The City of Lincoln Accreditation Scheme, of which the university and Students’ Union are partners among others, lists Lighthouse as an approved student accommodation provider for its “safe, secure, well managed” housing. So at first glance the company’s reputation looks glowing.
Its website claims: “Lighthouse understands the issues faced by students and has successfully developed a student property service to meet those needs. From the moment you meet with our student lettings team you will know that you will be safe in our hands.”
The reality appears to be very different.
Tom Anstey, who has just graduated in journalism, said: “I was with them in second year. They barely turned up when we had problems, including a sofa which would collapse whenever anyone sat on it.”
Anstey, along with his housemates, were charged for replacing a toaster, a bin, a hoover, stains on a wall and carpet, and a broken door. “That would be fine,” says Anstey “except we had to buy a toaster because they didn’t supply us with one; we had to buy a bin for the same reason; the hoover never worked despite our requests it be fixed; the stains were pre-existing; the door was broken when we looked round the house let alone when we moved in.”
Sophy Rex, now a media production graduate, also lived in a Lighthouse property when she was in her second year. “We were robbed by previous tenants and they refused to change the locks. I had to ring up the police and send them round to Lighthouse to order they change our locks. Our electric cut out at 9pm at night and despite the 24hour emergency helpline no one came to fix the problem until the following evening. We had no heating for a whole year despite constantly badgering them about it.”
Rex claims she and her housemates left the property in a better state than when they moved in, yet were charged over a hundred pounds each from their deposits “including £9 to replace light bulbs that were never there when we arrived”.
She lived with Lighthouse again in her third year, “foolishly” as she puts is, and because Lighthouse manage a large amount of student properties in Lincoln. Her problems continued, she alleges: “The house was not fire safe. When I told Lighthouse they said it was not their responsibility, so I called Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue and they spoke to Lighthouse and demanded that they do it.
Also we signed a contract saying that all bills were included in the cost of the rent, so when we were told we had to top up the gas and electric meters with our own purchased cards, it took months of complaining and forcing… them to sort their act out. Eventually I moved into Pavillions after all the hassle.”
Eventually, Rex says, after taking Lighthouse to a tenancy deposit dispute service, she clawed back £60.
Another media production graduate, Jonathan Stone, lived in a Lighthouse property on Carholme Road. He and his housemates moved in to a house with a gas leak, some plug sockets hanging out of the wall, a bathroom door that was too small to fit the frame – which was also rotting – and a broken toilet seat.
During his tenancy he had to have three faulty ovens replaced, at one time having a condemned gas oven sitting out of the front of his house for several days. One of the ovens wasn’t replaced for three weeks, despite only the hob being in working order.
Finally, when he left the property, the house was charged £60 for the bathroom to be cleaned, in spite of it being fully cleaned before everyone left. Stone took photos of the property before leaving, including of the bathroom, and another housemate emailed Lighthouse to show that the bathroom was clean.
Stone says: “We wrote a letter of complaint in March and we had no reply. Why? We sent an email regarding costs a month ago and have had no reply. Why?”
James Dean, who graduated three years ago, recalls his experiences with Lighthouse: “When we moved in and walked up the stairs, the stairs collapsed as they were so rotten. [We had] no oven for over two months and no hot water or heating for over two months — we had to take baths and showers at other people’s houses.
Dean also alleges that as his tenancy approached the end, Lighthouse staff went into the property while he was away and took some of his items – including a mini fridge. Lighthouse told Dean they had taken it to the dump. “There was still a week left on the tenancy and funnily enough they didn’t take stuff like bedding to the dump along with the expensive stuff. They had no right to do this, but I was so exasperated with how shit they were I just wanted to cut ties with them.”
Tim Gardiner, a student who lived on Portland Street with his girlfriend, claims Lighthouse staff would turn up without giving notice – despite the tenancy agreement stating they had to give at least 48 hours notice. “We didn’t have much of a problem with this as we expected it, but they did come round when I asked them not to due to my girlfriend being unwell.
“The main problem was when we moved out. We took time to clean from top to bottom and felt we left it in a good condition and handed the keys back. We received letters around three or four weeks later regarding charges from our deposits and a cheque for the amount left over each. We were charged for a full house clean at £140 between us. We felt this was unfair and I contacted them myself asking for a copy of the report that led to them charging us £140.
“I was sent an email with some photos they had taken of a few bits we had missed, such as under one cushion on the sofa we had not vacumed, and water damage to grouting in the kitchen and the oven. We had cleaned these and expected there maybe some charges due. However we did not feel that it required a ‘full house clean’ as the rest of the house was in very good condition.”
Gardiner says Lighthouse did not send him a report or itemised billing, even when he asked for it again. He then called them and was told by a receptionist it was being dealt with by a separate department and he would be contacted shortly. A few days later he received an email saying there was no breakdown of issues in the house that led to them belieiving it warranted a full house clean.
“I did not feel treated well at all.”
David Methold, a journalism graduate, lived on Charles Street West in a Lighthouse property. “One of the main problems for me was that my bed was broken. I reported it broken in September and I reported it to them no less than seven times from then until May and nothing was done about it.
“Every time I reported it they said they would tell the landlord. I never heard anything from the landlord in the whole year. When I asked to have the phone number for the landlord they wouldn’t give it to me so there was nothing I could do. Whether is because I’ve been sleeping on a broken bed or something else, I am currently taking painkillers to try and cure back pain.
Methold and his housemates were burgled by a tenant in the neighbouring property and lost a number of personal items. “When we got burgled we politely asked [Lighthouse] to come and change the locks and it took them two weeks to do this, so we had to live with broken locks on our doors.”
He also takes issue with some deductions from his deposit at the end of his tenancy: “£60 for waste removal? So you’re telling me it costs them £60 to drive to a dump and get rid of some bin bags? I don’t think so. We left 2 bags outside our house when we left as we had no way of getting them to a tip and they charged us £15 each for 2 bin bags.”
Communication was a further problem: “Getting hold of them all year was an absolute nightmare, not once did they respond to any complaints I had.”
Laura Lucas, a 2009 psychology and criminology graduate, claims she had many issues with Lighthouse. She says there was a hole in a bedroom window that wasn’t fixed for the whole tenancy, despite it being reported; Lighthouse failed to fix a faulty boiler that kept losing water pressure, instead temporarily fixing it each time rather than dealing with the root problem; and the household was charged for removal of items that were in the property before they moved in.
Lighthouse staff claimed one tenant’s mattress had a stain on it when she moved out. However she had taken a photo of her room and mattress before she left. When a comparison was made with a photo Lighthouse had taken, it was clear that the two mattresses were different. This was taken up with Lighthouse, who said the mattress had been disposed of and they could not take another photo to prove it – therefore the money deducted from her deposit was refunded.
A charge was also deducted from their deposits for “excess electricity”. They hired a sunbed for a month and during this month a member of Lighthouse staff made a visit to the house with a client – without giving notice.
They were then told that the property was under investigation for excessive electricity use. Lucas claims that on several occasions the housemates attempted to resolve this issue by calling and visiting the office asking of any further progress in the investigation, the final time being on the day they moved out.
They were told that there was no charge on their accounts. However, when they got their deposits back, £25 had been taken off each, equating to £125 for excess electricity — nearly a month’s worth extra. Having sent a letter, it took two months and several phone calls to get a reply. Eventually they all received cheques back for the £25 deducted and an apology.
What Lighthouse said
This is what Ian Thornton, Lighthouse’s managing director, had to say…
At Lighthouse we take customer care and complaints very seriously, and it is our policy to deal with problems as quickly as possible.
We deal with on average 1,500 students in rented accommodation each year, many of whom are housed in terraced properties which in some cases are over 100 years old.
Each house must meet strict criteria issued by the university’s accommodation department in line with their code of practice.
It is inevitable that things go wrong from time to time. Boilers break, contents get damaged, and so on. This is part and parcel of dealing with student accommodation. However it is our policy to respond to complaints as efficiently as possible and if we are failing to meet customers’ expectations then this is something we will address.
However we are unable to fix a problem if we are not properly informed about it in the first place. What is disappointing about some of these complaints is that they are being made a long time after the student has vacated our property (in one case the complaint concerns a property we removed from our books back in 2007).
Telling us about such problems three years later leaves us unable to rectify any issues. We do take complaints seriously so we investigated all of the eight grievances The Linc has highlighted out of our database of 4,500 student tenancies over the past three years.
Burglary and student safety is always a concern so we deal very promptly with such matters.
The alleged burglary in this case was investigated by the police who found no evidence of a break-in. The property met with all our security standards and a ‘suited key’ system was in place.
Gas leaks are understandably always a concern. However, they can occur in any property and what is important is how they are dealt with. In our case Transco were contacted immediately and a qualified plumber sent round to fix the leak.
All our properties are inspected on a yearly basis by a qualified gas engineer.
We regret any inconvenience that Mr Gardiner’s girlfriend encountered when his property was visited by one of our inspectors, but to say he was not forewarned in this case is simply not true.
Each year we run a period in conjunction with the university when future tenants are invited to look round properties. All tenants are forewarned with a letter stating the dates and times when we may need to view the property. We warn that this may result in multiple viewings per day. None of these visits ever takes place before 9am or after 5pm so as not to encroach on people’s private lives. Mr Gardiner was made aware of this, especially as he would have been one of the students taking part in the process last year.
It was also with much interest that I read the comments regarding an excess electricity charge, in this case brought on by installing a sun bed in the property! By doing so the tenants were in fact in breach of their contract. sun beds are notorious for using excessive amounts of electricity, so by rights we did charge for this. However when we saw the actual bill and understood that the clients had not exceeded their amount, we asked the landlord to refund the difference (despite him not being legally required to do so).
Lighthouse strives to be the best and most proactive lettings management company in Lincoln. On the whole our customers are satisfied and we have good feedback from the university. Any problems our tenants have are dealt with by our team of dedicated accommodation officers.
Our own internal investigation found that several of the aforementioned tenants went on to rent more accommodation from us for a number of years, which suggests that they were generally happy with the service we provide.Tweet