Hold on Tight

This week has been extremely stressful, thanks to our horrible landlords. Or whoever the people are that we keep in contact with regarding our flat. I’ll get into this later.. On Sunday, Jess and I mostly relaxed for the whole day. I made banana crumb muffins that morning, which were so good! I was determined to find Stovetop Stuffing, but was unsuccessful when I went grocery shopping that afternoon 😦 However, I found something very similar and it actually tasted exactly the same! I had a whole chicken to cook, and added the stuffing and panfried some asparagus for a small Thanksgiving dinner. However, Jess was still extremely sick and ended up going to bed early, so I enjoyed my Thanksgiving dinner alone. It was still really good though! That night, I made some pumpkin cookies, which we’ve been snacking on all week; absolutely delicious!
On Monday, I headed to a completely different school on the outskirts of London. Actually technically, it’s not even part of London and it took nearly 1.5 hours for me to get there. Not only did I have to take a bus and two trains, but once I got to the station, my agency told me to take a 15-minute taxi ride to the school, which ended up costing 13 pounds (which Prospero kindly said they’d reimburse me for 10 of it..). Anyway, I ended up teaching English all day, which was kind of weird. I’m pretty sure the job was meant for Jess but she ended up calling in sick so they must have just given it to me instead. Just when I think I’ve seen the worst school ever, and can’t imagine a school being any more horrible, a new one comes along out of nowhere. The students in this school were moreso just straight-up rude and gave off the impression that they were better than everyone else. Usually in a school, if another teacher walks into the room, the room goes completely silent but at this school, that still wasn’t the case. Students talk back to teachers all the time, but these students took it to a whole new level. I straight up told one class that I’ve never seen a class so rude in my entire life. During the entire day (which was really quite long), I started to think about other areas of work. Is this what I really went to school for? Did I really devote six years of my life for THIS? To be disrespected every single day? To be unappreciated? To want to help students who don’t even care to learn anything? Why am I doing this? Is it really worth it? I always remember my advisor’s voice popping in my head when she would talk about my internship, “Don’t let THIS experience make you think this is what being a teacher is like,” and I try to live by that every day, especially on the worst of days. And I know it’s going to be like this while being a supply teacher, because students ALWAYS give supply teachers a hard time no matter where you are in the world. But even looking now, the students don’t respect their actual teachers. They’re solely only scared of them. Scared of getting detention or getting their phone taken away. I hear crap being talked about their teachers more than anyone else would and trust me, even these full-time teachers haven’t earned the majority of their students’ respect. Things have changed so much. I remember loving school and always wanting to learn. And I would STILL get to chat with my friends in class, because I always finished my work and would have nothing else to do – NOT cause I didn’t want to do work and would sit there wasting the entire hour (except maybe in English class). I just don’t get it. Being able to learn should be such a privilege, and kids these days don’t think of it like that. In university, they said that you’ll always relate to the students who you see yourself in and that’s why I find it SO difficult to relate to all those students who just don’t care. And the amount of students who are like me are becoming less and less in number. Anyway, after school I had to get back to central London because I had to hand in my election ballot at the Canadian Embassy by 2pm on Wednesday in order to get it back to Canada on time. The thing that made this difficult was that the Embassy was only open Monday to Friday, and would close by 5pm every day. So I had to be quick! I refused to take a taxi back to the station cause I figured Prospero wouldn’t pay for the return one (and I was right). For some reason, the buses only came every hour on the hour and because school finished at 3pm, I could either wait for an hour or walk for 40 minutes to the nearest train station. Either way, it seemed like I wouldn’t be making it to the Embassy on time. I decided on walking, but I was pissed off because a) I had such a bad day at the school, b) I was basically out in the middle of nowhere and I likely shouldn’t have gotten sent there in the first place and c) That only left me one day to hand in my ballot. I got to the station RIGHT in time for the train (which also only comes once every hour) and because I caught it, it looked like I’d be able to make it to the Canadian Embassy in time! So I caught another train and a metro and made it with 20 minutes to spare! I ran up to the building and knocked on the door, and a security guard came to open it. “Yes?” “Hi, I came to drop off my ballot for the election,” “Oh, well you can’t cause we’re not open.” “What do you mean you’re not open?! It’s before five!” “Well we’re open every other day except Monday cause it’s a holiday in Canada today.” “Are you serious?” I was almost at my breaking point and could feel tears building up in my eyes, and turned around to walk away as the guard said, “Happy Thanksgiving!” Yes, happy indeed… Well, I ended up wasting 2.5 hours of my day just travelling from the school to central London, and back home again. When I got home, one of our downstairs flatmates (James) dropped by so we could all complain about the landlord and figure out what we should do. I then decided to go to a Step & Tone class at the gym. It was absolutely insane! It probably wouldn’t have been too difficult, except I didn’t know any of the steps. It wasn’t your typical step up, step down. The lady was yelling out all these things and I had no idea what half of them even were: “Hip-hop step, basic, step kick, double knee, double stop, cha-cha-cha” and I’m literally just standing there, wondering what the f*** is going on. But I could feel sweat coming out of my eyeballs, so I guess whatever she was doing was working!
On Tuesday, I got the phone call to come into work back at the all-girls school that I was at on Friday. The good news is they only needed me for half the day, so I didn’t have to show up until 1pm. Which gave me the entire morning to go back to the Canadian Embassy and submit my ballot! It was weird when I got there cause I had to put the envelope through an airport security thing so they could check that there wasn’t anything in the envelope. Then I had to walk through an airport security metal detector thing in order to put my envelope in the box. I then headed home, relaxed for awhile, and then went to the school. I only had to teach two periods and both were year 7 geography courses (yay!). All I had to do was put on documentaries about Russia and Africa and get them to write notes. Easiest day I’ve ever had! That night, I went to Zumba class for the first time and it was SO fun! I had such a blast; it was a great time! I walked home from the gym and happened to come across one of the neighbourhood foxes, who was trying to go through someone else’s garbage. I figured this would be the perfect moment to try to get a picture! As I was getting my camera aimed, another fox happened to walk down the road with what looked like a squirrel in its mouth. Suddenly, the other fox charged and a fox fight erupted less than five metres in front of me! I was actually freaking out because I’ve seen dog fights before and I can only imagine how bad fox fights could get, so I quickly started walking in the opposite direction. Crazy stuff!
On Wednesday, Jess and I got asked to go to the same school! I ended up teaching a couple English classes, a geography class, and a couple of music classes! For the music classes, the students had to write their own catchy songs. They had about 15-20 keyboards around the classroom and the students got to sit at their own keyboard with headphones, and figure out their song. It was pretty cool! Earlier that week, James (our downstairs flatmate) had told us that we only had 9 pounds left of gas so Jess wrote Lashari (the company who we deal with) on Tuesday night to tell them that we needed our gas topped up. As I’ve mentioned before, here they have prepay gas cards that have to be filled with credit, and then you fill up your gas with that. However, when the gas contractor came to do our annual check last month, he took our gas card and said that our agent would be bringing us a new one. Which he didn’t. Also, our contract had stated that gas was included in the utilities so technically, we shouldn’t be required to pay for gas. The company and agent have managed to avoid discussing that for the past month. Anyway, that day, Lashari wrote Jess back stating that not only is paying gas our responsibility, but that the contractor would deliver the gas card to us that day, and that we owe them 75 pounds because that’s what they topped up before (which is a lie, as we’ve never had 75 pounds of credit). I really started questioning the validity of these people, so I sent an email asking for a copy of the gas safety check, as well as the name and address of the landlord. That night, Becky and I went for dinner and met up with another girl that we had met at the social night a month ago. It’s nice finally having some people to meet up with every now and then, and be able to talk (and vent!) with them. I didn’t get home until about 11 or 11:30, so I was in for a short night of sleep.
On Thursday, I got called to go back to the same school that I was at the day before. This time, I taught math the entire day. It was a pretty smooth day, except for the very last class, which was absolutely horrible! It was like being back in the one school I was at for three weeks. The kids wouldn’t listen, were fighting, were running in and out of the classroom, and I couldn’t get them to do anything at all. That day, I sent a fairly long email to Lashari to address them about all of the problems I had:

Dear Mr. Muhammad,
I have recently been informed that we are still required to top up the gas ourselves, even though I have already brought this up (by text, phone, and email) that gas is included in the utilities according to the contract. Please note that I was extremely specific when talking to the agent (Ahmad) before signing the contract that I was only willing to pay maximum 650 per month and he assured me that with utilities, it would be just under 650. I would never under any circumstances agree to have signed the contract if I was aware that I would be paying extra expenses every month, so obviously you did not inform us of this before the contract was signed. Can you please provide me with where in the contract it states that we are required to pay for gas separately from the included monthly utilities? Because I can easily provide you with the portion that states that gas is included in the monthly utilities:

[On page 3 under “Janelle Achtemichuk agrees to”
1 Pay Lashari Ltdon the 28th of each month one month in advance by direct debit an estimated proportion of the gas, electricity, council, water and telephone bills etc. calculated so that each of the signatories (Janelle Achtemichuk and signatories) pays an equal share.]

By law, you are not allowed to change the amount of rent unless a) a year of lease term has passed or b) both parties have agreed to it. Therefore, because gas is included, your only options are to a) top up the gas yourself or b) get us to top up the gas, send you the invoice, and you deduct it from our monthly rent.
I’ve also been informed that we owe 75 pounds for the gas that was credited by the gas contractor. When were you planning to tell me and the rest of the flatmates this information, if Jess hadn’t brought up the topic with you? This is something that we should have been notified of the day that the credit was added, not a month later! Please be aware that I was present when the contractor was at our flat, and he specifically told me that there was 53 pounds on our account, so I’m not sure where the 75 pounds came from. Also, the inventory states that our credit was at 0 pounds, while flat A’s inventory states that their credit was at 57.77. I also checked the amount on September 13th, and our credit was at -9, while flat A’s was at 53, meaning that the amount of 53 was there before the contractor came, which means it would have been credited by the previous tenants. Then when the contractor came, the two gas gauges were combined into one and our overall credit “mysteriously” became the exact same number. Regardless, the 75 pounds should not be owing, as we’re not responsible for paying for gas anyway. I also had to go three days without gas, because I was under the impression that you were supposed to supply me with it (since under contract, you are). It is your responsibility to keep up a livable area and during those days, I went without heat and stove top because you avoided informing me about this information beforehand.
Please note that we are two busy professionals trying to live peacefully and you are taking that right away because every single week, you give us something new to worry about. This takes away our full attention at work because we are stressed about what’s happening back at the flat, and it is taking away our free time because we have to look into what you’re asking of us. Under law, you are still harassing us and I ask of you to please stop this. This has been extremely unprofessional and disrespectful. While we are young, we are not naive or stupid. Both of us are educated individuals with two degrees and we are well aware of our rights as tenants. We can also realize when we are being scammed or robbed of our money. If you aren’t aware or have forgotten your rights as landlords, I have attached a friendly reminder of what is required by law 🙂
https://www.gov.uk/private-renting
I would like to discuss this issue with someone in person and I think it would be a good idea to have a general meeting with all tenants during a time that works for everyone. Obviously, we need to review some things in great detail. Please provide me with an evening that works best for you. Have a great day.
Janelle Achtemichuk

Later that day, Lashari sent me a health and safety weekly sheet. Basically a couple of weeks ago, they scheduled a general meeting and informed us that they would be performing monthly checks to view our flat, but the meeting was scheduled when Jess and I would both be at work. We requested that they not come while we were away from the flat and told them that monthly checks were unnecessary. They said that in that case, they’d send us a health and safety sheet that would have to be signed weekly, which they finally sent now. But only sent to me out of all the flatmates (that I’m aware of). Some of the things in this check are absolutely RIDICULOUS!!!! I sent them an email stating that I refused to sign the sheet and why:
To whom it may concern, 
I for some reason received this health and safety check, even though I wasn’t aware that I would be receiving it. I would like to address some of my concerns. First of all, it is your duty and obligation as a landlord to do safety checks and to make sure the flat is under liveable conditions. 
 
“Landlords need to be safety conscious as they have a duty of care under common law, as well as under the statutory rules, for the health & safety of their tenants. More often than not all that’s required is paying attention to obvious dangers, doing regular checks and maintenance (mainly between tenancies), complying with regulations such as annual gas checks, and ideally documenting what you have done –  basic safety checklists and risk assessments are the ideal way of doing this.
 
For us to have to do a weekly check is somewhat excessive, and is still intruding on our right to live peacefully, as you are still continuously asking more from us. We didn’t disagree to having checks done by you; we simply requested that one of us be present when the safety check is occurring which means it would have to be done sometime in the evening on a weekday (at least after 4:30pm). Also in most places, checks only have to be done once every three months unless there is something seriously wrong and it has to be continuously watched in case it gets worse. 
 
Would it be possible to get all of the extra mail downstairs removed, as apparently it is a fire safety hazard and is also taking up a lot of space? Maybe the people who need to claim their mail can collect it from your office instead. 
 
I won’t agree to sign this sheet because:
a) I wasn’t provided with the Instructions for the Fire Alarm Controlling Box to read.
b) I was never taught how to check the fire alarms, even though we were supposed to be shown how to do so (according to the check-in sheet). I also asked how to check them during the check in and I was only shown how to turn them off. 
c) We weren’t provided with a diary to keep track of residence time sharers.
d) We weren’t provided with the information of the Health & Safety Officer for a risk assessment to be carried on if anyone stays with us
e) We don’t have lifts in the flat, so not sure why that’s in there?
f) I wasn’t provided with relevant Fire Guidelines as issued by The Fire Prevention Services
g) Checking fire alarms and equipment every day is ridiculous.
h) I’m not sure if the fire extinguisher has been tested within the last year.
i) We weren’t told how to use the fire blanket in the kitchen (and not sure if we have one?).
j) We weren’t told how to use the extinguishers.
 
As you can see, some of these requests are a bit unnecessary. Please edit the sheet and resend and/or provide me with a day and time (evening) when a check can be done by you. Jessica and I would agree to a health and safety check once every three months, as that is generally what is done between landlords and tenants. Thank you,
 
Janelle Achtemichuk
 
Basically, every evening of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday have been spent constantly researching my rights and what I can do to get out of this nightmare. Which is completely unfair as I should not be having to spend all of my free time worrying about this. Again, the landlords are taking away our right to live peacefully (and taking it to the extreme!). Jess and I were discussing the amount of mail that’s stored downstairs and there must be letters addressed to at least 25 different people. And it still keeps coming in daily! Obviously, there’s been a bunch of people who have moved in and out of this place, which is somewhat concerning. I also called the agent of Lashari and left him a very angry voicemail that evening. 
 
On Friday, I got asked to go to a completely different school. It was another girls’ school, and it was a really great school! I got to teach science the entire day, and the girls actually did their work without me constantly nagging on them. It was awesome! That morning, I received one email from Lashari which sent the gas safety document that I had asked for, but didn’t give the other information I had asked for about the landlord. That afternoon, I received another email with a reminder to sign the health and safety checklist. Other than that, I didn’t receive any other replies and neither did Jess, nor did I receive a phonecall back from the agent. After work, I went home and checked the gas credit, which was at 1.09. We still didn’t receive the gas card, which they said they would give us on Wednesday so we had no way to fill up our gas unless we got our own card. I called the agent four times and didn’t get an answer. Then, I called the Shelter advice hotline and told her everything that has been going on and she told me the steps I should take, and what I could use against these guys if we decide to take them to court. Basically, it sounded like we would have to buy our own gas, keep the receipt and try to get them to pay us back by taking it off our rent. After talking to her for 45 minutes, I called the agent three more times (once every hour) and still no answer. But oddly enough, one of the times that I tried calling, it said he was on the phone, talking to someone else? I also texted him three times, and emailed the company by replying to their health and safety checklist reminder:
 
To Muhammad,
 

I just spent the evening chatting with an expert who said that because this weekly sheet wasn’t included in the contract, I’m not expected to sign it. You still have yet to reply to my three emails. We have one pound of gas left on our meter and no card to refill it with. Please note that if we have to go the entire weekend without heat, you aren’t fulfilling your role as landlord in providing us with liveable conditions. We were told that Ahmad would bring us a gas card ONE MONTH AGO and we still haven’t  received it. Please contact me immediately.

Janelle Achtemichuk

 
And as icing on top of the cake, I got a phonecall from my teaching agent who asked me for a BIG FAVOUR. He asked me to go back to the school that I was at for three weeks for the entire week next week. Luckily, it’s my last week before half-term break, so my holidays will be well worth it! I wrote James and told him that we only had a pound of credit, and he told me to go get a card and put ten pounds on it so each of us would pay two pounds, until we get it sorted out. Jess and I walked to the store, but the lady told us that they only top up gas cards; they don’t sell them. The only place that sells gas cards is the post office, and it was already closed. So I guess we’ll be running out of gas at some point tonight. Jess and I have been freezing because we’ve kept the heat off in order to preserve the gas. This is getting absolutely ridiculous. It’s getting to the point where Jess and I don’t even want to live here anymore, but if we were to move out before our contract, it would cost us 275 pounds in order to write up a new contract for new tenants. And we would have to find the new tenants to replace us, or else they would keep our fees of 580 pounds each. I’m actually losing my mind; I don’t even know what else to do. It’s been an extremely stressful week. I actually woke up this morning, thinking it was just a nightmare and then realized that it WAS a nightmare but it was very much real. Hoping everything will get sorted out soon. I’m trying to keep myself going; I’m determined to keep fighting and make their lives a living hell, as they have done to me. If anyone has any ideas on what I should do, please let me know. Love and miss you all!!
Hold on Tight – Greg Holden

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