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It was 7 a.m. on a chilly September morning, and my eardrums were shaken awake by a continuous loud beeping coming from the hallway of my new off-campus house.
Still groggy, I got up and opened my bedroom door to turn off what I thought was the smoke detector, only to discover that the carbon monoxide alarm was the culprit. As I took the alarm off of the wall, I heard another bedroom door creak open. One of my roommates shuffled out to investigate the problem as well. Puzzled, I showed her the beeping alarm. With the sound radiating through our skulls, we decided to place it on the porch until it stopped blaring so we could call our landlord and discuss the problem.
Disgruntled about being troubled on a Sunday morning, our landlord told us he’d have someone come out within the week to check on everything. Before hanging up he bluntly stated, “Just open the windows.”
This was the first house any of us had lived in that wasn’t our parents’ or the dorms, so keep in mind that we didn’t know much about how renting worked.
Shocked by our landlord's lack of concern, we did as he said and opened all the windows, then began to make breakfast with the pots and pans we had been gifted from our parents. We discussed the landlord's lack of urgency over some bacon and eggs while we sat on lawn chairs in our living room (it was only our second week living in the house and the start of school hadn’t left time to go furniture shopping).
Come Thursday morning, a handyman arrived at our door and knocked insistently until one of us let him in. Within two minutes, he thought he'd solved the problem. “Your alarm was expired, that’s probably why it was beeping. I’ve got another one in the truck.”
Phew! Harmless solution to a harmless problem, right? WRONG.
That night, the new alarm began beeping and WOULD NOT STOP until we placed it outside for half an hour. We called our landlord again, and again he said someone would come out and to keep the windows open.
The next morning, two men showed up at our door with carbon monoxide detectors. They walked all over the house to check each bedroom's carbon monoxide levels.
Standing over an air vent one man asked, “Have you guys been living here for a while? And have you been using the heat?”
We had only used the heat a handful of times when Colorado pushed a cold front through. “We’ve been here about three weeks, but we’ve used the heat a few times, especially overnight and because our landlord told us to leave the windows open.”
“Well, your carbon monoxide levels are extremely high, and I’m pretty sure it’s coming from the furnace.”
After checking the furnace in the basement, the men come back up and announced that the furnace was leaking copious amounts of carbon monoxide into all three units of the house, and it needed to be replaced immediately.
The replacement took three days. Those days, of course, also happened to be the first snowstorm of the season. We were stuck in an old house that had no insulation, with no heat or hot water for three days.
When the landlord was informed, he ran over to our house with four space heaters. That was it. It was also then that we learned that we couldn’t have all the space heaters running in each of our bedrooms if someone was also charging their phone because it would overload the circuit!
After three days we had a new furnace, the space heaters were reclaimed by our landlord, and that was it.
There are a few lessons for you as a parent to take away for your student. The first, which I’m sure you already know, is that landlords can be pretty callous people who will take advantage of your student because they know that your student is new to having their own home.
The second is to really look into the off-campus house your student is moving into. This may be hard if your student goes to school out of state, but help them do their due diligence if you're able.
Third, if anything even close to this situation happens while your student is living in an off-campus home, reach out to the landlord or property management company yourself about it, because once again, they know they can take advantage of your student, and this story could’ve easily ended so much worse than it did.
Make sure to check out the other installments of Student Housing Horror Stories!