I think many of us who are students or ‘young professionals’ have experienced the perils of sharing a house which wouldn’t be deemed habitable if given a proper inspection. My post today is about one such experience, in a house I occupied a couple of years ago.
I was quite naive when I went for my initial viewing. Though I’d lived alone previously – in an apartment during college – the accommodation had been chosen for me by my Social Worker. I wasn’t involved the process and so the place which inspires this post was the first one selected by myself.
The first thing I noticed when I approached the doorway for the first time was the noticeable absence of the landlord. I’d taken a relative of mine – as a guarantor – and she remarked that it was quite unprofessional for him to be tardy for a viewing. He sauntered up breezily 15 minutes from the driver’s seat of a brightly coloured sports vehicle greeting us with a heavily accented “hello”.
My room to be was on the right. I peered inside once the door was open and gasped. It was enormous! I’d been worried about having a suitable amount of space for my electronic piano as I now had to share and felt relieved that there was sufficient space in the room to accommodate it and other small furniture I’d accumulated over the past year. This was my mistake. By focusing on that room’s dimensions I failed to notice the various faults within the house – ones which would cause me duress throughout the following year. To be fair to her, my guarantor did make some critical comments when the landlord was out of earshot however in my eagerness for independence I waved her concerns aside – signing for the tenancy on the spot.
I moved in a few weeks later. The first unusual thing I noticed was the fridge. On the outside it was complete unremarkable – if a bit old-looking – but the inside was repulsive. The interior was caked with grime and a putrid odour wafted through the kitchen whenever the door was open causing me feel instantly nauseated. The cooker was marginally better however the lining of the appliance peeled and the white colour was suspiciously yellow in numerous places. I barely cooked in the weeks to follow – barely managing to survive on carefully rationed takeaways and substances that survived well at room temperature in my cupboard.
For some reason, my landlord decided to do us all a favour and purchase a new fridge. I was so relieved by the change that I barely gave it a second thought when he approached me in private to request a contribution for the fridge. He claimed that he’d asked all of my housemates. It was only when a friend remarked that that interchange was weird that I decided to ask my housemates whether they’d been approached also by him. They hadn’t and revealed certain negative aspects of his character. It was at this point that I realised that there was more to the man than what was apparent at the surface.
The problems continued:
- The hot water was infuriatingly temperamental. When it did work, the shower seemed to only have two settings: hell and icy. There were only a few moments of manageable lukewarm bliss before the extreme temperature assaulted your bare flesh.
- The heating in our rooms was nonexistent. Infact, it was only after I’d moved from the place that I discovered that the coconut oil I had in the jar was meant to be of a consistency similar to that butter. In the house, though, it was always rock solid :p.
- There was a rat colony within the building and insufficient bins for the number of residents which exacerbated the vermin problem as we were forced to dump the extra bags in the back yard.
These, amongst other things, were mentioned to the landlord. A minority of problems were resolved but others he ignored. Of the things he fixed, he would usually apply a temporarily solution or use a handyman of questionable quality causing the problem to reoccur after a period of time. By the time we were in the grip of winter I realised that I would definitely have to move out at the end of the year’s tenancy. Even with the heater I purchased from Argos roaring at full blast, my hands would be frozen stiff in the mornings and it would take a few minutes of vigorous friction in the morning infront of the heater to restore circulation to my fingers. As a piano player, my dexterity is something I continuously worry about and so the situation – as you might imagine – caused some anxiety.
About a month before I was set to vacate the premises, I received a startling letter from one of utility providers. It informed me that I was the named person for the gas and electricity bill and had appropriated a significant amount of fuel debt. I was shocked. I was aware that so far there was a named tenant for each bill to whom the housemates would pay their proportion of the usage but it never occurred to me that the landlord would put my name down as the bill holder, particularity as he knew I was leaving. I complained to him but he waived his responsibility explaining that there was nothing he could do.
I managed to get payments from a couple of the people I shared with as well as someone who’d left but there was still some due when I moved out. The landlord assured me that he’d get the other housemates to pay and I thus thought the matter resolved. I’d seen him use his disregard for boundaries and persistent nature to harass someone and thought that he could use those annoying traits to my advantage this time. I felt somewhat guilty for having a hand in subjecting them to the treatment but I justified it mentally as they owed me money and I was broke.
A few weeks passed and there was neither any word from the housemates nor an appearance of funds in my account. Warning letters were arriving at my new address and I began to feel panicked. I contacted the landlord and he denied having agreed to help me with the bill problem. He claimed that there was damage caused to the property by me and tried to blackmail me saying that he’d return some post that had arrived in my name as well as arrange for the bills to get paid if I paid him £300 for the damages he claimed I made.
I felt desperate and regrettably sent him £100 as I felt fearful as I didn’t have any proof to support my knowledge that the house was in a similar level of disrepair when I initially moved in. I decided not to send any more, gave up on getting my post back and arranged a repayment plan with the utility company.
I have since found out that he tried to do a similar thing with another housemate who’d moved in shortly before my exit of the property. I’m glad she had the guts to not pay an extra penny to the guy! This experience has certainly taught me to choose carefully where one lives.