It takes a special kind of faith to reserve an apartment in a foreign country via the internet without asking anyone to view the site to confirm it’s real or verify that there are no surprises in the rental offer, and it was exactly this blind faith that lead me to book a room at Village Patrimmonia months prior to my arrival in Brussels. And boy, was it a surprise!
Before you judge me for being a complete idiot newbie at apartment rentals, let me tell you that this particular complex was ULB-recommended— so recommended was it that we actually received emails from our doctoral program coordinator recommending the place. In addition to this, googling the place only revealed mentions here and there from students on Erasmus (and mostly they were “drunk at VP!!!”) so I thought, hey, it’s newly built and it has ULB as a reference, Erasmus students were drinking as usual, what could go wrong?
A lot went wrong. A lot is going wrong still.
- Arrival. I had previously sent the area manager, Laurence, multiple messages for an appointment for the time and day I would be arriving. I was even calling while I was in the taxi (though I only got voice mail). When I arrived at Village Patrimmonia, she was not there and the sign on the locked door clearly stated that office hours were only from Monday to Thursday, and only in the morning. It was 3pm on a Friday afternoon. But I knew I had an appointment so I stood there, ringing the doorbell multiple times like the optimistic fool I am. After half an hour, a lady name Caroline answered my repeated rings and told me Laurence was not there but she would bring me to my room instead.
- The Stairs. So I was brought to my room— on the 4th floor of an apartment complex touted as “disabled friendly.” What in the world? Apparently none of the buildings had an elevator either, which led me to ask the question which disabled people exactly Patrimmonia was catering for. I mean just climbing and dragging luggage up eleven flights of stairs is difficult enough for a young, relatively healthy adult!
- The Room. The room was not too bad, cozy with a bed against one wall, a tiny closet, study table, and stove and sink. What was bad was the layer of grime on the floor, a mixture of sawdust, small rocks, and some sort of white powder that could’ve been paint, could’ve been asbestos. Who knew. Caroline called someone to have it cleaned up, but it was never cleaned throughout Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, resulting in my maroon suitcase turning a rather disturbing shade of beige. The room was eventually cleaned on Monday morning, after I had repeatedly called Laurence (voice mail), the “24 hour” concierge (no answer!), and left two rather scathing emails.
- The reaction to my complaints about the dirt. To my great surprise, as I was at the Village Patrimmonia office on Monday morning to grab a key for Jasmin who was arriving much later in evening (better safe than optimistic), Caroline approached me and was angry that I had complained and “threatened” to stay in a hotel. Excuse me, who had to sleep in a filthy room? Whose luggage was now beige beyond belief? Who couldn’t even use a blanket, for fear it would get filthy? It wasn’t her. The attitude of “it was okay to me!” didn’t help my opinion of Patrimmonia at all. Okay, maybe the cleaning people weren’t in over the weekend and maybe the “24 hour concierge” lost their phone or has otherwise been occupied for three days— those are forgivable. What is unforgivably insulting is them having the audacity to criticize me for complaining for sleeping in filth.
- The vomit. The day I arrived there was already days-old vomit on the stairs leading up to my floor. The smell of it is not particularly appealing when “fresh”, so you can imagine just how delightful it was to have the smell of someone’s rancid, milky stomach contents assault your senses every time you go up or down the stairs. Every time. Cleaning at Patrimmonia is supposedly done once a week but English must not be their first language as we have very different definitions of “cleaning” and “once a week”. To be fair though the person who produced said vomit obviously had no sense of responsibility or consideration for their fellow residents, so all in all our stairs are an awful nausea-inducing area that we all get to re-experience daily.
- The shit. Toilets that were flushed in the morning were regurgitating their contents in the afternoon. Enough said.
- The bloody awful construction noise that never ends. As Village Patrimmonia is apparently being built from the ground up, construction starts in the wee hours of morning and continues throughout the day. And by construction I mean things like hammering, sawing, power drilling— the cacophonic works. Imagine waking up to that every morning at 6 or 7am. Imagine trying to read or study or have a conversation in 80 decibel noise inside your own room. Imagine.
- The complete lack of privacy or consideration of. As I mentioned, the windows on our building have no shutters so you can either choose health and fresh air and flash everyone every time you undress or choose privacy, close the window and the shades, and suffocate. There is no ventilation. So lose your sense of propriety or die. Worse though is that it seems as though everyone and their uncle has a key to your room! During my very short stay so far I’ve had electricians, plumbers, heating people, and an IT guy enter my room with little to no warning. A Spanish girl was woken up mid-sleep, bra-less, by two men looming over her. So if you want to experience what it’s like to live in a prison, step right up!
- Power and water randomly shut off, and heating is as temperamental as it gets. This says it all. Imagine a whole day without water, without being warned that there would be no water. Imagine.
- Pre dial-up internet, and internet censorship, all in one. We pay 60€ a month for “utilities” and yet we can’t get decent internet, water, electricity, or heating. And we have to endure “parental controls”. Thank you, Patrimmonia, really.
- Random other charges, fees, penalties— you name it, you’ll pay it. In addition to our already high rent of 495€++ (depending on the size of your room), we also pay monthly extras of 60€ for utilities as well as 25€ for furniture. Some residents are also charged an additional 25€ above all of the extra charges for ‘short contracts’. The concierge also charges 25€ for students who are locked out— a charge that increases to 50€ on the weekends. This is the same “24 hour concierge” I couldn’t reach for an entire weekend so I doubt I’d ever have to pay these fees as I’m still confused as to whether the person exists. Plus you also pay 1€ per gigabyte over the 8 GB limit. Since all of us are international students who live off of Skype to see our families, this stacks up fast.
All in all, Village Patrimmonia can be described simply as lies and deceit. They promised, and I quote, “an inside park organized around various green and rest zones, bicycle and car parking spaces, a library, a fitness, a cinema and a local shop.” There is no park. There is no rest zone. There are no bike parking spaces. There is no library. There is no gym. There is no cinema. There is a local shop though, whew! One truth!
… and yet, despite these imaginary places, we still pay the full “utilities charge” each month! Furthermore, nowhere on their website is mentioned that the entire place is a construction zone nor that there are no elevators. Again, to quote the website, Patrimmonia boasts “Access for Persons with Restricted Mobility (PMR)”. Who are these superhuman PWDs (or PMRs), and can they fly? Because that’s the only way they’re getting in here.
I also realize why I have seen no terrible reviews of this place anywhere online. It’s not because students don’t care about other students, no. It’s because of this pretty little clause in the contract:
The Lessee may not take action against the Lessor for the accidental stoppage or poor functioning for which it is liable of any of the services and devices serving the Property unless it can be established that it was advised thereof and did not take remedial action as soon as possible. The same shall apply to liabilities under articles 1386 and 1721 of the Civil Code.
If the Lessor needs to perform major repairs to the Property or any other repair for which it is responsible in law, the Lessee shall tolerate these works even if they have to last more than forty days and he/she states that he/she waives any right to compensation for nuisance during his/her occupation.
Unfortunately I have yet to sign this contract nor do I intend to unless an appropriate price reduction is given for the duration of the on-going inconveniences and these offending clauses are stricken out. Future ULB/VUB students, be warned.