Friday, 13 May 2016

The Nasty Truths of Student Renting: Non-Pintrestworthy Bedrooms & Frankenstein Homes


Sometimes you might get lucky with a student let. You may find a private landlord, a nice, dry and airy home with hot water and a garden, and it may even be the thing of instagram dreams. Your rent may even be affordable. You, are one fortunate individual. Sadly, our house is not that house. House? Did I say house? sorry, what I meant was - Jumble of misshapen, damp rooms that are secretly a  draughty greenhouse cultivating mould and dry rot disguised as a ground floor flat. 
Today, I'm going to tell you the sorry tale of our student letting experiences. 





It all looks fine and dandy on the surface, if you just focus on the tiny aspects and get the angle right. You're probably thinking: "Well, at least she has got a roof over her head, I don't know what she's complaining about," and you'd be correct. I do have a roof over my head, I should be grateful for that. I am.
But gratitude and appreciation that I have a better situation than somebody else does not hide the fact that students are utterly taken advantage of when it comes to renting their housing. The standard of housing that students are expected to be satisfied with and not only that, but pay through the nose for, is abominable - and something needs to be done about it.

I have rented four lots of student accommodation in my life and all four have had their negative experiences. The first was student Halls of residence.
For some, Halls is the absolute best. Being in a giant - almost hotel-like complex of contained flats among hundreds of other students. There's always at least five parties happening at any one time, and usually in the flat right above yours when you're trying to get to sleep. If you're highly social, love parties and meeting new people, then Halls are probably perfect for you. If you're like me and are overwhelmed by sheer amounts of people and like personal space, then I'd probably forgo Halls and opt for a house share or studio flat (if you can afford that).
The quality of Halls isn't something I can truly complain about - surely ours were tired and worn, but we were always warm and the running water was always hot. You learn to be very grateful for these things once you reach student housing.

Now when I use the term 'Frankenstein home,' I'm referring to houses that clearly no longer follow their original internal layout. You might find rooms randomly tacked on somewhere, they're often odd shapes with bizarrely angled ceilings and it's not unusual for them to completely forget to put in a window. It's as though the landlords just want to squeeze as many bedrooms into the tiniest house as possible - and why would you not want to do that when you can charge anything upwards from £300 pcm per bedroom? Even if it's at the expense of a student who may be crammed into the smallest cupboard with a bed on earth, without a desk to work on and forced to shove their clothes under the bed. Who needs space and clothes anyway, right?




Next there's the furniture. Not all student lets are that bad when it comes to furniture, but a lot of them are. Some landlords make an effort and at least pick something that doesn't look like it was fished out of that scene on the Labyrinth with the junk yard lady. But when it comes down to it, the early bird catches the better-student-housing-worm, and the ratio of shoddy housing to nice housing is pretty heavy on the not so great side. Having nasty furniture in your house doesn't make the rent any cheaper either. And I'm not fussing about just your non-matching, shabby stuff - I'm talking about wobbly, hole ridden, ripped, chipped, rotting peeling, generally-falling-apart variety. Some houses I looked around still had furniture, wallpaper and curtains from the seventies and the carpets smelled like they hadn't been cleaned since then either. It wasn't even the cool retro kind, the appliances and decor suggested that landlords had been successfully letting that property since the prehistoric era and well, if it ain't broke - why fix it? Just don't ask your Dad to take a look at the electrics. 

The only reason we took our flat, was because George and I had decided to move in together and one bedroom student flats are like gold dust in Bath. We had looked at a gorgeous little cottage a few weeks before - sure it had damp, single glazing, all the usual issues with renting, but it was spacious and affordable. George wanted the weekend to mull it over, and by Monday we dashed straight to the letting agents to put down a deposit but it had already gone about an hour before we got there.
This flat, was pretty much the last thing going. It was with the notorious student letting agency Roman City who have a reputation in Bath for being soulless, money grabbing, generally unpleasant villains who make the letting experience very unpleasant for you. We didn't want to go with them but we really didn't have any choice - it was the only student property with one bedroom left at that point, and if we took a non-student property, it would mean furnishing a place entirely ourselves and paying an enormous deposit. We just didn't have the funds for that.


Roman City were terrible from the get go. They were rude and patronising to us, they treated us with no respect, they were confrontational, threatening and highly unprofessional. Throughout the year, we've had problem after problem with their treatment of us (and we're non-confrontational, kind people!) but it's not just us - speak to anybody who have rented through Roman City and they'll all tell you the same thing. Stay well away. They fine you for every little hidden clause they can sneak into their contracts and juice you like a fruit for every last bit of money you have. A few years ago, one of my friends who was renting with them was fined £90 for cobwebs in the garden shed. If you're renting with Roman City, you can wave goodbye to your deposit. It doesn't matter how clean you keep your house, they'll find something. 

So, we know that students are ripped off, taken advantage of by the letting agents/landlords and treated with no respect on the grounds that 'we're all just lazy good-for-nothings,' and we know that the furniture is generally pretty pants. One example, is our bed frame. It has the most bizarre shaped headboard. We call it the decapitator because most nights, it sucks my pillows down the back and I wake up with my head stuck between the bars. The designer of this bed frame needs to be made to sleep on it for a year, because I'm covered in bruises from its abuse. 



Now it starts to get really nasty. If you've got a weak stomach, stop reading now. 
So the day we moved in, we noticed a funny smell about the place. It wasn't until we were carrying out our inventory that we realised what it was. The flat has a dry rot invasion and the wood skirting boards are just falling off the walls. Every week I'm hoovering up damp, fungussy skirting and it doesn't matter that we leave the dehumidifier on 24/7 or fling open the windows, the house is always damp, colder on the inside than it is outside and infested with mold and rot. 
You can feel under the lino in the bathroom that the floor has perished and it's sodden and squishy. Don't walk barefoot, you'll catch your skin on the screws sticking out all over the place and what ever you do - DON'T look at the state of the skirting board behind the toilet and bath. I don't even want to describe it to you. 
It doesn't matter how many air fresheners or oils you use, there's no getting rid of the smell of the dry rot and mould. So far, I've lost three pairs of shoes, a jacket and flannelette blankets to the mould, because it gets into your cupboards and destroys your belongings. We've got black mould all around the bedroom walls (particularly in the corners) even though we keep the heating on throughout the day and night as well as the dehumidifiers. I keep those silicone damp attractors in the cupboards but it doesn't seem to work - and moths have recently moved in too, so they're nibbling at my clothes and making tiny holes.
Moths aren't the only critters that have made themselves at home here, RATS HAVE MOVED IN. 
We've never seen one in the house yet (we don't leave food out and keep the flat as clean as we can) but they live in our walls. The bedroom is a Frankenstein extension, a lean-to with a corrugated iron roof. There's a gap between the ceiling and roof and most nights, we're kept up by scratching, pattering feet, squealing and thumping of the family of rats that live with us. We've spoken to the landlord about this, who shrugs and says "well, we do live by the canal," which is true. He'll put down rat bait (which makes me feel horribly guilty) and then the house will stink like dead rat for a while. When that goes away, it'll be quiet for a few weeks and then eventually, new rats will move in and the process starts all over again. 







 I'm refraining from showing you the worst pictures because nobody truly wants to see that. I'll be honest, the last year living here hasn't been easy. Although we're on the canal (which I love) and the property is in a great location, we're paying almost £800 a month for what is truly horrible value for money. Bath is expensive in general, but you can pay £800 a month for a property that's in a lot better condition if you're not a student. The truth is, landlords are lazy when it comes to students. They expect us to throw loud parties and ruin their properties. I understand that, but they shouldn't charge the same (and quite often more) money than much better properties and expect students to live in damp, rotting, conditions. If you're going to let a tired, drab property - then the rent should reflect that. 
So the lesson here, is that if you're a student - don't let yourself be taken advantage of and don't leave it to the last minute to find housing. We need to raise awareness of the nationwide rip-off of student properties, and letting agents need to be reigned in from their bad/sneaky practices - because don't even get me started on inventory fees  and hidden costs. 

The one thing we have enjoyed from our property, has been the lovely windows in the lounge. We get delightful light in the evening and being able to walk right out and around onto the canal has been just lovely. 
I'm really looking forward to coming home and moving into our first property in Cornwall. I've learned a lot from my experiences of being a student, mostly being grateful of luxuries such as storage, hot water, airing cupboards and washing lines. 

I don't normally like to be too openly negative, but to portray to you all that my life is perfect and free from problems would be dishonest. Always look beyond the surface, because just like this flat (which looks pretty on the outside) it's riddled with little hiccups. This year spent in our flat has been full of sleepless nights (being kept up by rats) bitter cold and constantly trying to keep the skirting board mess at bay. The truth is, I don't live in a pinterest-worthy home and it's not all fine and dandy - but we cope and we wear extra wooly layers until that happy day when we can move out. 

It's about comfort, and warmth and practicality. You should feel safe and cosy in a home and living somewhere dry shouldn't be considered a luxury, a bit like tampons. Everybody should have the right to a dry, safe home - but that's a whole other story for a whole other day. 








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10 comments

  1. Argh so much of this resonates! I was a student in Bath and we had a lovely landlord who treated us really well, but we still had mould, rats, mice, and terrible Ikea furniture. Also three hoovers, none of which worked! Bath is terrible for damp, in one of the rooms in our 4-bed my housemate would wake up with a wet pillow because there was condensation all over her wall. I am glad to be out of it, and glad that you won't have to deal with it much longer!

    C

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  2. Your experience sounds really horrible! A home should truly be a place where you can feel at ease and I have no trouble imagining that this isn't exactly easy when you hear rats in the walls and have to fear that all your clothes are getting moldy! Nobody should have to go through anything like that, so I think it's great that you spread the message - if more people do, maybe one day things can change! I also have trouble comprehending how any landlord can live with himself being so non-chalant - do people really just think of the money?

    Fortunately, my own student letting experience has been quite nice. I live in a lovely studio flat whose only downside is not being in the most central location, but I definitely appreciate having a safe haven to come home to after a long day of studying. Renters in Germany, where I live, have quite a bit of rights, so landlords are legally obliged to keep the apartment in working order and if they don’t you can just lower your rent. It’s also hard for landlords to terminate a renting contract, so they can’t exactly threaten to throw you out. Finding a place to live in the first place is hard, though… because renters do have so many rights, landlords just don’t want to rent to anyone, so there’s definitely a flipside to the coin.
    In any case… I hope your next renting experience will be much more pleasant and maybe be more pinterest-worthy! ;)

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  3. OMG Sarah, I can't believe you have to deal with such conditions. On the surface it does look quite Pinterest worthy but, Reading about the insects, seeing that image of what looks like mold, and rats. Urghhhh. Tbh, I think you deserve the right to complain. Yes it's very first world problems, but I cannot imagine living in those conditions. Esp if you paid a good sum of money for it.

    X Carina

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  4. I would be shocked, but I think it's the case of so many people. Just walking into my brothers student house reminded me of that oh so familiar smell. I was lucky enough with my student house, it was dry-ish compared to most peoples, and pretty cheap, though every available space was a bedroom - I spent 2 years living in a room 2mx2.5m with all my clothes kept on the landing. The whole place just wasn't loved or cared for in the slightest - to the point where we once were woken up in a storm as the extractor had blown in through the kitchen window. When it was "fixed" the landlord simple stuck two pieces of perspex over the hole either side! We also had a hole in the kitchen ceiling to stop the dripping pipe from the bathroom above accumulating water. Still, we had free reign to put up pictures and posters and nails in the walls, and living with illustrators meant we had a very eclectic and arty decor. You're so close to moving out now, it will be a relief to get out of there - but will provide great stories when you look back on it later! Alice xxx

    www.woodenwindowsills.co.uk

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  5. Sadly I understand what you mean. I have been through a very similar experience myself (last 4 years too!!) and it's been a nightmare. One time our boiler broke for about 6 weeks during the cold months and all the landlord did was send an engineer to 'fix it' - he did not. He handed us some paperwork which said it needed fixing but she only replaced it the remaining few weeks we were about to move out, and charged us for all the 'damage' we made to the house. We had to go to arbitration for this and it took a year to finally settle the costs.

    I can't believe the mold situation though - how on earth is this still supposed to be in good conditions?! Renters have absolutely crappy rights under UK property law and they've recently changed it again to strengthen landlord's rights so it sucks even more. I honestly have had it by now with renting but as buying is near impossible where we are, we have no choice either. Lucky that our property management is a quasi charity and the property are pretty well kept and maintained but UGH I HATE THIS WHOLE SITUATION NO ONE SHOULD BE TREATED LIKE THIS.

    Students set a bad name to renting esp with property damage but there's also a substantial amount of student who genuinely want to live a clean, comfortable and safe space but are being prevented from doing so!!

    Cherie | sinonym

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  6. That is utterly disgraceful!! I'm utterly disgusted you had to live somewhere so shoddy and detrimental to your health. It isn't acceptable. And £800??? I was paying £900 a month up to February for a 3bedroom semidetached modern house with a garden!!! As a student, I only spent 1year in London and we had a lovely place with garden, piano, great furniture!!

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  7. Oh no! That's terrible! :( Like Melanie, your home should be a place of comfort after a long day at uni. Thank you for sharing this post, Sarah! I've been planning to go to the UK for graduate studies, and of course, student accommodation is one of the things I have to be careful about.

    £800 is too much! It even sucks more that landlords have more power over tenants, who have rights too! :(

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  8. Ugh, so sorry to hear that you've had such a horrible experience! It's dreadful that letting agencies feel like they can treat you like that, just because you're a student. I've heard really bad stories about student flats in Glasgow too, but so far I haven't had too much trouble (Touch wood!!). Sure, my letting agency has a bit of a bad rep (but so far they've been decent to me! ...again, touch wood), and my flat is single-glazed and freezing during the winter, but thankfully no mould or rats or anything really shocking!

    Like you say, you should be able to feel comfortable and safe in your own home, and the fact that you haven't is just terrible! But not long until you're moving to Cornwall now..! I hope you'll find somewhere that feels truly like home there.

    Mimmi xx
    Muted Mornings

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  9. I'll let you in on a little secret: I love my home, it's small, based on the farm in its own little paddock, it's full of quirky and interesting furniture and we've spent time on making it our own and we're very happy with it, BUT it is a twin unit mobile home that cost us £7000 a few years ago! You'd never realise as it feels like a bungalow that's been built 2 foot above the ground, it has a 1950's Rayburn in the kitchen, a conservatory and decking built around the French Windows that over look the fields. But it is what it is! Unless you are actually inside the Rayburn during winter it is bitterly cold (cold enough to freeze the water in the pipes= no water!), it leaks like Henry's bucket (Delilah, Delilah) and you can't go crazy look with dancing as the whole thing shakes!

    Having said all of that, I love it! Everything in it was either gifted, made or up cycled by us. Our home is literally built with hardwork and love. And that makes the leaks, cold and shakiness become some of its quirks which we live with rather than suffer.

    It's different when it's your own,l because you have free rein with it. Renting not so much and it must be hell!

    Kim xXx

    countrybumble.blogspot.co.uk

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