Just like that, after nearly 3 hours of trying to make up our minds, we signed the contracts and paid the dues. We finally had a place to stay.
All of a sudden, once the money had left our accounts, it was possible to obtain the keys to the house, something that could not be done before. Strange. Once the paper work was done and we got the keys, I suggested that we see the house before we went back to Nayim’s accommodation where I was now crushing at because my contracted ended before we could get a new space. Nayim agreed.
When I tell you that utter shock befell us when we walked into the house, trust me! It was a like being hit unexpectedly in the face by a wrecking ball. Not that I know the feeling, but I imagine that is how it would feel. The signs were telling right from the minute we got onto the first few streets leading to the apartment. DODGY! I had already decided that should we live there, there was no way I could walk home late at night on my own. It was nothing like Wembley Park where I lived for a whole year prior. The outside of the complex screamed council houses but I tried to remain optimistic. At this point, none of us were uttering a word.
It got painfully silent when we walked into the house. My heart dropped! It was the black greasy walls in the kitchen, the black melted toaster and microwave, the live wires, the broken windows, the mould, the brown bathroom titles that were probably once white, the ungodly state of the toilet and bathtub (where was the shower head?), the unsecured stair case, the broken curtain rods, the dusty beds… dilapidated doesn’t even begin to describe the state of that house. My heart was beating fast, my blood was boiling, fear was creeping in. Then the door was opened from the outside and a tall white boy walked in. He wanted to know who we were and we wanted to know who he was.
We quickly found out that he had rented a few rooms in the house together with his friends a week ago and that they had been living uncomfortably for a week. He said that he had just come back from Flintons to complain about everything wrong with the house, complaints he said he had been making for a week with no help or response from Flintons. Apparently, there was no water, no gas, and everything seemed to be falling apart. The housing agent did not care.
I was panicking. They hadn’t cooked in a week and neither had they showered. The contract claimed that the amount paid covered all utility bills including WiFi but it didn’t. One had to foot the bills and then claim a refund, something that they do not highlight when walking you through the terms and conditions. In fact, their contract is so vaguely written and is open to misinterpretation.
We had to go and get back a refund. Considering that we had paid that very day, it surely would be possible. We were wrong. Very wrong.
Flintons took us in circles with processes that didn’t seem to exist and our daily commutes to their offices demanding our refund were met with arrogance and mocking. Our second agent and his team laughing in our faces at our distress. They knew what they had done. They didn’t care. It was their MO, it worked. — Housing in London is BIG business. There are loads of people streaming in from all over the world looking for places to stay. Rent has been hiked and the living spaces are getting smaller and smaller. Everyday desperate people are being scammed. It just the norm. There are loopholes in the law and people have taken advantage.
Mymorning showers were routined by tears because I didn’t want Nayim to see me crying. Full days spent outside Flintons offices and commutes on the tube painfully silent between us. The knot in my throat tightening further as the days went by. The emotional distress was painful and had the potential to sink us into depression. I remember one silent tube ride back to Nayim’s place where he broke down into tears. It didn’t matter that we were surrounded by Londoners trying to make their way home. His tears just flowed. It was painful.
It took me about three days to tell my dad that his money had gone down the drain. Before then, I didn’t know how else I would break it down to him. It was a lot of money. As a widower and father of three doing your best to provide so that your children continue to have the same standard of life that they had when their mother was around, I would imagine this is the last thing you want to hear. I didn’t want to worry him, but I couldn’t raise the money on my own to get another place. I had spent nearly all of my savings helping to pay for my accommodation and personal expenses during the one year that I had been away (I didn’t want to be a burden, even though he keeps saying that he would do anything to make our dreams a reality) and now I couldn’t afford this on my own.
I made the call.
Nayim was grabbing us dinner at KFC and I stepped out to speak to him and as I narrated the ordeal, I broke down. I cried. Painful hot tears streamed down my face, the knot in my throat now tighter than ever. I wish I had made that phone call when everything went wrong. My father was calm, his voice reassuring, confident that everything was going to be okay. “Barbs, it is just money. The important thing is that you are okay.”
We had been so consumed with the pain that we had forgotten that we could try and find other means to solve the matter. We reported the case to our bank and reached the civil courts. I spent my days combing through the UK housing laws pertaining to renting houses etc. and followed necessary procedure to take the matter to court. When I was not doing this, I was crying myself to sleep every night and wishing that I listened to my gut. I cried every day for 2 months. How could I be so stupid to get conned? I was so embarrassed about getting conned that I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. I got off social media and only spoke to the people that I needed to speak to.(Looking back now, I wonder what I was so afraid of, people lose money every day, I didn’t see it like this at the time) I let the situation eat at me from the inside. I suffered on my own. Nayim was in similar pain but talking about it or trying to comfort each other made it worse.
Eventually, Nayim moved into an airbnb and I moved in with Samantha who had fortunately not paid for the house and was able to get another place. I was going to get an airbnb but Samantha wouldn’t have it. “You can stay with me as you look for another place, there’s no need to spend more money.” While she was lovingly hosting me and happy to have a friend in her new space and we could hang out all the time, I felt like a burden. I continued to cry in the shower in the mornings and would sometimes sit in her closet by myself and just cry. I couldn’t get past how they played us, how I missed the signs and how cruel human beings could be. My brain just wouldn’t process it all.