‘30,000,000 landlords and rich peasants will have to be destroyed’, stated a Chinese Communist Party bulletin just before Mao Zedong’s rise to power, heralding the beginning of what later would be called a ‘classicide’; and while most right-thinking people today would disapprove strongly of the method, one cannot help but sympathise with the motive.
My letting agency is garbage. I won’t call them out directly but note that their name is disturbingly similar to that of Hitler’s wife. They are pond-scum. Although perhaps this is being too kind: pond-scum forms an important link in a complex chain of living organisms which feed off each other in a system of delicate beauty. My letting agency has no such purpose.
I promise I’m not exaggerating. My flatmate Jake* arrived a month before the rest of us in early August. He found a disgusting flat in a state of total disrepair. To begin with, everything was filthy: the floors, the mattresses (reeking of the sweat of the previous tenants), the windows, the countertops — everything.
And that was the small stuff. One of the toilets flushed so weakly that it had to be designated a ‘Pee-Pee Only’ zone. The shower drain was clogged with hair and razor blades. The shower itself doesn’t work, dribbling tepid water in an imitation of what I imagine it’s like to be urinated on. The toaster, God help us, was also clogged with (human?) hair. One of the bathrooms was being slowly taken over by mold. The white kitchen cabinets were yellow with accumulated grease and pock-marked at random intervals with what looked like handprints. A large wooden board in the kitchen was (and is still) rotting away. There were holes in the cheap plastic kitchen floor. There were holes in several walls, too — one of which was hidden behind a broken clock. And believe me, I could go on.
But as nightmarish as this sounds, it would all have been forgiven and forgotten had Hitler’s Wife Ltd made the slightest effort to accommodate our requests for help. Instead, emails were never replied to, or were replied to very slowly. Promised deadlines came and went with no update from their end. Joiners, plumbers, painters, electricians, and builders came and went, but the issues persisted. The mold was wiped away; a toilet was fixed. But poor Jake had to do most of the cleaning himself, and our shower still doesn’t work (nor, as we discovered on one particularly chilly night not too long ago, does our central heating). I even went in person to the office, over half a dozen times at least, and still our shower only trickles when it should by all rights spurt, spritz, or spray.
But the icing on the cake, the real kicker, is that the bastards, that gaggle of incompetents, somehow managed to let our HMO license expire midway through our tenancy, notifying us of our 28-day grace period before we are unceremoniously evicted from our home. ‘Human error’, they told us. This has never happened before, they said. We’re sorry, they said.
A legal battle would be costly, the solicitor said; there would be no guarantee of victory and if we lost we would be liable not only for court and legal fees but also rent unpaid. University officials gave us similar news: we could fight eviction and demand compensation, but their advice was to move out.
Maybe the saddest thing about this whole affair is that even if we had read our letting agency’s reviews online, I’m not sure that we would have done anything differently. We were desperate; the rent was good, the location even better. So, while I am fully in support of initiatives like Marks Out of Tenancy (you can expect our less-than-glowing review to be posted soon), they simply don’t go far enough. What we need is structural change. HMO licenses need to be granted more liberally up to allow more flats to be let to students. The University needs to build more affordable accommodation. And finally, Fife’s laws need to be changed to more strongly favour tenants over landlords and letting agencies. What can you say about a government which allows four students to be evicted suddenly, with their only legal recourse costing as much as an English student’s yearly tuition? It’s often said that there’s no justice for the poor; in reality, there’s no justice for anyone but the filthy rich.
In the meanwhile, I have only one word of advice any prospective student tenant would be wise to heed well: read the bloody reviews.
*Names have been anonymised.