Having issues with your accommodation and not sure how to proceed? Take a look at Elliot’s step-by-step guide to addressing problems with your landlord and ensuring your voice is heard.
I’ve got more than my share of stories dealing with housing issues as a student tenant. Today, I want to share the step-by-step process that I use to resolve issues with problematic management – particularly when they’re determined to ignore you.
Why does this happen?
Short answer – there isn’t really incentive for a lazy property manager to fix issues or upgrade a student home.
- Undergrads are, on the whole, inexperienced with escalating an issue in an attention-grabbing way.
- Student houses are generally filled every year (regardless of state of house)
- Students can be too polite – simply carrying on if ignored.
So: this article aims to offer a solution to these issues by breaking down the process of escalating an issue with an absentee or difficult landlord (without resorting to shouting down a phone).
But first, there’s something that you MUST do:
Be a good tenant
Because it’s literally in your contract.
Ensure you can unequivocally check off every point under the ‘Tenant Obligations’ section. Generally, this includes paying rent on time (legally the most critical), avoiding noise complaints, and keeping the house in reasonable cleanliness and repair.
Fail to do this, and your case may not be considered favorably – or even backfire, endangering you legally.
If this warning doesn’t apply to you, without further ado, here’s how to escalate an issue with your landlord.
1. Contact them
But: do it right. This is the most important step.
First: CALL whoever is responsible for maintenance – tell them:
- Exactly what the issue is (e.g. top drawer of the small cabinet in the room at the back of the house on the 1st floor has a collapsed floor – as opposed to ‘my cabinet’s broken’).
- Exactly what you want done (‘I’d like either the drawer replaced, or the cabinet replaced entirely’ instead of ‘I want it fixed’).
- Why it’s an issue (‘I took the room understanding I would have 3 drawers worth of storage, and I currently only have 2’).
Don’t hang up until you’ve written down:
- What they intend to do (e.g. either come and take a look, or pick up a replacement and install it).
- When they intend to do it – this is CRITICAL, because it sets up a timeline after which you can start escalating. Note the date that you can expect to hear back from them, or expect to see them.
- Or: if they’re unwilling – why.
If you can’t get in touch: leave a message asking them to call you back.
Second: follow up the call/message with an email. Repeat both your request, and what they said they’d do, including any dates and times mentioned. Include photos of the issue, since this signals that you have photo evidence.
You’re leaving a paper trail, and proof you attempted to have your issues resolved.
If you can’t contact them (or they ignore you)- send an email with the request anyway, make a note of the date you tried to call, and skip straight to step two now. Otherwise…
Third – wait. And if they don’t get back to you by the date they set…
2. Make an appointment with a Housing Advisor
Since the service is free: I recommend using RUSU Housing Advice –just make an appointment via phone or email, or do a drop-in session during Advice Hours.
To do this, you need a copy of your housing contract (you should have one from your estate agent or landlord. If you don’t, request it), a printout of the email you sent, and if they didn’t reply – the dates you tried to call.
The goal is to understand:
- What part of the housing contract’s been breached
- How serious it is
- How to escalate
This part’s simple.
Most likely – you’re going to be advised speak to Reading Borough Council, (since they handle health and safety breaches).
As luck would have it – Technical Officers from the Civic Office sit in RUSU every other week, exactly for this purpose.
This is where the legal pressure starts to happen. Base your actions off your advisor’s recommendations.
4. Keep records – and expect contact from management
You’re nearly done. A council officer will now contact house management, informing them of the upcoming visit.
It’s likely that management will, at the very last minute, be VERY willing to solve all issues; so have a complete list of desired outcomes ready before this point, so you can simply hand it over.
If management doesn’t resolve- then the council will instruct you on what escalation will follow.
Keep a record of what happens – and follow their instructions, keeping in constant contact and sticking to any and all deadlines.
Overall, escalating an issue with a difficult landlord is a pretty simple process:
- Contact them both by phone and in writing.
- If they don’t respond – go to a RUSU Housing Advisor with your contract.
- Based on their response, escalate the issue (most likely with Reading Borough Council).
- Keep your record handy– and wait for the inspection. If it isn’t resolved by this point, RBC will help you escalate this legally.
Remember to be polite and professional throughout (being firm or annoyed is fine – just keep it civil and don’t take things personally). For the most part, people are just trying to maintain things as best they can.
But –others very definitely see vulnerable students as an opportunity to get lazy.
If this is the case, you now know how to escalate. Don’t let yourself be ignored.
You – and your house – will be better for it.