– Originally published in Palatinate Comment in October 2015 –
In first year, the college housing talk was the start of my housing panic. Our fellow students soothed that there would be plenty of houses left even as late as January. That was true. But finding a house in an area of town I’d actually like to live in (no Neville’s Cross or Framwellgate Moor for me) wasn’t as simple.
Many of the houses and flats we were interested in just vanished. We had an appointment to view one house in Elvet Crescent, but someone snapped it up before we could even step inside. For another house, the process felt a little like a messed-up dating show. In groups we met the landlord at the Students’ Union to express an interest and he chose who to bestow the contract upon. We weren’t the lucky ones, so back to the drawing board it was.
By the end of November we were starting to get a little desperate, realising that the best city centre pads were vanishing before our eyes. In the end, thankfully, we found somewhere.
The house I’m living in was one of the last available in Whinney Hill. For a couple of reasons we needed to live within a short walk of the city centre and Bill Bryson. So, spotting a house still languishing on the market, we pounced.
When we went to visit, the happy-go-lucky residents told us that everything was great. The only problem I can remember was that the insulation in the hallway wasn’t the best, so it could get a little chilly sometimes. They didn’t seem that concerned though. After all, my college room often resembled a sauna. I thought it would be a nice change to be somewhere a little cooler.
Fast forward seven months and first year was over. Shortly after the end of term I went to the letting agents and picked up my keys. In the envelope was also a leaflet about mould and damp that it was apparently imperative I made my housemates aware of. At that time it didn’t seem like a bad omen, just a letting agent doing their job. If they weren’t keeping the properties in a good state of repair what was the point of them?
A short drive away from the letting agents later, I arrived outside of my new home for the next year. The red peeling paint on the door was a little less appealing than I had remembered and a mountain of cigarette butts had miraculously appeared in the front yard. At this stage I was still hoping for the best. After all, student homes aren’t meant to be the most luxurious of places.
Front door swings open. There is a strange smell in the room, reminiscent of a dreary old people’s home. My hopes for the perfect start have been dashed, but perhaps it won’t get any worse…
Those annoying online listicles about student life always say to do an inventory, so I decide to start with that. Handprint on one of the walls, like something out of a horror movie, check. A massive brown stain on my bedroom carpet, which looked as if someone has had a bit of an accident, check.
My family later brought a carpet cleaner to the house and were amazed at the black jelly-like substances that flowed out from the machine afterwards.
There was a long, rambling visit to the letting agents. Followed by multiple emails across the summer period. There were insects crawling under the lino, slug trails, a mouldy washing machine, a door that kept on jamming, and even lovelier surprises.
There has been no rent reduction or offer of compensation for all of the trouble we’ve spent trying to make the house liveable ourselves.
Last year’s tenants were right though. Without the heating on the house is freezing. When we moved in we tried to brave the house with no heating. We ended up eating outside at a picnic table and hiding in bed under duvets and blankets. Once my fingernails started to go purple and I was spending more time with an elephant shaped hot water bottle than my housemates it was time to stop. The heating is on now.
We’re told not to rush into finding a house yet if we don’t we spend a year living in a hovel. What’s a student to do?