The answer is no, and before I continue this little rant about the student housing market I should probably change ‘second class housing’ to ‘squats’. Unfortunately, instead of living in uninhabited factories and scrounging off a neighbour’s electricity and WiFi for free, tens of thousands of students are being duped into living in properties with the cleanliness and disrepair of a squat, all whilst paying upwards of £300 a month.
What follows is an account of my hardships, helpfully punctuated with some basic rules to bear in mind if you plan to avoid the mistakes I didn’t.
In early December I found myself unwittingly co-signing a contract with little knowledge of the sheer level of frustration I was to endure just a few months down the line. After viewing the property in Portswood, Southampton’s most popular student district, all seemed well. The floors were covered with videogames and pants and the whole house smelt of burnt toast and bolognese; we accepted this was the norm.
- RULE 1: Imagine what the house looks like underneath everything. Look for damp, reproducing mould, giant sewer rats etc.
We didn’t really fall in love with the house, nor did we catch onto the fact the ‘housing rush’ around Christmas is fabricated anually by money-hungry Agencies who prey on ignorant little Freshers like us. We believed that by February not a single house would be left on the market.
If we had known that, even in July, housing better than the dump I’ve been stuck with was waiting for anyone willing to look for it, I would’ve told the man in the suit to go do one.
- Rule 2: The housing rush is a lie. Ignore those who tell you “but all the good ones are going!”; they’re not. If you leave house hunting and contract signing until closer to the start of your prospective tenancy, the property is more likely to be in the same state as it will be when you move in, as you’re viewing it.
Knowing we needed one little kick up the bum, the kind man showing us around the property promised us homemade cakes awaiting our arrival at the office.
He delivered the confectionary, but the rest remains to be seen. I suppose the bannoffee cupcake can offer me some solace as I stand in my damp and dirty house.
- Rule 3: Don’t accept bribes of cupcakes.
The first of July was probably the first time we realised we’d made the wrong decision. We knew the landlord situation was a 50/50 gamble, you either get an amazingly helpful and friendly one who sends you a new oven as soon as it breaks, or you get one that doesn’t give a shit and takes a week to put an ignition button on so you can actually cook. We got the latter.
We moved in to find a broken bed, mould and damp, windows with broken locks, a toilet that had never been cleaned, glass in the garden, unusable furniture and a sofa that had some dodgy looking stains all over it.
- Rule 4: For the love of God go through the Landlord; make sure he’s accessible and keen to help.
- Rule 5: If you move into a home the Agent and his wife would sooner burn down in the name of health and safety than sleep in, take a full inventory and send it to the Landlord and the council.
I think the worst part about having to live in a house that, by many people’s standards, would be classed as uninhabitable is that the Estate Agents refuse to make contact or help in any way. Unfortunately the property is managed through them, and upon requests for the Landlord’s details I have been swiftly shot down and told he wouldn’t speak to me even if I tried. Meany.
It’s been an uphill struggle, consisting of numerous calls to the council, emails to Southampton’s MP and Mayor, all asking for help. What else do we do when the Agency fail to respond to every e-mail and phone call? No promise of a call back or a fixed house is ever met. When I do talk to the one woman in the office who picks up her phone, she either tells me she’ll ring me back or snaps at me for hassling her. When I informed said woman that the house was filthy, she shouted at me and told me it had been thoroughly “deep” cleaned, before promptly hanging up.
If there’s one way to run a business badly, surely this is it.
- Rule 6: If you are experiencing problems with the Landlord/Estate Agent, CC all your correspondence to your constituent MP and councillors, as well as the Mayor and Southampton’s private housing department.
It’s been a learning curve, if anything. Even after some help from the council, I’m not naive enough to believe that this battle with my Cowboy Estate Agents is over.
Hopefully my little story will help you out if you ever find yourself in a situation like this; if not, well done on picking the good guys.
One parting note: Students are easy money for Estate Agents and Landlords. You’ll find many don’t care if a cupboard is broken or the carpet’s in poor condition; you’re stuck in a contract for 12 months. They also assume students won’t do anything about their unprofessional behaviour; many don’t. The more of us who take a stand against this kind of crap, the more successful we’ll be in securing acceptable housing for students.
For more information on housing, including many more helpful tips I’ve missed, head over to http://www.susu.org/life/steps-to-finding-a-house and http://www.susu.org/life/booklets/Housing-Guide.pdf. I probably should have.