Image: umjanedoan. http://www.flickr.com/photos/umjanedoan/

War of the Landlords

Image: umjanedoan. http://www.flickr.com/photos/umjanedoan/
Image: umjanedoan. http://www.flickr.com/photos/umjanedoan/

Image: umjanedoan. www.flickr.com/photos/umjanedoan/

Signing my name at the bottom of a joint and several tenancy agreement, alongside those of my three best friends, was scary to say the least. Many a question swam through my mind: How would we cope with one bathroom between four? How long would it take before a particular person’s habit of collecting crockery in her room would piss me off? How long would it take before we all hated each other?

A whole semester has passed and it’s safe to say that the only blood split was over a bowl of Alpen cereal. It’s been great and I couldn’t have chosen a better bunch to live with. It never occurred to me that the problems we’d have would come in the shape of Property Management.

We chose to rent our four bedroom Poplar flat through a Letting Agent. We imagined that an apparently respectable Letting Agent would be reasonable and deal with any arising issues swiftly and professionally. It all seemed very legit’.

How very wrong we were.

Before signing the contract we had been shown around the property by one of the Estate Agents; he was somewhat unprofessional, arriving late without the code to access the gates for entry into the complex. Nevertheless, we gave him the benefit of the doubt when a student still
living in the flat came down and let us in. The flat itself was spacious, secure and had a pretty impressive view of Canary Wharf. However, there was a lot of maintenance that evidently needed seeing to before we would be happy to move in, i.e. mould, crappy furniture and general filth. Our
request to have all of this rectified was written into our contract, and we all happily parted with £1500 each to secure the agreement.

We rocked up on moving in day excited and relieved to be moving into our new home. Our preconceptions of a smooth transition and a jolly trip to Camden to buy throws and incense sticks were soon shattered by reality; the flat was disgusting, nearly every piece of furniture was broken and basically, none of the maintenance we signed for had actually been carried out. What was more insulting was the attitude of the Letting Agency. One of their Agents came over, looked me in the eye and told me the property had been ‘professionally cleaned.’ “You and I obviously had
very different ideas of what constitutes ‘clean,’” I said, pointing to the sh*t of the previous tenants encrusting the rim of the toilet bowl.

We let it be, and spent months faffing about with maintenance issues: the extractor fan is broken, the kitchen worktop has rotted away, the boiler is broken etc. etc. etc.

So it was that on the first day of Christmas the Letting Agency gave to me, a lack of hot water caused by a broken, yes broken boiler, and just in time for a biting cold December! The Letting Agent, against the advice of four British Gas engineers, refuse to change the boiler, and will not do so until it is condemned as dangerous and a threat to our collective health. Apparently, gas poisoning, severe scalding, and being blown up ‘are not immediate health concerns.’ Need I say more about the tight-fisted callousness of these people?

And it seems we aren’t the only ones.

I spoke to fellow student Heulwuen Williams and apparently, renting directly from a landlord is no better “Our landlord is driving us insane. He’s a liar and doesn’t listen to anything we say,” she told me. “We have loads of problems with the house, like plumbing in the kitchen, ventilation in the
bathroom, heating. Our landlord is also the owner of the company, so we thought we were in the best position as he wouldn’t mess us about. We’ve been asking for him to make changes and fix things since September we’ve not had anyone in.” Hold on guys, it gets worse. “Also, they
scammed us – initially they said that rent would be £425 a week. Then we got the contract, it said it was £525 per week. We argued against it, they said that it worked out during the course of a year to be £425. At this point, it was too close to term time and we needed a house so we thought,
we just need a place. False advertisement and neglect – standard student landlord.”

A group of friends of mine recently had a visit from the previous tenants of the Stepney Green property they rent. Apparently, their landlord neglected to secure their £3000 deposit in an approved Deposit Protection Scheme, therefore, he’s simply pocketed it. They are in the process of a court case, and warn my friends that the deposit they paid upon moving in is probably sitting right in his illegal kitty.

There is an undeniable trend then for Landlords and Estate Agents renting to students to completely disregard comfort, safety and basic living rights in the selfish interests of profit. They think that because we’re students and we don’t have the financial means or the experience necessary to deal with contractual discrepancies, they can screw us over again and again. If you find yourself in a difficult situation like that which has been described, passivity is not an option. Be calm, be pragmatic, and use the resources available to you. If you can’t get anywhere with the Landlord or the Agency you let from, take it to the Residences Office at Queen Mary. I have found them to be incredibly helpful and sensitive to my predicament. As my Mother always tells me, don’t get mad, get even!

I may be a student, but I am not stupid and neither am I a pushover. I have hatched a rather genius plan to win this war. Stay tuned and sit comfortably for details of how I hire an independent company to fit a new boiler and take it out of this month’s rent!

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