Negotiating the rental market can feel like a labyrinth of pitfalls and whack-a-mole issues. Once upon a time, living with a hole in the floor, a mould-encrusted ceiling or a potential danger to life might have raised a few eyebrows. These days, landlords are all too happy to shrug them off – or worse, attempt a quick fix themselves.
When I lived in my old uni house, the boiler was shoved into a tiny cupboard at the top of the loft stairs. It was least 20 years old, with Post-It notes on the rotting contraption instructing us on which knobs to turn when it shut down, which it did quite regularly. British Gas periodically came over to patch it up when it leaked or broke, which was basically like sticking a plaster over a hole in the Titanic. It turned out that our landlord had put it there to squeeze another room in, and he said he’d need to remove part of the roof and use a crane to replace it.
Sadly, stories like this are par for course in the wild world of landlordism. Using plastic bags to fix leaks? Plywood to cover up a hole in the floor? To those afflicted by Landlord Brain and consumed by the insatiable need to live off the hard-earned cash of poor renters, all these things aren’t just acceptable – they’re solutions worthy of Changing Rooms or Grand Designs. Someone get Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen on the line!
Below are 12 appalling stories of landlord DIY at its absolute worst. Some people have multiple horror stories. Some names have been changed in order to protect the renters’ identities from any retaliation from their current landlord. But all suffered the curse of quick-fix landlords.
“In our uni accommodation one year, water started coming through our ceiling and the walls got so damp after a while that we ended up with a hole in the wall. It turned out there was a balcony above the room where all the water was leaking in. To solve the issue of the hole, they shoved a Sainsbury's bag into the white wall and then put a square bit of wood over the top, which obviously did nothing. The damp remains and the leak is very much not fixed.” – Sam Jones*, London
“In my uni third year, I lived in what I would describe as initially decent-seeming student accommodation. A few months in we spotted what we thought must be a leak underneath the shower, which we could see due to the growing damp ring and rather large bulge in the ceiling from the hallway below.
“As the weeks went by, the dip in the ceiling became larger and larger, looking close to collapsing in on itself. Showering became like an old-school Raven challenge, with each of us jokingly announcing we were risking the shower, half-expecting our naked body to fall through the floor and slap onto the cool, hard tiles below.
“After months of badgering, the landlord informed us he was sending over ‘Raphael’, who turned out to be a painter. To fix the dangerous leak in our ceiling – which presumably by this point was rotting the floorboards – he painted over the damp ring, rather annoyingly with a different shade of white, but still leaving a rather dangerous looking lump.” — Chloe Smith, York
“We had a leak in the shower so our landlord got some ‘builders’ round, but alas, they had absolutely no idea what they were doing. They came round with some budget sealant and just squeezed it out like toothpaste in various parts of the bathroom, including on top of the sink, where they decided to seal the sink plug to the top of the sink... [But] the leak was in the bath.” – Perry Broadman*, London
“Our landlord owned our flat and the one next door, both of which were ground floor and basement flats. The bathroom in the neighbouring flat flooded and their whole living room was destroyed. The flood then breached into our flat: I came home one day and my room was completely flooded with bathroom water and my clothes and papers bobbing around. I ended up having to move into uni accommodation for a week.
“When I returned, I realised that while the water had been drained away, the landlord had merely attempted to use a dehumidifier to suck all the remaining water out of the carpet and floor. Next door tried to sue him for a load of lost possessions but he just went AWOL for the rest of the term, as far as I remember.” – Hannah McGreevey, Durham
“Our wardrobe in our uni house had sliding doors. For some reason the floorboards were really warped, so after a while the doors wouldn’t slide anymore. Instead of fixing the floor, our landlord just removed the doors! We came back and they were just gone…There was also a problem after a while with our bedroom doors not opening due to the increasingly warped floors. They came to ‘sort it out’ but, instead just sawed an inch off the bottom of each of our doors… Needless to say, they do now open.” – Sam Jones*, London
“When we moved into our house, one of the dining chairs was a bit wobbly, but we didn’t think much of it. We all moved in at different times and when one of the new housemates arrived, we had coffee in the kitchen. Our poor housemate sat on the dodgy chair and fell to the ground! We asked our landlady to fix or replace the chair, so she popped round. After much hammering and commotion, we were given this monstrosity - a nail haphazardly driven through one of the well-worn supports of the chair, finished with a flourish of tape when the nail didn’t quite work. It remains in the kitchen; a beacon of disappointment.” — Beth Martin*, London
“On a random night in my student house where I lived with six other students, the floor of our bathroom on the ground floor collapsed whilst someone was walking through it. The floorboards underneath were evidently quite old and had got wet from various leaks, and gave way. We contacted our landlord [who] basically put a few thin planks of plywood over the hole in the floor, and then covered it up with lino. It felt like we were ‘walking the plank’ every time we went to the toilet or had a shower.” — Ollie Davies, York
“There was a room I went to look at that had an empty six pint milk bottle wedged under the Velux window to keep it open. It was during a heatwave and it was the only way to keep it open so as to get air into the room. It was a loft extension and had been a very dodgy job. To make things worse, there were also buckets in the kitchen to catch the drips from a leak and mould everywhere. The worst thing was the landlord pulled up in a lovely huge expensive car. The house was an absolute dive.” — Grainne Hallahan, London
“Before we moved into our student house, our landlord effectively plastic-wrapped the entire kitchen wall to save him having to plaster it. They then put an oven against the wall, so the hot gases caused the plastic to melt as they seeped out of the oven. This of course released plastic fumes into the kitchen every time we used the oven…We all felt really unwell all the time and couldn’t work out why until someone came to fix the oven after it – luckily – broke.” — Celia Hansell, Brighton
“Long story, but our neighbour came up and told us something was leaking from our flat. The landlord’s handyman had a look around, but couldn't find anything. Shortly after that, the neighbour’s ceiling fell in and as the flat below belonged to the council, they got involved.
“For some stupid reason our toilet tank was behind the bathroom tiles, so they couldn’t access it without breaking the wall down. They found some botched plumbing which was why it had been leaking – so then we had a hole in the wall between our flat and our neighbour’s bathroom for a week or so. The landlord’s handyman finally retiled the wall… but didn't leave room for the toilet to get connected again… so they had to break a part of the wall down to reconnect it again.
“They also pulled the shower wall off to find the leak, so we had to shower in the other direction for a while to stop the water going into the neighbouring flat.” — Helen Simmons, London
“Our skylight started leaking badly so we called the landlord to ask him to sort it out. He didn’t want to pay to get it fixed, so we ended up with a black bin bag over the skylight ‘secured’ with tiles.” — Tom Lane*, Swindon
“Our uni walls were so damp there was black and white mould all over them. Every time the wall got really mouldy, we would tell the landlord and she would send someone to just paint over it… [which] didn't exactly solve the issue. Oh, and when we moved in the lights couldn’t be used due to the damp issues. The DIY fix was for us never to turn the lights on and that was just standard for the whole tenancy.” Sam Jones*, London
*Name has been changed to protect identity