The housing crisis has settled the rent prices very high and the conditions of the flats as poor as ever. The Demon talked to desperate students and angry parents who suffer in the hand of private landlords.
When they first saw their new flat in a very attractive leaflet, Morgana and Claúdia believed they were getting themselves the perfect deal. “The apartments looked nice, very cheap rent and in the city centre. But as soon as we arrived we realized that it was too good to be true,” Claúdia explains.
They both turned to a Portuguese private company, with a partnership with DMU, for help with their university’s application. Was during one of the meetings with this private corporation that the ‘brand new flats’ were recommended to them.
Knowing anything about Leicester or anyone in the UK, the girls and other 16 Portuguese students decided to settle for what seemed to be their best option.
However, the problems with the flats started even before their arrival. “They called us and told us there was a gas leak, which is weird since we didn’t have a gas supplier, it was all-electric. But we let it passed because they found us a temporary flat and even offer free accommodation to our parents for the first week,” she continues.
The promise of offering the parents a place to stay was later dropped and the temporary flat to which they were moved was far from meeting the expectations.
“We paid for a two-bedroom flat so that each of us would have her room but when we arrived we had to share the two-bedroom flat with the other five people. I even had to share my bed with a girl I didn’t know and Claúdia had to stay in the living room,” Morgana says.
The girls were far from knowing that this would be only the begging of a series of problems which would last the entire year. The flats they rented were located in an unfinished building which was never fully ready to be lived in.
This group of students were moved several times between temporary houses, hotel rooms and their faulty flats. They lived in a building without any health and safety measures and which was constantly robbed because all the entrances were still open.
Morgana remembers coming home once to find the security guard chasing people who had just broke into the building. “I was coming home from work and I saw him running up the stairs. When he saw me he told me not to move and he asked if I had a knife that he could borrow. It was pretty scary.”
The group ended up being moved once again following an inspection from the council authorities. “Someone was seen smoking in the fire exit and the health and safety officers. They inspected the building and concluded that it didn’t had enough health and safety measures in place. We didn’t had smoke alarms or emergency exits. So we were moved again,” Claúdia explains.
When the landlord realized that he had to pay for a hotel, he offered to pay for plain tickets to send everyone back to Portugal, even though he knew all the students were having classes.
“I remember asking the landlord if he had kids and when he told me he had a little girl, I asked him to imagine sending his little girl to a different country but herself and that this same situation was happening to her. He couldn’t say anything,” she continues.
During the entire time, their complains to the landlord were not given enough attention. “If you are a student complaining to your landlord, they don’t take you seriously,” Morgana says, and Claúdia agrees: “They took advantage of our situation and the fact that we were foreigners. Sometimes we wanted to complain more but we simply didn’t know how to do it. Then we would get nervous and our English would trick us. We had just landed in a new country. Everything was new. And we were all too afraid of becoming homeless for complaining too much.”
Allix, a 3rd-year dance student, also felt ignored by her landlord and estate agency. Scared that all the affordable proprieties would run out, she decided to settle for the “best option out of a bad bunch”. But as soon as she moved in she started to realise the flat had many problems, including a flat felted roof with at least four drip locations.
Instead of replacing the existing roof, the landlord decided to simply patch it which didn’t fix the problem. Only five days after the reparation work, Allix could already see new staining and bubbling paint.
The leaking roof was only the thick of the iceberg. The young dancer had problems with the heating, the washing machine and the parking spot she paid for never existed.
Her flat is now covered in damp and dirty water on surfaces. She is not able to cook, to do her laundry, or to invite her friends over. She sufferers from asthma a condition seriously aggravated by the state of her home.
“This has ruined my final year,” she says. The landlord has never offered compensation or even an apology.
Allix and her dad have tried to knock on every door. The local council sent environmental health officers to see the flat but it never resolved in anything. De Montfort University Student’s Union said it was ‘trick for them’ and recommended local media. And, unfortunately, the Demon was the only one which replied.
“There is nothing worse than having no idea of what to do,” she sighs. Her dad, Roger Blackburn, says all they want “is for the roof to be fixed and for other students not to have to go through the same. Student’s shouldn’t be treated this way”.
And as we enter a new promising decade, we wonder for how long will the students remain silenced victims of the housing crisis.