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Residents left out in the cold

A student walking through boiling water streaming from the ceiling : Photo - Heather Hearn

A student walking through boiling water streaming from the ceiling : Photo - Heather Hearn

Residents of Stanmer Court, some of the more expensive accommodation on campus, are demanding compensation after two terms of irregular heating and hot water, extensive flooding, inconsistent internet connection, and a lack of cleaning that has interrupted the students social and intellectual life at the university.

Most of the major problems have occurred in block B of the building. A Student said: “the hot water has been off so many times, sometimes for two or three days. It has been a consistent problem since day one, and for the rent we pay it is ridiculous.” “When it goes off we are always offered to go to shower in four rooms in block A and C (there are 150 students in block B and four showers available to us in block A and C.) They have also offered us showering facilities in Pevensey 1 as well as the Sport Centre and Bramber House on campus, which is a massive trek and inconvenience just to take a shower, a basic necessity that we pay for.” Another student who went to use showers on campus said: “Me and my friends went to the sports centre but the showers were communal so we all had to stand guard in front of the shower curtain while we took it in turns to shower, it was just ridiculous.”

The residents say that they are ‘disappointed’ with the university response to their problems, one saying: “Our feelings in general are those of unreliability on behalf of the university. It seems like we never know what is going to happen next, and that is what is so frustrating. We pay £104 a week for a service, and practically every week they fail to provide us with a service; whether that service is hot water, heating, cleaning, security, or just general health and safety issues. The university had the same problems with hot water last year, meaning they had all summer to fix the problem. But a year on and we’re still losing out on hot water each week.”

“We had to walk through steam with a huge risk of boiling water falling on us”

105 Residents in block B have signed a petition against the conditions of their flats. A student told The Badger: “it was on the 8 October last year when the problems began, literally about a week after we had moved in…our hot water and heating is a fortnightly problem and is ridiculously inconsistent for the amount of rent we pay – by the end of last term there was a 5 to 8 day period without hot water and heating, and we were offered £7.50 compensation which was labelled as a ‘gesture of good will.’” “Most of us are unsatisfied by the amount of compensation we received, it feels like last term is unresolved, they also didn’t mention the compensation policy that the university has in the email they sent us, I only found out about it in a meeting a few days ago. There has been a complete breakdown of communication between the university and us, although we have received numerous emails, nothing is ever properly fixed.” Another student added: “it seems like everything is a quick fix in the residencies and the problem will reoccur again in the next week, which it often has done.”

Boiling water pouring through the ceiling - Photo: Heather Hearn

Boiling water pouring through the ceiling - Photo: Heather Hearn

Student anger was exacerbated in February when extensive flooding occurred in block B after a burst valve meant that boiling water poured through the ceilings in adjoining hallways between flats. One student said: “I was extremely shocked at the university’s reaction and I was quite disgusted that no one at the university seemed to appreciate just how dangerous this was for residents; the fire alarms were going off, so people were leaving their flats, but we had to walk through steam with a huge risk of boiling water falling on us.” Another student said: “I understand that the flooding was beyond their control, but we were treated in a very nonchalant way. When my flatmates went to tell reception at 7 o clock that morning, they simply told them not to worry and put a bin in the middle of the kitchen (despite water pouring through every bit of the ceiling). It was not until 11 o’clock that anything was actually done to try and get rid of the water coming through, and as our kitchen couldn’t be used we were told to eat out for the next couple of days, at our own expense.” “All our food was damaged – in my cereal box there was moisture inside the plastic and one of my flatmates opened her cupboard on the fourth or the fifth day after the flooding and there was still water in the cupboard and dirty water in all her pots and pans.” “It was only on the sixth day after the flooding that we were able to use our kitchen again and it was only yesterday [9th March] that we were able to remove our humidifiers. We still don’t use our kitchen properly because the water was so dirty.”
 

“It seems like everything is a quick fix in the residencies and the problem will reoccur again in the next week”

On the day of the flooding there was no water supply in Stanmer Court, and residents were unable to have a glass of water, use any facilities in their flats and were unable to use their en-suite bathrooms, making it impossible to live normally in the accommodation.

There have been many problems with plumbing in the flats. In one incident a student describes how “all the plumbing in my bathroom was completely messed up, sewage was coming up into my shower and there were splatters of what looked like poo in my shower, it was absolutely disgusting”. She said: “This happened on a Wednesday and they said they couldn’t get anyone to come and fix my plumbing until the following Tuesday, I couldn’t use anything in my bathroom including the toilet until then so I had to use someone else’s en-suite which was incredibly annoying and inconvenient for the both of us. I got paid £7.50 compensation like everyone else but not for the extra inconvenience of having no bathroom for almost a week and a shower with sewage.

The students in Stanmer Court have the support of the USSU Welfare Officer, Richa Kaul-Padte, who, in a statement to The Badger said: “The Students’ Union is dismayed both at the conditions in Stanmer Court and the University’s response to the situation. What is particularly shocking is the University’s ability to transcend the regulations and laws that would be applicable if the same situation were to occur in the private rented sector – the tenants could take the landlord to court. The Compensation Policy in use by the University (co-drafted with the SU some years ago) is meant to serve as a guideline, only. The university have allegedly gone above and beyond the policy to be fairer to the tenants. Many received £7.50 for the ‘inconvenience’ caused. They are one of the more expensive university accommodation and pay a high amount of rent of £104 a week, deeming the sum £7.50 far too low.” She continued, “I call upon the University to recognise that students’ lives have been disrupted, and that simple apologies and explanations do not serve as adequate responses. We would like to see the University fully recognise their responsibility to create a good home for students living on campus – through a reassurance that this will not reoccur, and by providing compensation that is reflective of the situation within the residence.”

Caution: Wet floor - Photo: Heather Hearn

"Caution: Wet floor" - Photo: Heather Hearn

There have also been several other problems with the accommodation including an unreliable internet connection, key-com phones not working, rendering the residents unable to call security and have irregular cleaning, including no cleaning of the students bathrooms for three consecutive weeks, a service which they are paying for. The gate by the station to the halls has also broken. A student said: “we pay for a secure building, and we are especially vulnerable as we are next to an underpass and a train station.” “If it’s going wrong you should look for a solution, so far they haven’t fixed the gate, just told us that they are aware of the problem.”

Regarding the problems, the University has told The Badger: “In the early hours of the morning of Thursday 26 February there was a flood in Block B of Stanmer Court, believed to be caused by a burst valve in the plant room housing the hot water supply system. Our teams immediately turned off the water to this block and alerted affected students to the situation. Whilst no student rooms were affected as a direct result of the flood, damage was caused to some communal areas and kitchens and, of course, there was a loss of water supply to the building whilst emergency repairs were carried out. There has also been intermittent disruption to the heating and hot water supply to Block B over recent months.”

“We have written to all students who have been affected to apologise for the problems. We are working hard with the developer (who have overall responsibility for maintenance of the building) to resolve them as quickly as possible. In the short term, temporary repairs have been made to the system and the Residential Services team at Stanmer Court are currently monitoring the hot water tanks hourly, to ensure the tanks remain at the correct temperature. Both the University and the developer are committed to providing a long-term solution and have enlisted specialist independent companies to investigate the issues.”

This is not the first incident to occur in Stanmer Court block B. In October 2007, The Badger revealed a similar series of problems which ultimately led to compensation of £200 per resident affected, but so far the university has been unwilling to discuss figures. They said: “We have told all affected students that we will of course consider the matter of compensation in line with our current policy, which can be viewed at online. We plan to meet with representatives of the students who are affected to discuss this, in order to compensate before the end of term next Friday (20 March).”

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5 Comments

  1. It’s not just Stanmer Court. I live in off-campus university managed accommodation and we have had consistent problems since we moved in, from electrical faults and sparking fuse boxes to overflowing toilets and damp patches…
    What can we do about this? The university don’t seem to care.

    Reply
  2. It’s vital that everyone in sub-standard accomodation works together to get proper repairs and compensation. I would suggest considering a rent strike as a last resort, but before that, complain complain complain, try to get publicity in local papers, protest in library square etc. The first years putting up with all this don’t seem to have the Sussex spirit!

    Reply
  3. Hi Helen,
    Have you spoken to the Housing Office about it. I suggest contacting Andy Howarth directly – you should be able to find his address on the website.
    He can probably liaise with your building manager to see what the problems are.
    If that doesn’t work, please just get in touch with me. My email address is welfare@ussu.sussex.ac.uk and I can speak to them on your behalf.

    Reply
  4. I lived in Block C last year, and we got £216.50 compensation just because the hot water wasn’t working consistently. I think every resident at Stanmer did.

    £7.50 is an insult, and I’m glad we got out when we did !

    Reply

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