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This time last year everyone in my flat on campus was faced with a decision – do we choose to stay on campus, or do we search for accommodation in town? Thinking the chances of getting a space on campus to be low, we opted for the latter, and chose to search for a house with the Student Union housing company, LUSU Living. We signed the lease for a house, which had several issues, which we were promised would be fixed before we moved in.
After the summer holiday, we moved in, and the problems began. The issues we had been assured would be fixed simply hadn’t – including five substantial holes in our bathroom wall to the outside world and an extractor fan that squealed loudly when the bathroom light was turned on. There were also further problems we didn’t anticipate – we found there was a missing glass plate in our oven which meant that we couldn’t use it until it was repaired, a skylight in an upstairs bedroom was jammed open, and whenever we used one of our showers water poured through the ceiling of our kitchen. Shortly after we moved in our fridge/freezer broke down, causing all of our food to expire, exacerbated by the fact that we couldn’t cook anything in our oven. Furthermore, it was obvious to us that our house hadn’t been cleaned during the summer, evident because of mould in our fridge (which hadn’t broken at that point), among other issues. To us, this was something that we believed should have been fixed during the holiday, but it wasn’t the biggest of issues – we simply reported our issues to LUSU Living, and trusted them to sort them out.
Days passed, with no sign of anything. Whenever we contacted Living, we were assured that cleaners would be coming, but that our other issues would take a little longer to sort, as they had more pressing matters – other houses were apparently still going without gas.
The cleaners never came. Several times we were informed that cleaners would be coming on certain days, but each time we stayed in the house specifically to let them in there was no sign of them. Another week went by and there was still no sign of workmen, who we were continually told would be with us soon. We eventually came to the conclusion that our complaints were simply not being taken seriously. At one point, one of my flatmates went into the office to check and see if anything was being done, to overhear people in the office talking about our house, saying “the saga continues”. Never at any point did we feel that we were being unreasonable in our requests, but obviously those in the office disagreed with our attempts to restore our house to the condition it should have been in when we arrived.
After a while, we decided that we weren’t going to communicate with the office verbally anymore. We wrote an e-mail outlining all of our issues in detail, and asking when they would all be fixed. We also added that, should nothing happen, we would seek legal advice over how to proceed with the matter.
Luckily, we never had to resort to this. A few days after sending the e-mail our house was full of workmen. It had taken around three weeks of complaints in order to receive a working fridge, but in general the issues were sort-of fixed around this point. It took another week or two to fix our oven, and we have only just regained the use of our upstairs shower, but the bulk of these issues were addressed shortly after we gave LUSU Living an ultimatum. At the time of writing, our kitchen ceiling will still slightly leak on occasion, and our landline won’t make outgoing calls, and the holes in our walls were simply covered with plastic vents, but in general the house is in a reasonable condition now. In their email response to us, however, they stated that the house had been cleaned before we arrived, which was clearly not the case – if the house had been cleaned during the summer, it would have been clean when we arrived, and they would have noticed the issues, such as holes in our bathroom wall.
One of the main issues we discovered when considering our options was that, according to our contract, we weren’t able to withhold rent for any reason, even if LUSU Living weren’t responding to our issues. When we decided to get a house with LUSU, it was because we thought that, as a Student Union run company, it would look out for the students it was providing accommodation to, something that we haven’t experienced this year.
I would like to say that I have met people who have had very positive experiences with LUSU Living, as well as those who have had both positive and negative experiences elsewhere. The important thing is to be careful, whoever and wherever you search for accommodation. When there are potential issues, ask what will be done about them before you move in. If there are issues, be firm when asking for them to be fixed, and most importantly, don’t skim over the contact – read it carefully. My experiences have been negative, but so long as you take care, issues with your accommodation next year should be minimal, and you can enjoy living off campus.