Time For Action! Addressing Private Renting In Bath

Tupac Shakur once said when talking about the civil rights movement; “We asked ten years ago. We was asking with the panthers … Now those people that were asking they’re dead or in jail. So now what do you think we’re gonna do… ask?” You will see why this is relevant, the further we delve into what I’m about to discuss. 

 Three things I have learnt while growing up is;
1) Politicians and local bodies have failed the people they serve.
2) the system is set up against ordinary people, I.e., if you decide to decide to stop paying your rent you would immediately be considered an unsocial tenant by the law. However, if there is an issue with your house/flat your private landlord doesn’t always address said issue properly nor immediately citing a double standard on the roles within a contract (I think you can see from this example where I will be going with this article).
3) Petitions and Protests are not enough we have to go further than this instead of complaining about our situations we have to take action!  I’m not suggesting we the people should take violent means to solve our issues, but we must begin to realise we are more likely to conceptualise an answer to our problems than those who are more concerned with a pay rise than the actual job they are paid to do *cough cough* POTENTIALLY YOUR LOCAL MP. 

 I will be diving into my experience of private renting in Bath; the issues I encountered, how local bodies failed me and how I suggest we as either previous students or students who are currently renting can inform future cohorts of the experiences that we had to help them avoid getting into the same situations as us. Before I explore this topic however, I would like to use this piece briefly to discuss people I have had the pleasure of talking to who decided to take action in helping future generations. 

Sadly, a man who passed away not so long ago was Jamal Edwards who I met in 2019 through volunteering for my MP. As the founder of YouTube channel SBTV (which was responsible for the come up of artists such as Ed Sheeran and Stormzy) Jamal wanted to give back to his community where he grew up in Acton, London by setting up his own form of MP clinic and through this helping young adults find their career path and set them up with contacts he had in banking, music and other established industries. While it is important to note Jamal worked his way up to astute financial success which all of us may not reach nor be able to give back in the way he did, we should take inspiration from men like him who wanted to make the world a better place if we so happened to make it into such fortunate positions in the future.

I had the opportunity to interview a man called Omar Mohammad who is the creator of the Mosul Eye foundation. It was set up during Daesh/ISIS at the time they occupied Mosul, Iraq in 2014. Omar wrote anonymously on this site to try and get information out about the atrocities that Daesh were committing at a time when internet access was difficult to gain for ordinary citizens, all while his next-door neighbour was a Daesh member. Now Daesh has been removed from Iraqi society, the foundation has been used to rebuild monuments that they destroyed while occupying the region, most recently restoring its library that was crushed in 2016 (see pictures below). Despite, his very world being torn apart, Omar has said multiple times as a historian he felt it was his personal duty to fight for and preserve all that he had learnt was dear to Iraqi and Mosulite identity/culture. Many of us are fortune to not have had to face the fear Omar has, yet from him we can also learn to stand up for principles and what is morally right.

Source: Mosul Eye Instagram

Now having learnt from these two men and continuously seeing certain problems ignored within society I have realised as I previously stated action is the only solution. Last year I was living in a house in the Come Down area of Bath, having been a unique situation of COVID, neither me nor my housemates could go out to visit the property so were not shown the whole picture of the living situation. We were told by the agent (who side plot is supposed to be a check against the landlord, was actually married to him and he ran the agency didn’t mention this upfront) that while there were current issues with the roof it was being fixed. We signed the tenancy agreement on the basis that the roof would be fixed. The roof collapsed after 20 days (see pictures below). This was due to the rain (typical of Bath) and leaks, as humorous as it is now, I can tell you paying £660 a month (per person) it certainly wasn’t at the time. To add to this there was mould in multiple areas in the house, prominently in the downstairs cupboard which especially had a bad smell none of which was shown to us on the online viewing. Furthermore, the extractor fan was broken at the beginning of the tenancy in the ensuite shower that wasn’t fixed for over a month. I could go on, but essentially the house did not meet the homes (fitness for human habitation) act of 2018 and we shouldn’t have really had to keep paying the amount of rent due to a broken promise of the roof being properly fixed, at least some sort of reduction would’ve been fair. To add to this, while we should have been owed money or reduction in rent, there is no way to enforce this on landlords (unless you go to court, which of course they know students don’t have the financial security to do) despite them being able to take money from our deposits for the slightest inconvenience (which I highlight in the next paragraph).

Having been told by our neighbours that the issue to the house was historic, and amongst discovering it had structural defects such as timber decay, along with roofing and long-term dampness issues I realised we had signed a contract on a house that was not fit for purpose and needed a whole restructuring (which of course is not in the landlords interest due to it being costly and would’ve meant having no tenants in the property which means no money for them). As I felt, nothing was being done quickly enough on works to the property, I turned to the MP who passed me onto the council. A councillor then inspected the property and set a date for the above issues to be fixed. Now for context, the previous tenants had also gone to the council with the same issues we had. The landlord did not send workers till after the deadline, and despite informing the councillor it did not seem to bother them too much as their reinspection wasn’t till about one or two weeks after the deadline (what a bright idea). We never received any sort of compensation despite two-three months of waiting for fixes to occur! This included simple tasks such as sending someone to use antimould paint in areas of mould, replastering of the ceiling etc… jobs that wouldn’t have taken at all long… yet they can take money from us for carpet cleaning. BLOODY CARPET CLEANING! I find the level of hypocrisy within the so called ‘protection schemes’ incredible. That they’re concerned by if a carpet has a speck of dust on it over our general health (they never even addressed the structural damages that I had mentioned as evidence to them in their report). To add the roof leaks did still occur towards the end of our living contract, and I have recently been informed by our neighbours from last year that the new tenants have also faced the same issues. How the landlord can be allowed to continue to rent a property that has received multiple complaints on over the years is beyond disgusting.

Honestly speaking, this account is a condensed version of events and does not do justice the amount of back-and-forth emails, workers over the house, inspections and general frustration I dealt with in this time. I know I am not the only student has faced such issues and there are probably those who have dealt with far worse than me this is why I felt I had to write something on this issue. But instead of just leaving it at that I would like to create a proposal to you all as university students. When talking to the councillors they told me it was a possibility in some circumstances that they can blacklist landlords and prevent them from renting, this is a rarity and will almost never happen (as exemplified by the fact that my landlord from last year continues to rent and it would go into a legal process, which the council does not wish to involve itself in). In the words of a different councillor, I spoke to ‘most councillors are part time and don’t get paid enough to take on these issues properly’. This is about the worst excuse I heard throughout this whole process, because I was under the assumption having taken a politics degree at Bath that getting involved in politics is to make a difference, lovely to know some of these councillors are taking taxpayers money to not carry out their job to the full, due to it being, for want of a better word a hassle. So much for democracy, Demos Kratos, is it really power to the people? Therefore, we must realise they will not help us, nor do they really care about our situations, so we must be a part of the solution. I am suggesting to you, the students, that we create our own blacklist, what would this entail you may ask? I am willing to create some sort of document whether it be a google doc or Microsoft etc…  and in this document we can create a list of landlords and the agencies that we feel let us down and the issues we had with said property, therefore warning future students to not get into the same situations we did. This is an issue that is of great importance to me, and I would strongly appreciate it if you shared this message with not only students of Bath but perhaps with other university students as well who it may also spark change for. It’s time for us to take action and take back control!

Quote from Alastair Nicol on private renting accommodation:

“My first year of University was the standard run of the mill – the Accommodation office would begrudgingly sort you out if you’d locked yourself out, the heating would be fickle and the laundry cards were a pain. Nonetheless, it was a shared experience and by and large, things worked.

My 2nd year, however, I moved to private accommodation. I was living near the train station and despite being in a lovely part of Bath, it was a dystopian way of living… Upon first appearances, it seemed to do the job. As our time in the flat dragged on, so too did our will to live dwindle. The fridge was shorter than my 5″ dwarf of a flatmate and the oven had to be opened with oven gloves to prevent you from burning your hands on the outside…

There was one killer moment that has stuck with me though. One depressing Tuesday, after a day of pre-recorded lectures and soul-sapping quarantine, our toilet broke… My flatmate rang the letting agency up to get them to do something and in no uncertain terms, they said they’d sort it in a few weeks. A few what?! They were expecting us to turn into medieval peasants and use buckets of water to flush the loo. There clearly wasn’t any regard for how lived experience nor their responsibility for the facilities. Thankfully, my flatmate’s boyfriend helped his dad with letting work and understood the ins and outs of a letting agent’s responsibilities. We gave him the number and let loose the dogs of war. To this day, I have no idea what he said but they rang us back in a matter of minutes with quivering voices hastily telling us that they had meant they would send someone round the next day to sort it. They managed to live up to that and the toilet was fixed…

The takeaway for me is that there’s no real skin in the game for them. They’re dealing with largely ignorant clients (like myself) and have all the power. We had to fight tooth and nail for our deposit after they’d spent the year being sadistically negligent. If there was ever an experience that might convince me of the merits of anarchism or an armed revolution, it was our 2nd year letting agents.”

Alastair Nicol on private renting accommodation

More Student Experiences

‘In my second-year accommodation we had a rat problem in our attic which went on for weeks. We need some form of accountability as an incentive for landlords to act on problems quicker. On top of this, in my final year accommodation we had very bad leaks, to the point it was practically raining indoors, while the landlord fixed this quickly, we were not the first tenants to have this happen to as there was water damage from when we moved in. I was also told to pop a bubble that had formed in the wall (refer to picture 5) so the pressure didn’t bring the ceiling down, not exactly a safe environment for tenants.

student #1 on private renting accommodation

‘This year our landlord left us in the dark for 7 months. About for what you may ask? Quite literally the bathroom light has not been working for that amount of time, despite the constant false promises that they will fix it. Due to the light not being fixed it means the extractor fan cannot be turned on when entering the bathroom. This means that because of the lack of ventilation, mould has started to build up.’

student #2 on private renting accommodation:

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