“ Montgomery Lettings & Management / Lettings agent based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. „
Well, I have yet to read any glowing reviews of lettings agents on here, and I'm afraid I'm not about to change that. I rented a flat through Montgomery's for just over a year and this is my experience.
The service was less than reassuring from the offset. When I first went to look at the flat, I noticed that there was no handle - not to mention no lock - on the kitchen window at the back of the building. Given that this was a ground-floor flat with rear access, it would have been very simple for anyone who fancied it to nip round the back and climb in. Just in case this was not enough of an invitation to would-be burglars and/or squatters, there was also a step ladder placed right outside this very window. Other attractive additions to the garden included several dead plants and several more thriving weeds that were slowly taking over the patio, a gate into the communal area that threatened to break every time you laid a finger on it, a rather battered-looking trunk of some sort containing a washing-up bowl that had seen better days and what looked like pond water, and, rather inexplicably, a full-length, broken glass mirror. Of course, it's the agency's job to ensure that the place is clean and tidy and that there are no dangerous objects left lying around before the tenant moves in, right? Wrong.
Moving on to the inside of the flat, I noticed that the smoke alarm was lying on the kitchen counter devoid of batteries. There was an antique of a cat flap that was beyond economic repair and allowing more than a little draught to blow through the living room. I checked with the agent that these things would be fixed before I moved in, and he assured me they would, so I said I would take it. It was only ever going to be a temporary abode, maybe a year at the most.
The day before Moving Day: I received a phone call from the owner of the agency (it's not a big firm, but it has a good share of the market in this area). He explained that they hadn't been able to fix the window yet, so it was still open to a)the elements, and b)all and sundry. He then went quiet, clearly waiting for me to say it didn't matter. Not one to be convinced by such nonsense - of course it matters! - I said that obviously I couldn't move in when I couldn't close the window. "No! Of course... and I wouldn't want you to..." came the response. He then faffed around for a while, before deciding to get the handyman in to seal the window so it would be permanently shut (as an apparently temporary measure). It was better than nothing, so I agreed and went to finish packing.
Moving Day: I arrived at the flat to find the only repairman the company has working for them still messing around with the window, a gale blowing through that hideous cat flap, and the smoke alarm still on the kitchen counter. It then transpired that the workman was to fit a handle to the window after all, but had bought the wrong part, so he disappeared for over an hour to get a replacement. Still, at least we had that nice breeze flowing through the building to keep us cool while we were moving furniture - in November.
The owner himself had turned up to give me the contract, which, due to his being pressed for time, he got me to sign before I had read it. Still, first things first, he had to rush off; I could worry about what I'd signed later. Interestingly, when I did get around to reading the inventory, it contained such things as "dust on light switch". Someone had actually walked around the flat noting down dust particles (in case the tenant saw fit to steal them?) and yet no one seemed to have noticed the open window and that it was a miracle no one was already living there free of charge.
A few hours later, the smoke alarm had been put up, the cat flap had a rather unsightly piece of MDF over it, and the window, complete with handle, was closed. Rather brilliantly, though, it turned out that the workman had fitted to the window a lock for which there was no key. On closer inspection, I found that none of the trickle vents on the windows worked and most were permanently stuck in the closed position, largely through dirt and grime, but some even appeared to have been glued shut. Given the terrible condensation problem in the property, this was bad news. Needless to say, the curtain poles were still hanging off, paint was peeling all over the shop and the junk that was strewn around the garden was, well, still strewn around the garden. I spoke to Montgomery's immediately to inform them of all these problems, but they had my money, they were no longer interested.
After a short time at the flat, another problem began to emerge. More accurately, several other problems. Woodlice. Or chucky pigs as some people, rather amusingly, call them. Since there seemed to be an abundance of rotting wood in the garden, it was no surprise that there were a few around, but I later realised that the back door itself was rotting from the bottom up. The door had actually split up the middle and become so warped that when it rained, the only way to open it was to kick it as hard as I could. Again, I told Montgomery's about this numerous times - I had a dog, so access to the garden was essential - but they never got around to doing anything about it. Even the workman said it was beyond redemption and should be replaced. Back to the other creatures sharing the flat. I had noticed more and more woodlouse corpses lying around, so before I went away for a few days, I vacuumed and completely cleaned the place. Upon my return, I counted thirty-one dead woodlice shared out between all the rooms in the flat. The kitchen, however, seemed to have the brunt of them; I even found some in a pile INSIDE the fridge. The fridge is never open for more than a few seconds at the time, so this was baffling and utterly revolting. It was time to move the fridge. Behind it was a woodlouse graveyard. That was it; I couldn't stand it any more.
I contacted Montgomery's and told them I wished to leave. Of course, I was tied into a contract, so they said it would be perfectly okay for me to terminate it early... provided that a)they could find a replacement tenant (no chance); and b)I was willing to pay a fee (which worked out to be around £350). Even if I had been prepared to pay it, the other condition was highly unlikely to be met, given that the place had been empty for several months before I moved in and the rent had been dropped. I had to live with it until the end of the contract. To make my stay even more enjoyable, the noise from the neighbours was horrendous. The person in the flat above me used to start vacuuming and using the washing machine in the middle of the night, and when the rest of the building was quiet (because everyone was in bed), I could hear the people TWO FLOORS UP walking around on their wooden floors and opening and closing cupboards, such was the poor insulation. I promise you, this is no exaggeration.
One night, when I was pretending to be asleep (the next best thing to actually sleeping), I heard dripping from the bathroom. Assuming it was the shower, I went to take it down. I then realised the water was dripping from the ceiling into the bath. When I felt the ceiling, it was soft all over. This could not have just happened - it must have been wet for some time. I knocked on the neighbour's door, but got no response, so I contacted Montgomery's on their out-of-hours line (amazingly, they do have one), as it was around 10.45pm, but this was potentially a serious problem. I had the pleasure of speaking to the Branch Manager, whose exact words to me were, "Well, what do you want ME to do?" Pardon? Forgive my being obtuse, but are you not suppose to manage the branch, hence your rather spectacular title? While I was on the phone, I heard a thud from the bathroom as a chunk of ceiling hit the deck. I informed the delightful woman on the other end of the phone that the ceiling had now caved in, but still, all she could do was make a big fuss about having been woken up by my telephone call. The rest of the call consisted of her being rude, and my insisting that it was dangerous to have large chunks of plaster falling from the ceiling. She then hung up on me. Hung up. Unbelievable. Throughout the night, more pieces of ceiling gave in to gravity, and in the morning, I discovered a large, gaping hole and a bath full of rubble.
This hole remained there for some time. Okay, so it had to dry out, but it stank. Not only that, but the dust and easy access to the behind-the-scenes areas of the building only compounded the insect problem by encouraging a large spider and his very extended family to set up home in the bathroom. A few days later, after another chunk of ceiling came down and hit me in the shower, I contacted Montgomery's yet again. Please do not be under any illusions that because they have an out-of-hours line it is easy to get hold of them during the day. It isn't. Sometimes, they seemed to actually close the office for an entire day and for no apparent reason. Eventually, they sent the man round to cover the hole - again, with a huge piece of MDF.
To cut a very long story slightly shorter, several months later, when I moved out of the flat, the ceiling had still not been fixed. My rather lengthy letter of complaint to the owner of this shoddy outfit did not even prompt a response.
If you are thinking of renting a property in the Gloucestershire area, may I suggest that you try to find one through another agent, any agent, and failing that, please, just live in your car.