This student life: Calling time on the landlord

Rachel says she's living in a slum. Unfortunately no-one else has noticed. Week 6 at the Manchester student house
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THERE ARE three things that plague students through college: essays, money and landlords. On the subject of accommodation, the students fall into two camps: Students Who Will Fight The Landlord and those who just pay the rent and accept the damp and crumbling cornices. In the Manchester household, Rachael falls into the first category. And it looks like she's on her own. It's not that the other eight have abandoned her in the quest for decent housing. It's just that it's not a priority.

The students signed the lease, thereby agreeing to spend the bulk of their grants on rent. The landlord agreed to make many improvements, most of which never got done. After essentials - an alarm system and ground- floor window bars - were installed, the other eight members of the house resigned themselves to the damp squalor but Rachael could smell a rat. Not that the house has rodents, but her rip-off detector was going full tilt.

"The things that are wrong with the house affect your health," she explains. "Like the damp and the rotting windows. The carpet was so wet in David's room that mushrooms were growing there, and there were leaks and drips everywhere." Rachael pointed all this out to the landlord. "There was this huge damp patch on the wall which he said was darker because it was new plaster," she says. "Basically, he was talking rubbish."

Rachael is not one to take these things lightly. This is the girl who went on a New Zealand holiday when she was 18 and ended up DJing on a local radio station; and for whom bungee-jumping is a nice way to pass the time. She's not scared of a little landlord argy-bargy.

"I got fed up with living in a skuddy house like this," she explains. "The landlord is getting pounds 15,000 a year out of us and he's done nothing in return. So I called the council, and an environmental health officer came to the house. He went through what repairs needed to be done for us to live in a decent house."

Everyone was rather surprised by the environmental health officer's far- reaching findings. Among 15 or so problems, he said that the kitchen on the top floor should be ripped out because it was a fire hazard. "It should have had free access," explains Rachael. "Otherwise it was a danger."

However, Rosie is hacked off with the changes. She's got a kitchen next to her room which she was happily using for storage space. "Rachael and Dani may have to use my kitchen now they don't have one and my storage is back all over my room again. Everything's all over the place."

Rachael is undeterred. "The environmental officer is a professional and if he says there is something wrong, then there is something wrong."

Since the landlord found out about the council man, she has been harassed by his sidekick. who yells abuse whenever he comes around to do the enforced repairs. "I won't let somebody bully us," she says defiantly, but the others are feeling the strain.

"I quite liked the landlord," says Tash. "But he and Rachael have been at each other's throats."

The crisis is starting to escalate. "There's been an exchange of nasty letters," Tash continues. "In the past, if you hadn't paid your rent on the first of the month, the landlord would have been fine about it, but now we've got this nasty letter saying pay on the first or else. And he gave us a letter which said he was going to come around and do monthly checks on the house.

"When you see the list of things wrong with the house that the council sent us, it really opens your eyes, because I wouldn't have bothered to do anything about it. This is a student house, it's not your house at home. You try and make it as homely as you can, but there's no point being concerned about the structure of it because we won't be here in 12 months." The girl has got a point, but as Rachael would say, "It's the principle of the thing."

Mention the house situation to the others, and they shrug their shoulders. Nobody is blaming Rachael for getting the council involved, but you can sense a tension in the air that wasn't there before. Will the landlord make everyone's life a misery because Rachael wanted to make a point? Or is Rachael doing the right thing and making the landlord work for his money? Who knows - but only time will tell whether they've got a Rigsby collecting their rent or not.



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