Like many students starting a new academic year, a few friends and I moved into a new flat – it did not go smoothly.
From the heap of junk we found on the balcony (that I am pretty sure were not period features), to the flat’s general lack of cleanliness, the epitome of which was a fridge caked in gunk, with several half-empty jars, a half-eaten red onion and a bag of frozen peas left over from the previous tenants (if they were aiming for a housewarming gift, they could have tried literally anything else). Admittedly, the coffee stains, makeup stains and footprints on the walls did add a certain aesthetic (that we spent several hours removing with anti-bacterial wipes). Of course, we cannot leave out the used makeup pads, the used earbuds, other used things, the McDonald’s ketchup packets, as well as the dust and plaster we found on top of all the kitchen units. I could go on and talk about the collection of dead bugs we found, but I think you get the point.
And if we did not all die from some ghastly parasitic disease, fire would have been next on the list. There was no battery in one of the smoke detectors and we found coal in the cupboard near the front door, in what looked like an old coal bunker. Since coal is a combustible fuel, some might consider this to be a fire hazard.
However, the biggest problem (yes, there is more) was the lock on the front door. Unfortunately, the two letting agents that came around on the day we moved in were about as bright as an eclipse (which, incidentally, you would not have wanted to look directly at either), and testing whether the front door actually locked was far beyond their abilities. So, unbeknown to us, we spent the first night in our new ‘home’ with the door unlocked. For several days afterwards, the door could only be locked from the inside, so someone had to stay inside the flat at all times.
Eventually, and after I shouted at the letting company, we managed to get a reduction in October’s rent by a not-so-whopping £100. When we countered with a larger figure, the landlord phoned me and told us to take the £100 and if we did not want to, then he strongly ‘suggested’ we might want to leave.
At this point, you are probably wondering which letting company I am talking about. Well, that will remain a mystery. It is not because I am afraid of being sued for libel; everything I said was true, and there is evidence to support it. It is because as students (especially in an expensive city like London), we are often forced to rent the bottom of the housing barrel. We all need to be vigilant when deciding where to live, no matter what company is renting it out. Vigilance can be difficult, given the speed of the London housing market. It moves so quickly that you often have no time at all to make a decision – a single five-minute viewing and if you want it, you have to say so there and then, or someone else will take it. The first property we looked at was snapped up by another group, fifteen-minutes after our viewing! So, efficiency is also key.
Unfortunately, there are no obvious solutions to these problems (although, a nice rug and few fairy lights can help). I would recommend, however, taking lots of pictures, showing what is wrong to other people (so that you have witnesses) and not being afraid to ask for compensation if you think you deserve it; we only got £100, but it was better than nothing. Remember, there is plenty of help available at the university housing hub, as well as other places like the ‘Citizens Advice Bureau’ and legal action is always there, as a final option.
Although, my biggest piece of advice is this: if you have to live in a sh**hole, share it with friends.