Students at Liverpool University have started naming and shaming a local housing agency because they feel they're being forced to live in poor, and sometimes dangerous conditions.
Estate agents Accommod8 has been branded "a joke" by one student Will Turner, who moved into a property managed by the agency last summer. Another student was told by Liverpool's environmental health agency if there had been a fire, she and her housemates would have been "dead in 10 minutes", due to poor fire safety conditions.
Turner, who first told his story to student newspaper The Tab, provided The Huffington Post UK with a list of the problems he encountered on moving into his property, of all which can be viewed at the end of the article.
Turner and his housemates paid half rent to the agency during the summer in order for the agents to "get the property in a good state of repair prior to us moving in". But when Turner arrived, he found mould on the carpets, a broken gas hob, broken windows in a bedroom and the kitchen, and a cupboard with no door attached, allowing mice to eat food.
He says despite being told the house had been "professionally cleaned" the property was in a bad state when he and his housemates moved in.
On its website, Accommod8 pledges to "ensure the property is in a good state of repair at the commencement of the tenancy", and "ensure the exterior of the property is presentable so as not to detract from the look of the area".
After moving into the property, Turner and his housemates experienced further problems, including a broken boiler, a leaking roof and a broken sofa which posed a fire hazard.
Turner added: "Our washing machine broke, damaging our clothes. Accommod8 only replaced this when we showed a video of the drum rubbing on the glass door and sparking. The lock on our front door was changed without us even being told. The new look would randomly engage the deadlock, locking us in the house and only leaving the kitchen door to get out of in case of a fire."
A Facebook page called "Accomod8 are SHI*" has been created, which acts as a forum for other students who had had similar problems.
Graduate Jo Doolin said she rented a property from the agency two years ago and were left without hot water for weeks during one winter. "The repairs leaked water into the cupboard below causing huge amounts of mould.
"The whole time we were there it was just impossible to get anyhing fixed in under a week."
Another student, Sarah Raine, called the environmental health agency after experiencing problems with her Accommod8 property. Posting on the forum-style Facebook group, she wrote:
"Our electric box is in the basement which had no fire door and no insulation. [The environment agency] made Accommod8 put plasterboard on the basement ceiling, as it was just raw floorboards. You could literally see the basement floor when sat in the living room. The guy from environmental health said if there was a fire we would have been dead in 10 minutes! They had to change the kitchen fire door too because it was broken."
Another student, Lewis Bertoni, joined in the discussion on the Facebook page and described his experiences with Accommod8. "We can't always get out of our front door," he wrote. "The barrel of the lock doesn't fit the housing, so it can be over-rotated and gets stuck in the locked position, We've been reporting this since summer, when they changed the locks on the house without telling any of us, so we couldn't get in.
"We have a back door, through the kitchen, but the kitchen is the place with the highest risk of fire. We've been to the office, we've had our parents ring and tell them it isn't safe."
Liverpool City Council has developed a Citywide Landlord Accreditation Safety Scheme (CLASS), which recognises "good quality and well managed" accommodation. According to the council's website: "If you are thinking about renting a property from a private landlord who is a member of CLASS, you can be sure that the properties are safe, in good repair and that the landlord has committed to the health, safety and welfare of their tenant."
As Accommod8 is on the council's scheme, it is required to adhere to the following:
- The property is free of all category 1 hazards as identified under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
- Gas , Electricity Safety, Fire Alarm and Emergency Lighting test certificates and Energy Performance certificates where applicable are provided
- The property has an adequate means of escape and detection in case of fire
- The property meets the physical standards set out in the Code and the Landlord complies with the Management Code.
In the case of emergency repairs, the CLASS scheme states: "Any repairs required avoiding danger to health, risking to the safety of residents or serious damage to buildings or residents belongings e.g. burst pipes, leaking roofs, heating failure. Make safe or complete within 24 hours of defect being reported."
Responding to the complaints, John Blythe, director of Accommod8, told HuffPost UK, "Today’s students have increasingly high expectations and it isn’t possible to please everyone and I think this applies to all service industries."
He said he was aware "a number of students" had expressed dissatisfaction and the agency was communicating with the complainants. "After 20 years renting property to thousands of students it is perhaps not entirely surprising that there are occasional issues," he added.
"Much of the information recently posted online is exaggerated and in some cases misguided and factually incorrect.
"Sure, we don’t always meet expectations but we do meet all statutory housing requirements and our Compliance Officer ensures this is the case."
Addressing Sarah Raine's claim her property was a fire hazard, Blythe said: " I am not clear what the quote relating to fire safety applies to but it is not a typical comment of an EHO."
He said all properties were fitted with suited locks and were not changed without notification to the tenants.
"Pests are not uncommon in student properties particularly period properties," he continued. "We use a Pest Control company and they get instructed when we receive reports from tenants."
"All our properties are fitted with suited locks with thumb turns for safe egress meaning locks on individual properties use the same key. Locks are not changed without notification."
The CLASS scheme also states landlords and agencies should behave in a "professional, courteous and fair manner towards their tenants and prospective tenants", something which student Sarah Raine disputes.
A spokesperson for Liverpool City Council said agencies and landlords are checked every three years, but any students with concerns should get in touch.
Liverpool student Nathan Brindley detailed his experience with the agency in a column for the Tab newspaper, including even drawing up a "complaints rota" with his housemates.
"I found upon getting a telly that the aerial also doesn’t work, and the bathroom sink is overflowing within a week because it’s clogged," he wrote. "I go down there every second Wednesday. I know everyone who works there on first name terms now, which is nice. They begin by insinuating I am deluded and confused, and that I never reported these problems."
He adds: "Their next move is to tell me they have their contractors on more pressing issues, or ‘emergency’ repairs as they call them, and that I should buy a plunger and fix the sink myself. Oh well, forgive me for expecting people to do what I pay them to do."
Turner added: "From July to late September Accommod8 had gutted the vacant houses leaving the rubbish, sofas and mattresses outside, which became home to rats and meant homeless people would wander around seeing if there was anything they could take and sell."
Liverpool Student Homes (LSH), an independent student housing advisor and provider, has a database of agencies for students, which Accommod8 is listed on.
A spokesperson for the company told HuffPost UK: "There is a code of practice we always use to address issues of student living in registered accommodation. Students have the knowledge and reassurance that landlords [registered with LSH] have met our rigorous standards. If students have any issues with landlords they can come through us and we can help them.
"Accommod8 is registered with us and they are a respected agency within the LSH and have one of the largest portfolios."
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