Hiatt Baker housing fiasco is a living nightmare for 90 freshers

Builders allegedly entered bedrooms without permission

It was just another typical January morning for Samar Khan, a Physics and Philosophy fresher living in Hiatt Baker last year.

As the wind and rain lashed at his windows, he lay in bed with his girlfriend. Suddenly, at 8.30am, Samar claims that without even a knock at the door, a builder entered his room. It wasn’t the first time his privacy was violated and it wouldn’t be the last. Samar told The Tab:

“For almost an entire year I couldn’t feel comfortable in my own room.”

Those arriving at Hiatt Baker in September 2014 had no reason to suspect they weren’t about to embark on the most exciting and enjoyable year of their lives so far.

On the swanky accommodation office website the 2014 freshers, each of them paying upwards of £5800 for their rooms, were promised “beautiful green, leafy surroundings away from the noise and bustle of the city.” The reality was more Baghdad than Bristol.

Hiatt Baker sept 2014

Hardly green and leafy – the sight greeting new undergrads in 2014

In documents given to all the new residents, Hiatt Baker chiefs promised new self-catered housing would be ready by July 2014. Clearly this wasn’t the case.

In a September 2014 email to the fresh intake, the Head Warden, M.J. Crossley Evans said:

“I very much regret that there are external areas which are incomplete and rather unsightly… the contractor will continue with some landscaping during the first few weeks but anything likely to cause significant disruption will be deferred to next summer.”

"rather" unsightly

“rather” unsightly

As these weeks dragged on into months and “significant disruption” turned into a plethora of unsettling problems, Crossley’s promise of deferral began to seem ever more hollow for those living in Hiatt Baker.

Scenes like this were common for months

Scenes like this were common for months

Between September 2014 and April 2015 the reality of Crossley’s “landscaping” became clear: those staying in the new self-catered blocks would live surrounded by the ugliness of mangled grounds and the interminable noise of building work almost every day between 8.30am and 5.00pm.

11748701_10155838865230721_403423659_nFurious Harry Winslet, who studies Biology, was appalled by the “excessive” noise, the broken lift in his block and the constant disruption to the communal kitchen – a huge problem in a self-catered block. He said he would never have lived in Hiatt Baker if he’d known what it would be like.

11774773_10155838865800721_1887276282_nLike Samar and Harry, Kate, a History fresher, was excited to begin living in one of Stoke Bishop’s trendiest and most popular residences. Instead she claims that she endured an unnerving experience when a builder entered her room unexpectedly.

“The extent of strangers coming into our rooms was ridiculous. One time I’d fallen asleep after a shower, only wearing a towel. I was basically naked.”

“That’s when some guy burst into my room without knocking. Previously I’d been soundly asleep and now I was terrified. He stayed in the kitchen for a further hour which was really intimidating, as I was the only one in the flat and he had a key to my room.”

Another fresher even alleged a builder entered their flat as late as 10:40pm, with no introduction, looking for the boiler.

This screenshot gives an idea of how it was to live surrounded by builders

This screenshot gives an idea of how it was living with constant intrusion

The university has given an account of the situation flatly contradicting Samar, Kate and others who claimed builders entered their bedrooms and apartments all the time.

A spokesperson told us: “Contractors’ access to the buildings was restricted to between 9.00 am and 4.30 pm, Monday to Friday, and all access cards were programmed for those times only.  None of the builders’ access cards gave access to student bedrooms.”

“We sincerely regret the disruption experienced by residents of Hiatt Baker Hall.”

“We are aware that a number of faults were reported by students throughout last year, one of the most significant being a ceiling light falling down which was dealt with on the same day. We worked closely with the contractors to ensure that most other faults were dealt with on the day or day after they were reported, although some works, for example the need to change shower filters in every room, inevitably took longer.”

unnamedSamar is one of up to 90 upset residents who have complained to the university about poor living standards in Hiatt Baker. He felt their complaints have been dealt with in a “confrontational, insensitive and unhelpful” manner.

“It feels like we are banging our heads against a brick wall. What this shows is the uni is just another business, not an institution which feels any duty of care to those who pay for it.”

Annisha, 19, who studies law, said that her complaints were always met with emails telling her to fill out a form – the result being she never felt as if they were being taken seriously. A feeling exacerbated when one email from the Accommodation Office was addressed to “Annistra” not Annisha.

Angry freshers have been offered rebates ranging between £50 and £300. Samar and others have been quick to point out that this is the third year in a row where Hiatt Baker has been locked in a bitter dispute with residents over housing conditions. In previous years the rebate was as high as £700.