Durham student house ‘absolutely ransacked’ while tenants away in lockdown

The 10-person house in Crossgate Moor was turned upside down in a new take on ‘decorating’ without the tenants’ knowledge or consent

A 10-person student house in Crossgate Moor was left uninhabitable after Harrington’s contractors let themselves into the property without giving prior notice to the tenants, who had returned to their family homes for the lockdown period.

The Tab Durham spoke to a resident who had to return to the house to stay there during lockdown. On her arrival she initially thought the house had been burgled due to the state the property was left in.

The tenant told us Harrington’s had reached out on the 18th March to enquire as to whether there would be anyone staying in the property during lockdown so that their records could be updated for use in an emergency.

Harrington’s had also been in contact with the lead tenant to inform them that renovations to the property would be taking place in July, and that all non-essential maintenance and house visits wouldn’t be taking place during lockdown. Contrary to this, ladders and decorating equipment including paint was left in the property, alerting the tenants to what had happened.

The tenant told The Tab Durham: “My clothes, including my bras and knickers had been moved and thrown on the bed. I just felt completely violated and mortified that my personal possessions were handled like that. I am already anxious about my personal space and knowing someone had been touching my underwear just sent me.”

Belongings which cost hundreds in value such as tennis rackets, guitars and an iPad had been moved and are were subject to damage from decorator’s paint. Most areas in the house were left uninhabitable. “The bathroom and my bedroom were completely covered in dust and dirt”, the tenant told The Tab.

The Tab Durham was informed that “[At first] Harrington’s refused to take any fault and were completely unsympathetic, [we] kept arguing back and forth about the contract and our negotiator kept saying they didn’t need to give us 24 hours [notice before entering our house] even though it is written in the contract and in law.”

The tenants then asked that the case be handled by the manager and were handed directly to the owner of Harrington’s. Harrington’s have since admitted fault.

The house has requested a formal apology and the repayment of the past three weeks rent where the house has been uninhabitable. In place of this, Harrington’s has offered a £50 repayment per tenant.

Harrington’s have since notified the house that they intend to amend all of their contracts so that only communal areas can be decorated during a tenancy and only with permission from all tenants.

The Tab Durham reached out to Harrington’s for response. A spokesperson for the company told us that in line with government legislations, work in empty properties was able to be continued as the company were advised in an email dated 31st March that all tenants had now returned home.

Harrington’s told The Durham Tab: “All Harrington’s staff are working from home currently unsupervised. The member of staff mistakenly thought that because the property was empty, there was no requirement to give 24 hours’ notice. This is an honest mistake made by a junior unsupervised staff member. The painters claim not to have caused any damage whilst moving items to the centre of the rooms.”

“Due to the government travel restrictions that are currently in place because of Covid-19, the painters left the house confident that no tenants would return until the travel restrictions were lifted. They therefore decided, unbeknown to Harrington’s to leave the cleaning until Monday morning 27th April.

“There has been no lack of sympathy from Harrington’s, we ensured a member of staff was at the property within 30 minutes from receiving the call to help the tenant. Harrington’s have already apologised and also accepted fault for not giving 24 hours’ notice.

“We are very sorry for the distress that this has caused our tenants. Harrington’s has taken full responsibility for this matter and has therefore offered compensation and an apology to the tenants for this incident. We have always tried to do the best we can for all our student tenants and hence we want to make sure that we are portrayed correctly. But for Covid-19 restrictions, this mistake would not have happened by both the junior staff member and the painters. We are all doing the best we can, in what are very challenging circumstances for everyone.”

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