Is this the world’s worst student house?
We've all seen some pretty grotty places when looking for a new home – but nothing comes close to this story of a student house in Southampton.
"Student houses are dumps" is something you hear all the time, yet for most of us, the reality is a lot less dramatic. Sure, the dirty dishes might be piling up and the bathroom might be a bit skanky, but on the main it's habitable.
But our National Student Accommodation Survey routinely finds that there are some horrifying places out there, and for Oscar, a Computer Science student at the University of Southampton, 'dump' doesn't even go halfway to describing the state of the house he and six friends moved into.
We caught up with Oscar to find out just how they ended up in a student housing horror story, and try to figure out how £2,275 of rent each month could get somewhere so diabolically awful.
Finding a student house
Having hit it off in halls in their first year, Oscar and six of his friends decided to live together in a house for their second year at Southampton. Oscar and his mates elected him to be the lead tenant – a sensible decision given that Oscar regarded himself as "quite a savvy student".
I did lots of research for things to look out for (including articles from Save The Student), looked at reviews for letting agencies and read advice from the student union.
The group originally viewed five or six properties with a small student-oriented letting agency, but following a series of "red flags", Oscar decided to look into a larger, more reputable alternative. With great online reviews for the Southampton branch of the company, he assumed there wouldn't be any issues.
And so, with a fair few house viewings already under their belts, Oscar and his friends went to look at the property they'd eventually end up living in. Despite some issues, they were keen on the house – not least because of the "seemingly nice kitchen" and four bathrooms between the seven of them.
The house wasn't in the greatest shape – there was a lot for clutter around the house, but we were reassured once the tenants had moved out and taken their stuff out it would be much better (and to be frank, all seven other student houses we visited were messy too, so we didn't think too much of it).
The agent promised to improve some other things before we moved in, including putting new carpet on the stairs, having the place professionally cleaned and repainting the rooms.
Encouraged by these promises (and, obviously, the ridiculous flatmate-to-bathroom ratio), the group signed the tenancy agreement and the house was theirs.
The world's worst student house
It was mid-summer, about six months after viewing the house, when Oscar and two of his friends went to move into the property.
There were still a few weeks until the start of term, and with no indication that they should expect anything other than what they were promised, the group just wanted to check that everything was ok.
Spoiler: things were not ok. Things had gotten worse.
When we moved in we realised how horrific the place was.
None of the contractually agreed improvements had been completed, and despite it being in our contract, nothing had been cleaned (since the viewing, by the looks of it!).
What's more, everything was broken – the oven, the vacuum cleaner, practically all the light bulbs and light fittings, the fridge freezer, the doorbell, the bedroom chairs, the shower heads, the skirting boards, the gas hob... The bins hadn't even been taken out!
It's almost impossible to decide where to start with Oscar's description of this house, as each issue is as shocking/ridiculous/comically depressing as the next.
Take, for instance, the window in one of the bedrooms. Oscar said that the curtains in this room were closed when they viewed the property (as he says, "who thinks to open the curtains during a house viewing?"). When the group moved in, they realised why: on the other side of the window there was a shed, blocking out all sunlight.
Or how about the walls in Oscar's bedroom?
The damp and mould in my bedroom was so bad that the white paint had turned black in places. The plaster on the wall was mushy like cheese, and covered in spores.
Think he's exaggerating? Check out this video Oscar sent us, in which he pokes and prods the wall with a hoover:
Perhaps the most vomit-inducing feature of the house was what Oscar has dubbed “the notorious cigarette bucket“.
This was a bucket in the garden that the previous tenants had dumped their old cigarettes and lighters in. It had gone putrid and stank.
And the bucket wasn’t the only blight on the house’s garden.
Oscar says that at the viewing, the then-residents retreated to the garden. As they didn’t want to intrude any further, he and his friends only looked at the garden through a rear window – but come moving day, it emerged that this part of the property was in no better shape than the rest of it.
The garden was littered with crap: three rusty bicycles, a scooter, piles of bricks, metal gazebo supports, three old TVs, a subwoofer, a broken trampoline, five traffic cones, car tyres, broken glass, carpet off-cuts, broken power tools, abandoned furniture, a Christmas tree and the notorious cigarette bucket.
You’d think that with as extensive a list of garden furnishings as that, the lettings agent may have been aware of the problem. Or, at the very least, when they became aware of it, they’d be willing to help remove it… right?
I called the letting agency every day for a week with a list of complaints, and he had the audacity to tell me, “the landlord has told me that he cleaned up the back garden before you moved in, so I don’t know what you’re going on about”.
This made me furious. I got every bit of rubbish in the garden, put it in a massive pile and sent him a photo.
The landlord eventually came over to clear the mess, but even that wasn’t without its drama. As he went to lift the cigarette bucket, the handle snapped, spilling the “putrid-smelling rancid slime” on the floor and producing a smell which Oscar no doubt wishes he’d never encountered.
Of course, in this house, it never rains, but it pours – and this is far from the only example of the landlord creating more problems than he solves.
Case in point: the washing machine, which was nine years old when Oscar’s tenancy began. It was also utterly filthy – according to Oscar, “the seal was black with mould and no amount of scrubbing or bleaching fixed it”. And then, after weeks of crashing and flooding water onto the kitchen floor, it eventually broke down.
The landlord’s solution was to replace the washing machine with an even more ancient (11 years old) model, which Oscar says left oily smears on their clothes and – shock – only lasted three months before it too bit the dust.
Once again they notified the landlord, and this time he visited over the Christmas holidays to take it apart and carry out some repairs.
He reconnected the water inlet, but not the waste-water hose.
My friend came back two days before everyone else and ran a wash which ended up flooding the kitchen with dirty washing machine water.
This machine ended up failing and now, just eight months into our tenancy, we’re onto our third washing machine.
Now, you can criticise the landlord for this all you’d like (and rightly so) – but at least, in this case, he tried to replace the faulty goods.
Not so for the fridge freezer which, when Oscar moved in mid-summer, wasn’t working (or in any way clean). He contacted the landlord who promptly took it away, presumably to be replaced. Come the end of the summer holidays, the gang returns to find no fridge in its place.
The landlord explained that it was a personal possession of the previous tenants and not included with the house, but when Oscar found a previous tenant’s name on a letter and got in touch, he discovered that this was a lie.
It took them agreeing to be a legal witness and the student union threatening to sue the landlord on our behalf for him to buy us a new fridge freezer.
When speaking to the previous tenants, Oscar also discovered that they’d also had a problem with wasps. He’d noticed “dead fly-looking creatures” in the emergency light fittings when he moved in, but at the time just sent a picture to the landlord and asked him to resolve it.
However, having learned of the historic problem with wasps, Oscar put two and two together and realised that these weren’t dead flies – they were dead wasps. Keen to find out how so many wasps were finding their way into the house, Oscar went up to the loft and found the source of the problem.
There was an absolutely massive wasps nest – we’re hoping it’s dead or inactive, and not just hibernating for the winter.
The previous tenants told me the landlord refused to have a look or get an exterminator in for weeks, and they were having wasps everywhere and getting stung.
One of the funnier stories Oscar recounts involves a box of home-brewed beer left by the previous tenants. Like any self-respecting student, he cracked one open to have a sip – only for the contents to fizz everywhere as soon as the cap was off.
He put the box outside with the rest of the rubbish for the landlord to take away, but in the middle of heatwave, this only made things worse.
The sun was bearing down and the bottles started exploding, firing bottle caps, glass and beer everywhere.
The landlord moved the beers into his shady van to keep them out of the sun, but when he came back later to grab some tools, three of the beers exploded in quick succession, showering him in beer and broken glass.
As Oscar mentioned earlier, aside from the countless faulty, broken and sometimes non-existent appliances in the house, the property was disgusting (and the mop bucket was in no state to help out).
This was in spite of the contractually-agreed-upon professional cleaning that should have taken place before the group moved in.
The landlord eventually agreed to get a cleaner, whom he took to the house and told he’d return after two hours so they could move onto the next property.
The cleaning lady objected, saying that the place needed at least eight hours of work and that she’d need a colleague to help her too.
Following a call with her boss, the landlord finally compromised and let her work there for six hours.
The cleaners worked their socks off.
When we told them that our combined rent was £2,275 per month, and that this was how the property was when we moved in, they were horrified.
They said they’d cleaned lots of student houses, but that this was the worst they’d ever seen.
Deciding to stay in the house of horrors
As this point, you may be asking yourself, “Why the hell did Oscar and his friends not move out as soon as they possibly could?” Well, it turns out that there are a couple of pretty good reasons for staying put.
Firstly, we have a lot of international students in our house. If we moved, they’d have to pay for storage for their possessions over the summer holidays, as well someone to move their stuff to and from the storage unit.
Moving really is a pain and very inconvenient for them.
Secondly, and thankfully, the old landlord has now retired and his son has taken over. Since the handover, there’s been a huge improvement all around.
He’s much better. We’ve had double glazing and a dishwasher installed, and he even mounted our TV on the wall after we asked.
All of the maintenance stuff we ask about usually gets done in a few days, and recently when our washing machine broke, he bought a brand new one rather than getting a second-hand model.
Although the new landlord seems to have turned over a new leaf, Oscar admits it’s understandable how someone letting a house to students can sometimes let things fall into disrepair.
Perhaps student landlords get disillusioned with their properties after they’re trashed year in, year out.
We’ve been trying to show him we’re good tenants who want to respect his property, and as a result I think he’s returning that respect.
What to do if you have issues with your student house
As of March 2019, you can now sue your landlord if they fail to deal with issues including damp, poor ventilation and problems with the property’s water supply.
But ideally, it shouldn’t have to come to that. Before you sign on the dotted line, check out our list of things to look for in a tenancy agreement – and before that still, you should use our guide to viewing student accommodation to make sure you spot any and all issues in a potential house.
What’s more, on the days you move in and out, use your phone to take photos of everything. This is the number one way to get your full deposit back, as you have a tonne of evidence in case the landlord tries to pin some damage on you.
Should problems arise while you’re living in the house, remember you have rights as a tenant – including that the landlord must carry out major repairs and, in some cases, deal with pests too. Check out our guide for more details.
Oscar’s story came as we published the results of our 2019 National Student Accommodation Survey. Here’s what Jake Butler, our Student Money Expert, had to say at the time:
Too many people – including students – seem to believe that poor living conditions are just a part of student life.
Our investigation confirms how students are being unfairly treated as if they’re second-class citizens, expected to put up with dire conditions throughout their studies.
It’s even more outrageous considering rent swallows up the entire Maintenance Loan for many students, piling on the added stress of having to make ends meet while living in squalor.
Whilst the laws around renting are constantly improving, there needs to be a much easier way for students to report and resolve problems with their accommodation.
Jake Butler, Student Money Expert at Save the Student
For the full selection of pictures from Oscar’s house from hell, including a false widow spider by one of the windows, check out this thread.
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