Merrill lives in a run-down one-room hovel in the Alienage, the poorest section of Kirkwall. It's implied that all of the neighboring houses are of comparable size and squalor.
  • In Grand Theft Auto V, Trevor Philips' domicile of choice is a squalid little trailer in Sandy Shores, and given that he's a meth-addicted alcoholic gas-huffing Ax-Crazy psychopath with dubious personal hygiene and a habit of trying to flush corpses down the toilet, it likely hasn't been cleaned in years. Furthermore, Trevor insists on staying here no matter how much money he makes off heists and the meth trade. After kidnapping Martin Madrazo's wife, Patricia, she actually tidies up the place and even makes a start on gardening, but when Trevor is forced to return her, the trailer quickly returns to its usual putrescence.
  • In The Park, Lorraine's house is a dingy, filthy, dilapidated-looking wreck with only only three rooms and a decidedly uninviting decor. Lorraine can barely afford to keep the lights on at the best of times, and recalls spending a lot of time reading to Callum whenever the power got shut off; for good measure, it's not uncommon for the kitchen to be littered with empty liquor bottles. It's also Lorraine's Black Bug Room: the Bogeyman traps her here as part of her ongoing Mind Rape, decorating the place with blood, mocking letters, burning dolls, and hanged corpses. Of course, following the events of the game, Lorraine's housing situation becomes even more depressing: she most commonly sleeps in war zones, ghost cities and ruins; the one time she's seen renting a nice hotel room, it's to commit suicide.
  • In Tropico, if you don't build any housing, your citizens will be forced to build and live in shacks, which have the lowest housing quality rating in the game (5). Even the lowest quality housing you can build (bunkhouses and tenements) is considered much better, with quality ratings of 25 and 35 (in comparison, apartments have a rating of 60, standalone middle-class houses have a rating of 70, and luxury houses have a rating of 95).
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines:
    • The first haven you get in the game is a one-room apartment above a pawn shop in a particularly grungy part of Santa Monica. The room is filthy, the bathroom's worse, there's no sheets on the bed, and there's nothing to cover the windows with - indicating that you'd be fried in the sun if you were crazy enough to actually sleep here.
    • The Nosferatu haven. A gift from Primogen Gary Golden to Nosferatu players, it's hidden in the sewers of downtown Los Angeles, and most of it consists of bare concrete except for the bits covered by collected decorations. As dank as it is, this is actually an improvement over the first haven, given that it's much more spacious and better protected.
  • Black & White 2: Hovels are the cheapest, smallest, and nastiest way to house your villagers. They're also a deliberate cruelty, since you need to spend Tribute on the ability to build them. The default home has a lower production cost per resident and generates happiness instead of unhappiness, so the point of building hovels is to make people cramped and miserable.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: The two cheapest houses you can buy are squalid one-room shacks on the Imperial City waterfront and over a canal in the Wretched Hive of Bravil. The seller of the former reacts with a surprised "Why?" when you express interest, while that of the latter bluntly says that "the smell will soon make you forget how ugly it is."

  • Awful Hospital: Lady Celia, Bandit Princess!, tries to pretend that her ramshackle shack in the woods is "some wretched vagrant's filthy hovel". Fern isn't fooled, but lets the lie pass.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Otto the bus driver lives in a run-down, completely unfurnished apartment, and is temporarily evicted in "The Otto Show". In "You Only Move Twice", he's amazed that the Simpsons' house has windows.
    • Played for Laughs in "Realty Bites" when Marge starts work as a realtor and tries to sell some truly desperate properties. One house's front wall falls off mid-showing, exposing Lenny eating cereal in an empty, dingy room.
      Lenny: ...Please don't tell anyone how I live.
    • In the episode "My Fair Laddy", Groundskeeper Willie lives in a tiny shack (basically a glorified tool shed) with a leaking roof, indicative of his feral, uncivilized condition. Once Lisa teaches him how to be a gentleman, he moves out of the shack, and sings a song called "I Could be Indoors All Night". After he becomes dissatisfied with civilized life, he longs for the shack and moves back in.

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