Anna Maria Papaoikonomou
“When I pointed out what mould looks like, I was called uneducated, ungrateful, and this man refused to interact with me directly or look at me in the eye. Instead addressing all his remarks to my white flatmate (who coincidentally was not called uneducated)”.
That’s only one of the mortifying reactions Emily, a 21-year-old Nigerian Psychology student at UCL, told The Cheese Grater she received when trying to convince the well-known “landlord agency”, Omega Residential Limited (ORL), to treat the mould infestation in her Caledonian Road third-year student flat.
“Once, they sent maintenance over to “inspect” the mould and I was forced to ask him to leave since this man spent the entirety of his visit harassing us. His first comment after seeing the affected area was:
“I can’t believe this is all, from your complaints I thought it would have been a much bigger mould.”
Funnily enough, by the end of this interaction he was completely denying there was any mould, saying it was “just condensation,” and trying to find any excuse in the flat (even in completely unrelated areas to the mould) to blame us for the issue.”
When Emily and her flatmate were researching ORL, to unearth their blatant lies, they stumbled upon a plethora of negative reviews.
Such reviews included accusations of (you guessed it), mould, sexism, discrimination, harassment, and violence – not only towards their tenants, but also their own employees.
“ORL stated that they had never faced such uncooperative residents throughout their history of renting and in response, we brought up the negative reviews we saw online from people with very similar experiences as ours. He said these reviews must be from people in INDIA who are trying to tarnish the company’s name.”
The majority of university students renting in the private sector are living with mould or dampness. And let me tell you, mould is not just an unaesthetic black spot on your wall you can cover with a Pulp Fiction Oxfam poster. It can lead to severe health complications that could even stand as an obstacle in your studies, as Emily experienced:
“During the time of living in the flat, my flatmates and I would mysteriously and consistently fall sick every other week. We experienced symptoms of fatigue, congestion, difficulty breathing, fevers and muscle ache, amongst a few others. Symptoms I am now very certain were attributed to the horrible state of mould in the flat, as since having lived in my new flat for over a month, neither my flatmate nor myself have experienced any of these.”
Emily refused to be gaslit, and instead stood her ground and took the lead in the correspondence regarding the mould infestation, where she was not only a victim of racism and sexism but also had her intellectuality belittled. ORL repeatedly wrote back using intentionally vague language and incorrect grammar, claiming her statements were “incomprehensible” as she is “uneducated”, without knowing anything about her background.
“Keep in mind I am educated enough to have made it to my final year at one of the best universities in the world. But I guess understanding how mould develops and the serious dangers of untreated mould goes beyond the scope of a silly little UCL degree.”
After continuous back-and-forth communication between Emily and her landlord agency, she and her flatmate ended up facing indirect eviction during the final term of her final year!
“We were told if we refused to be cooperative (i.e. stop holding them accountable, accept their blatant lies and pretend there’s no mould) then we would need to vacate the property by the break clause so they would be able to conduct some “necessary works”. However, if we did decide to cooperate they would postpone the work till after our original end date in September 2023. Additionally, the new tenants were set to move in only a few days after our departure, so obviously their excuse of “necessary works” to evict us was a lie as well.”
Unsurprisingly, Emily was not the only student that was confronted with ORL’s atrocious conduct.
Jack, a 20-year-old Fashion Communication and Promotion student from UAL, describes how the mould infestation in their bathroom continued to grow, with the agency providing no acknowledgement nor adequate treatment besides “painting over it”.
“When we moved in, our bathroom had mould but it wasn’t too concerning. After a few months, the mould developed more and more and got to a really bad state. We asked them to fix it but they just painted over it and after a few weeks it was seeping through again.”
As Jack and Emily both noted, the properties looked incredibly modern and luxurious when they were conducting their initial viewings. This is not an uncommon tactic, as ORL uses cheap and fast materials to equip their properties, so they are able to provide a sense that students are “getting their money’s worth”, and justify the unjustifiable rent increases of £1.000 per room to live in a house with mould!
“It is obvious they have gotten away with this behaviour many times before, and we need to make students, who are a particularly vulnerable population, aware of this fraudulent company so nobody has to experience what I went through.”
Many of us have to learn from our mistakes- If you are experiencing difficulties with your landlord, always remember to re-read your contract thoroughly. If you happen to need additional help, University of London housing services (https://housing.london.ac.uk/) provide multiple contract checks and consultations free of charge, so keep that in mind when you approach your next (or first) renting experience!
“Before you decide to rent, always do your research. Ask if it’s a single landlord or managing agency. Research the letting agency and the landlord. Record and document every single interaction you have with them. Read your contract thoroughly, and also read up on your rights as a tenant!”
Private landlords very wrongly assume that we students don’t know anything and they use that to take advantage of many. So be prepared.
When you move in, take a picture of every single inch of your house, and make sure they are in safe cloud storage, not in your Snapchat memories!
Always stand up for yourself if you believe your landlord is in breach of your rights! Do not be afraid of making them uncomfortable or looking like a “Karen”, because these social conventions provide them with the ability to shame you into accepting subpar treatment – and also, don’t let a man tell you you’re just an uneducated girl, that is so 2015..
And lastly, ‘in Emily’s wise words’: “If you ever see ORL RUN, RUN FAR AWAY!!!!”