Portsmouth students reveal battle against chronic rat infestations in Southsea properties

A PORTSMOUTH property firm says it aims to ‘exceed the expectations of the most discerning student’ – but groups of tenants have been left exasperated by chronic rat infestations.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 4:07 pm
Updated Sunday, 7th March 2021, 10:34 pm

University of Portsmouth students have shared photos and videos of rodents making themselves at home in 63 Fawcett Road and 14 Margate Road over the last three years, with both properties owned by James Oliver Properties.

The latest residents of the Margate Road property discovered a rat infestation within days of moving in – two years after the previous tenants found themselves in the same unpleasant position.

One of the current residents, who shares with five other undergraduates, says she was shocked to discover a rat had access to the largest food cupboard in the kitchen, with it taking more than three months to bring the problem under control.

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Rats have been a persistent problem for students in 63 Fawcett Road. Picture: Violet Alikhani

The 19-year-old, who pays more than £500 a month in rent and contacted The News through the Instagram account Spotted Pompey, said: ‘When we moved in in September, we discovered that there was a rat eating food in the biggest cupboard in the kitchen.

‘We had a whole family of rats living under our counter. We could hear them squeaking and nesting down there – it was really awful.

‘(James Oliver) sent their maintenance guy to put down pink tracking dust – there was tracking dust all underneath the units, and in the cupboard we couldn’t use.’

Less than a week after moving in, fellow student Megan Walker fell seriously ill with a campylobacter infection, which can be caused by rodents contaminating food.

The new tenants of 14 Margate Road were shocked to discover rats just days after moving in. Picture: Tassyana Jenkins.

The 20-year-old said: ‘I didn’t feel better for two weeks. Sickness, diarrhoea – it got to the point where I was passing blood.

‘A pest controller came in November, because we were still hearing rats under the cupboard.

‘He said to me, “have any of you been poorly?”

‘I asked what diseases they carry, and the first one he named was campylobacter.’

Previous tenants of 14 Margate had previously photographed how rats had made themselves at home. Picture: Izzy Boreham.

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The criminology student added: ‘We’re students – we don’t expect to live in a five-star hotel, but we do expect to live in livable conditions.

‘You can’t blame people that have lived there three days.’

The group’s plight comes as no surprise to previous tenant Izzy Boreham, who contacted The News separately to describe her time living in the same property.

Izzy Boreham says she and her flatmates lived with rats in 14 Margate Road for years. Picture: Izzy Boreham

Izzy, who studied business management at the city’s university, says the house suffered from a persistent rat problem from 2018 to 2020. She and six flat mates found rodent droppings less than a month after their arrival in September 2018.

James Oliver Properties arranged for a pest controller to visit on November 9, 2018, with further sightings prompting a return visit early in the new year.

The 22-year-old said: ‘The rat was in our kitchen cupboards and was accessing our food, it often left faeces and bite marks throughout the kitchen.

‘We were told that the rats weren’t anything to do with James Oliver and wasn’t not a problem they had come across before.’

Rodents were still being seen and heard by the group until a maintenance man visited to plug some potential rat-runs in Feburary 2020.

Students Violet Alikhani, Max Bloomberg, Jack Carroll, Tiffany Bennett, Claudia Ferreira and Daisy Crouch outside their home in Fawcett Road, Portsmouth on 25 January 2021. Picture: Habibur Rahman

At 63 Fawcett Road, Violet Alikhani has had a similar experience sharing a house with five other students – and twice as many mice and rats.

The 21-year-old, who pays a total of £565 in rent, said: ‘The first mouse was spotted in my flat mates room in November 2019.

‘In May 2020, we spotted the first rat. It was in my cupboard – it ate some of my bagels.

‘I was terrified. I was scared to go into the kitchen.’

The group emailed James Oliver Properties about the issue last May, prompting a maintenance worker to lay down foam in holes and gaps across the property.

But with rats continuing to wriggle into the house, the students resorted to laying traps themselves – and they say that they have caught more than ten mice and rats in the last eight months.

Exasperated, Violet and her flatmates emailed their landlord in November to explain that the rats were continuing to invade the property.

The firm contracted a pest controller to visit the house on December 11 – after Violet told James Oliver Properties that she had sought help from Portsmouth City Council.

The council advises that tackling rodent issues can be dependent upon the tenancy agreement, with the students’ contracts leaving them responsible for arranging exterminators.

But landlords are responsible for dealing with pest problems if repairs are necessary to block holes or an infestation makes a home unsafe or unhygienic to live in, according to Richard Thomson, a former trading standards officer who writes the consumer champion Streetwise column for The News.

He added: ‘Landlords should ensure repairs are promptly carried out to repair things like holes in external walls, broken vents or airbricks, damaged doors or windows, or other cracks and gaps that pests can get through.’

A pest control firm had deemed 14 Margate Road to be rodent free before the new tenants moved in, and both properties have now been declared free of pests.

A spokesman from James Oliver Properties said all of the student’s concerns were dealt with ‘promptly’.

He said: ‘We will continue to strive towards working collaboratively with our tenants to provide quality service and premium accommodation for all our student residents.

‘Even though we have hundreds of well satisfied students, even one unsatisfied student is one too many.

‘Our investigation into this matter has lead us to further improve office communications and procedures to ensure that any issues completed have an approval receipt from the students concerned.’

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Violet Alikhani says she and her flatmates have caught more than 10 rats and mice in the last eight months. Picture: Violet Alikhani.
Violet says the rats have moved about the house using gaps, holes, and cavities in the property at 63 Fawcett Road. Picture: Violet Alikhani.