Friday, 25 October 2013

The Other Side of Hell

Three weeks ago my family moved to a new home and how happy we are to have gotten away from the previous flat, previous landlord and previous lettings agents. In my old blog I alluded to problems, and although I have tried to focus away from them more in this blog, I think the whole story deserves a post to itself; especially now we have received our deposit back and no longer have any ties to the place.

In began really in April 2012 (more than eighteen months ago now incredibly), when we discovered water leaking into our bedroom and wetting the carpet. A plumber was called around after a couple of days and the problem was found to be a leak from the shower cubicle and it was arranged that work would be done to fix it in early May whilst we were away in Sweden sorting out details for our forthcoming wedding.
We didn't know it at the time but our landlord himself attempted the fix - a man who I wouldn't have described as "handy" beforehand, let alone afterwards.

We thought that was the matter dealt with and continued on to our wedding, honeymoon and afterwards without any premonition of what was to come. At the end of August 2012 however we had a knock on the door from our neighbour in the flat below complaining that water was coming from our flat and into his. I duly went down with him and it was indeed pouring in. We called the landlord, who from now on I will call 'S'.

In his usual way S gave us a contact number so that we actually arranged from someone to look at it, and wouldn't even have seen it for himself if it wasn't for my wife's insistence that this was actually something quite serious. He had to check in his diary. Nevertheless in early September an inspection was made, and the conclusion: water leaking from the shower cubicle, bathroom floor rotten and moldy, damp and mold between the two layers of linoleum on the bathroom floor and the possibility of dry rot.

In brief it then took more than two months for any work to start. In order to allow us to stay in the flat and to be able to wash, some plastic sheeting was put up, but mold began to grow and after a few weeks it looked like this:

 While the rest of the bathroom looked like this:

During this time the S failed to give reasonable notice of coming around either for quotes or to 'drop something off', he also failed to take the threat to health of the mold seriously, despite my wife being both asthmatic and pregnant. [Her pregnancy notes would later say that she was exposed to a toxic substance for two months].

The bathroom constantly stank like an old garden shed, my wife developed a nasty asthma cough, something she hasn't had for years, and I developed headaches and nausea. The smell eventually started creeping into the bedroom and we had to move the mattress into the living room otherwise we couldn't sleep. We asked S if we could move out, his response: "If you want to default on the contract it needs to be discussed."

We should probably have pressed the matter of his failure to make repairs further at the time, but even after calling Shelter and the council's Environmental Health Department all they could say was that for no date to be yet set for work to start was 'arguably' too long, but they could do nothing since the landlord was "technically doing something". It did have the desired effect however and work was begun on the problem within a week.

However, when we returned two weeks later, the professional clean promised by the landlord hadn't happened and neither did our shower work. We also found exposed wiring, a kitkat wrapper discarded on our bed, and the following newspaper placed under some of our own belongings in the bookcase:

This was the exposed wiring in the bathroom:

Our own hoover had been used by the builders to clear up some of their dust, without our permission I might add.

We complained of course, and the builders returned the next day to deal with the shower which had an air lock. However S claimed that the mold build-up had been due to our lack of cleaning, which he proved by claiming that he had also seen hair in the shower and some coffee stains in our bin. Our feelings of sickness he put down to dust mites. Oh and he couldn't believe that we would be offended by a national newspaper being left in our bookcase.

He made no comment to our response that cleaning the shower would only have resulted in further water leaks into the flat below, and that it would have been an odd coincidence for dust mites to have affected us only when there was mold in the flat and not at any other time. We did however hope that it would be an end to the matter, but then the ineptitude of the builders he had hired, which first showed itself in not checking for an airlock in the shower, manifested itself once more.

Three weeks later the new hot water tank stopped working. We had no hot water. After two days one of the original contractors got it going again, claiming it had tripped because we had both economy 7 thermostats on at the same time. Two days later it stopped again and we knew for certain this time that it was nothing that we had done. S still blamed us however and we had to wait a further three weeks (over christmas and new year) without hot water for anyone to come again.

This time a different electrician came, took one look and proclaimed that the thermostats had been set too high. The industry standard, he told us, is 60 degrees; these were set at 80 degrees and it was no wonder they had tripped out. He reset them, but no apology from S was forthcoming. Immediately following the water warming enough for us to be able to shower, a new problem showed itself.

This time we had no cold water coming into the shower. Even on it's lowest setting the water came out quite hot and it took the landlord six weeks to get anyone around to fix it. When one of the original contractors finally came around, he took off the shower casing and a load of gunk washed out. According to people with plumbing knowledge in the family this was probably due to the contractors not washing the pipes through properly when they refitted the shower.

Again we hoped this would be the end but sadly two months later the shower started giving off burning smells. This time a different plumber came around and after a check said that it had been damaged during fitting and that it would have to be completely replaced. S's only statement was that believed the bathroom to be jinxed. I believed him in the sense that it was because he owned it.

When this was finally fixed it had been more than a full year since the original water leak. If S had fixed it properly then it's unlikely the rest of the problems would have followed. It's cost him more money in the process but more importantly for the last eighteen months the place where we were living no longer felt like our home. We have felt stressed, trapped and desperate to get away; not ideal circumstances for having a baby.

But now we are away and we feel much more relaxed and even have a little garden. I have learnt a lot, and know now that I have to be up front with my expectations rather than trusting that someone will do the right thing.

In the long run though, with the amount of people renting these days there has to be some change in the law to force landlords to do more than the minimum possible to ensure that people do not have to put up with poor living arrangements which the landlords themselves would not put up with. We have come through it, through to the other side of Hell; others may not be so lucky.