A disabled mum says she is living a ‘nightmare’ as her home is infested with cockroaches.
“I’m trapped here,” said Susan Oliver, before breaking down in tears.
She added: “I’m sorry, I’m going to cry again, I just keep crying. I never used to be like this.”
The emotional strain of living in terrible conditions has taken its toll on the 55-year-old, who used to always be “the happiest person,” but for whom crying has now become a regular occurrence.
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Susan in her living room, where cockroaches scuttle along the skirting and up the walls in broad daylight
(Image: Susan Oliver)
“I feel like I’m going to have a breakdown,” said Susan, a disabled mum-of-three, who lives in social housing with her two youngest daughters, Jessica, 17, and Hannah, 15.
Susan had previously been housed by Islington Council, but was switched to Peabody Housing Association last year after 20 years on a waiting list for re-housing due to her chronic osteoarthritis, which makes it difficult and painful for her to move around.
Susan, Jessica and Hannah were moved into Papyrus House – a housing block on the border of Islington and Hackney – on October 30 last year.
Although Susan “loved” her old house, she said the 19 stairs and narrow staircase had become too much to manage with her disability, and the family were initially excited to move into the new disability flat.
‘I call it the Hammer House of Horror’
Susan’s house is scattered with traps full of half-alive cockroaches
(Image: Susan Oliver)
“I call it the Hammer House of Horror now,” said Susan, who became immediately disillusioned with the new flat, which had “looked lovely” during the family’s virtual viewing.
“It’s the flat that Jack Built, it really is,” she said, adding: “I don’t even know where to start.
“I don’t know whether to talk about the cladding problem, the problems with my flat, the cockroach infestation.”
Susan said she spotted one of these household pests on the first day she moved in, while cleaning out the cupboards.
“There was this creature in the cupboard and I didn’t know what it was,” she said. “I really didn’t know what it was.
“I told my friend ‘there’s more of those things in the kitchen I don’t know where they’re coming from’, and she said to me ‘I’ve looked it up, it’s the household cockroach’.
“Of course, where there’s one, there’s loads of them.”
‘I watch them running up the walls’
Cockroaches are living almost everywhere in the kitchen, from the freezer, to the tumble dryer, the dishwasher, and even the built-in oven
(Image: Susan Oliver)
Susan said the cockroaches are living at the back of the freezer, the tumble dryer, the dishwasher, and the built-in oven.
“You can go out at night and the kitchen will be running alive. Literally running alive, it’s horrendous,” she said.
“We’ve got traps all with dead cockroaches in. I keep ordering takeaways because I can’t bear the thought of cooking anymore.”
Susan said the cockroaches have even started coming out in the daytime, “even though they’re meant to be nocturnal,” and described how the sight of them makes her want to vomit.
This Clarion beetle was in Susan’s kitchen – the beetles ‘live on dead things’ and she thinks they are feeding off dead mice, which are also rife in the building
(Image: Susan Oliver)
She said: “I was watching them running up the walls Sunday before last and I thought, ‘this is just no way to live’.
“I lived in a 200-year-old house and never had anything like this. I’m forever trying to clean because it feels dirty, it’s horrendous.
“I’ve put in so many formal complaints to Peabody.”
Susan said pest control have been to deal with the cockroaches, but have told her they will ‘never be able to get rid’ of the scavengers because of the cavity walls in the building, where they lay their eggs.
A spokesperson for Peabody told My London: “On our last visit to Ms Oliver’s home, we carried out a full inspection and treatment programme for this, though none were found in the home. We will quickly investigate and treat any instance of infestation on an environmental health basis.”
The worst part for Susan is that she feels trapped in the third-floor flat, which she said she was led to believe was on the first floor of the building.
A blocked sink is one of many things waiting to be fixed in the flat
(Image: Susan Oliver)
“They didn’t tell me about the mezzanine and the upper ground,” said Susan.
A Peadbody spokesperson explained: “In some developments there is a ground floor reception area and although a property may be advertised as ground floor, during the physical or video viewing, or a discussion with the Lettings Officer, Ms Oliver would have been provided with exact information on the flat’s location in the building.
“This would allow Ms Oliver the opportunity to decide whether it met her and her family’s needs.”
Despite suffering from claustrophobia, she decided she had no alternative but to brave the lifts, which broke down the first time she used them leaving her stuck inside.
It was only later Susan discovered the lifts at Papyrus House were “notorious for breaking down,” and the previous occupant of her flat, who had a disabled daughter, had actually been moved out for this exact reason.
“I said to Peabody ‘you’ve moved her out but you’ve moved me in – and it’s the same lifts – what’s changed?'”
Susan added: “I can hardly go out because I can’t manage the stairs coming back up, because of the pain.”
The housing association has said the maintenance team are looking into the faulty lift and have been investigating the issue to help ensure it’s reliable for residents.
‘My daughter won’t sleep at night’
Since moving into the flat, Susan said her family have had countless other issues, including a broken shower seat; flooding in the hallway and bedroom; a broken ventilation system; and no extractor fans in the bathroom, which means the smoke alarm goes off every time it gets too hot.
“The sink is also currently blocked and doesn’t work,” says Susan, who has lodged countless formal complaints to Peabody but doesn’t expect anything to be done soon considering every previous repair ‘took months to fix’.
She claims her family have also been waiting for dangerous cladding to be removed from the exterior.
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Susan said: “My daughter won’t sleep at night-time because she’s so scared of there being a fire. There’s one staircase out of the building, and no fire escapes.
The housing association does not own Papyrus House, and they explained that they are not responsible for the external wall or cladding investigation.
“The managing agent has identified the type of cladding and although further investigations are being carried out it is not accurate to say it is dangerous,” they said. “The block has sprinklers and we have confirmed with Ms Oliver that the fire strategy for Papyrus House operates on a stay put policy, which correlates with the fire signage within the block. Our Neighbourhood Teams have also carried out PEEP (personal emergency evacuation plans) for all our residents at Papyrus House.”
Ssusan added: “I spend most of my time crying and I’ve never had depression.”
Peabody added that they have been working on Susan’s rehousing request and that she has also been awarded medical priority status to increase her chances of moving.
A spokesperson said: “We currently have over 200 residents currently awaiting a medical move with not enough vacant properties to meet the demand.
“We have recommended our Mutual Exchange Scheme, which allows residents to arrange their own swaps, as a faster way to move. We have written to Ms Oliver and provided her with all our rehousing options to ensure she is fully aware of them.”
They added: “We have been working closely with Ms Oliver to try and resolve the issues at her home.
“We’re aware that she needs to move because of mobility issues, and she has been awarded medical priority.
“We are doing everything we can to support her in terms of repairing any faults and investigating and treating any other issues. We’re also in touch with the owners of the building and the managing agent on safety issues and in respect of services.”
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