My Hackney renting hell: Surviving cockroaches and creepy landlords

cockroachAfter wrapping some Christmas presents last night, I put the scissors back in the drawer.  This morning they were still there!  This may not sound like magic to anyone else but after 6 months of waiting, I finally have a functioning drawer in my kitchen and it’s a massive feat in the constant battle with my landlord, the man who told us the drawer was broken in the first place.

That was back in April when we moved in and we still on speaking terms.  Flash forward seven months and I am sitting in the letting agent’s office with my boyfriend, the letting agent, my landlord and Heather from Digs, a support group for Hackney renters who came along to offer support.

In the months that have passed we’ve unwillingly played host to cockroaches, dealt with leaks, uncovered a very easy way to break into our home and spent six weeks without hot water.  It has been one of those ‘one thing after another’ houses where the first problem gets pushed aside by a bigger one and conveniently forgotten by the landlord.

Now it’s the end of October and my landlord hasn’t picked up his phone since August 1st.  I take screen shots of all my ignored calls sent more text messages than I care to count.

The only time the landlord has shown any interest in getting the boiler fixed was when he appeared one day with the man from the off licence to have a poke around. Neither is gas safety approved. It almost seems funny until you realise how dangerous it is.

When I came to view the property and asked the letting agent “so, is the landlord a good guy?” they assured me he was just the greatest.  I now realise that if the devil was paying a letting agent they’d probably describe him in similar glowing terms.

When I questioned the letting agent about the process for vetting landlords I was told to my horror that their interest doesn’t extend beyond checking the landlord owns the property. So your landlord could have a criminal record, they could be known to the council for rogue practices or have a shocking record with previous tenants and you’d be none the wiser.  And as long as landlords pay their fees, many letting agent couldn’t care less.

While my letting agent didn’t know anything about the landlord, the council certainly do.  In fact, one member of Hackney’s Private Sector Housing department knows my landlord so well that he has personally  been to my flat many times even before we moved in.

But it’s piecemeal work for the council – all they can do is deal with the complaints one by one.  So if a tenant meeker than me had moved in, the cockroaches would be having a party and the landlord would be delighted to accept the rent without disruption!  He has no such luck though and even jobs as seemingly little as the broken drawer have become a matter of principle to me.  Even if it takes until the day I move out, all of the repairs will be done.   His attitude towards me and my boyfriend makes this fight a personal one.

My matters of principle, along with my desire to have a hot shower are what lead us to sitting in the impractical swivel chairs of the letting agent, face to face with the man who ignores my calls and yet insists he is doing a good job.  It might surprise you to know that he’s the one who called the meeting; but that was following five recorded letters from myself about the boiler, reminding him about parts of the tenancy agreement that he seems to have forgotten.

One point he’d forgotten was the bit about not entering our property without permission. It makes me sick to realise that he’s been in our house without our knowledge – I haven’t felt comfortable there since. But he refuses to accept he’s breached the tenancy agreement, insisting I gave him permission to come round.  I must have done it telepathically since we haven’t spoken in months.  I tell him it’s trespassing and that if I come home to find a man in the flat I won’t wait to find out if it is him before calling the police.  He shrugs it off and shuffles the stack of papers I brought for him to look through, the first time he’s acknowledged them since the meeting began.

I came prepared for this meeting; I’ve brought copies of my letters, highlighted tenancy agreements, reports from the council, lists of the repairs and the dates he was informed of them and more.

Heather from Digs tells me she’s never seen someone so prepared for their landlord. I’m clued up on all the laws he’s broken.  In the end, my landlord is incapable or unwilling to engage in serious dialogue. The letting agent takes over, and it seems as if she’s been threatened that if she doesn’t stop me contacting him demanding a solution to the cockroaches or the broken boiler, then, he will take his business elsewhere.

After a prolonged discussion that seemed to go round in circles, during which the landlord accepted no responsibility for anything and never once admitted to being ignorant or irresponsible, we reached a point where the letting agent agreed to have the boiler fixed two days later and the other repairs within the week.  Victory!  When she asked, “is everyone happy with that?” there was a chorus of ‘yesses’. But it was then my landlord issued his crowning glory, the icing on the cake of a long trail of ignorant and inappropriate behaviour; he told my boyfriend “I don’t mind dealing with you, you’re a man.  See her, I’m not going to deal with her, she’s a woman”.

I felt physically ill, I could feel my face redden and the angry heat rising up in me.  I was furious!  Had I been a man, would he have answered my calls and dealt with the problems?  Was he just ignoring me the whole time because he didn’t like that I demanded things from him and as a woman I should ‘know my place’?

I remembered telling him ages ago not to answer his phone with “hello beautiful” when I called and telling him off for saying inappropriate things about my deaf neighbour behind her back. But it never occurred to me he was punishing me for demanding my rights as a female, by neglecting problems and shirking responsibilities.

All we could do was leave. Sometimes there is no point in talking to people like that, I feel sorry for his wife and feel proud of myself for not showing the power behind my feminine punch!

It’s now three weeks later, the boiler was fixed several days later.

Finally, without the advice I got from Digs and the support from Heather at the meeting, I wouldn’t have been able to go into that meeting as confident as I was and I certainly couldn’t have stayed calm.  For anyone who is going through a similar experience with their private landlords, remember that you aren’t alone and you’re certainly not the first, often just talking to someone who has been through the landlord mill can help, the support is out there even if it doesn’t seem obvious sometimes.

I advise you to join Digs, they’re a supportive, helpful group of people who either know what to do or can find the help you need.  Plus, experiences like mine have encouraged me to take action against other bad landlords. I want to improve the powers of the council and encourage letting agents to take responsibility for the landlords they work with. Hopefully with a group of us, we can work to improve private renting in Hackney and throughout London.

3 thoughts on “My Hackney renting hell: Surviving cockroaches and creepy landlords

  1. The author has a meeting with Hackney Law Centre today. You’re right that the courts can be very useful but in our experience, the powers of the courts can be seriously lacking and councils don’t have the resources to pursue bad landlords. And the issue you mention about the cost of lawyers is a very signicant one.

  2. “In the months that have passed we’ve unwillingly played host to cockroaches, dealt with leaks, uncovered a very easy way to break into our home and spent six weeks without hot water”.

    While your meeting and support seem somewhat productive, it does not sound like you’ve pursued any remedy via the Magistrates Court requiring the landlord to bring the property up to standard – or in the County Court for compensation – and for an injunction to repair leaks, lack of hot water etc. Even if the repairs have been carried out, it sounds as if you have a claim for damp and no hot water.

    While support groups are helpful, the courts are there for a reason.

    It also concerns me that this landlord feels free to engage in inappropriate behaviour towards you. Again, that is something that can be easily dealt with via the court – rather than begging him to behave.

    I know not everybody can afford lawyers – but there are several pro bono organisations, including the Toynbee Hall, where you can at least get a legal steer on your options.

    Yes, “going legal” may mean you’re served a NTQ at the end of the term – on the other hand, it can get the repairs completed and a bit of compensation for the service you’ve paid for, but haven’t received – as well as the nuisance.

    I’d rather be taken seriously and move out after 6 months rather than played for the sake of a “permanent” address.

  3. Shocking story on so many levels that highlights the major flaws in the system.

    Tenants are forced to sign on the line with no inkling of the landlord’s track record or the existing problems with the property.

    Once in, tenants either depend on the goodwill of the landlord to deal with issues or – far too often – just put up with it, perhaps fearful of repercussions.

    I hope the stuff we are working on with Digs and TenantTales.com can shift this balance of power by separating the good guys from the creeps.

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