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September 1, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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Unicomm and the horrible history of our halls

Every year hundreds of parents breathe a sigh of relief as their 18 year olds embark on the beginning of their future in the supposed safety of University Accommodation. Victoria University’s student accommodation has been renowned for dodgy foundations, mould, mushrooms, religious fanatics and several outbreaks of scabies. Recently Unicomm’s Cumberland and McKenzies, owned by ING (the ninth biggest corporation in the world) have received national media attention for their management’s general incompetence. Salient Feature Writer Jenna Powell investigates Victoria University’s grizzly Hall history and the latest Unicomm residents’ complaints.

Horrible Hall Histories

Research commissioned and carried out by Victoria University “has shown that there are significant number of Wellington school leavers who want to study in Wellington and live in a hostel.” On hearing this information one would be forgiven for wondering whether these students actually knew anything about the hostels themselves.

Unicomm has been more plagued with foundational problems over the last four years than any other Victoria University affiliated hostel. In 2003, Salient reported on an outbreak of bedbugs and scabies at Unicomm. Scabies usually develop when foundations are dirty and unsavoury. In 2005 mushrooms were discovered growing in Cumberland and 7 of the 10 rooms on the top floor had been flooded from ceiling leaks. In 2006 Unicomm residents continued to deal with questionable living conditions whilst previous residents were still waiting to receive their bond back after their 2005 residency. Even after years of questionable management practices and poor living conditions Victoria University appears to have taken no action on behalf of its students.

Unicomm’s hostels Cumberland and McKenzies are not the only Victoria University affiliated Halls that have a tattered past. The isolated Karori Hostel Helen Lowry has been accused of having questionable management practices, unfair renovations, religious discrimination, privacy invasions and foundational problems including but not limited to mushrooms and extreme mould.

In 2004 and 2005 the then EdPac-owned hostels Vic Central and Southern Cross delayed completion, causing students to live in backpackers for up to six weeks. Vic Central’s St George let students arrive to no self catering facilities apart from a kettle and a medium sized fridge shared with 12 people despite the previous promises. There were also extreme delays in phone lines being installed in the building. In 2005 St George common room ceiling collapsed after a storm.

Throughout the beginning of the first semester in 2005 EdPac Hostel Southern Cross was missing two floors.

Unicomm Today – Evil Cowards?

Resistance organisers and Unicomm residents Sam Oldman and Josh McArthur filled Salient in on the current complaints against Unicomm and their sub-standard living arrangements. Earlier this year a sewerage pipe burst in Cumberland, resulting in flooding, loud repairs and a most distasteful stench of shit throughout the building. The renovations of both McKenzies and Cumberland hostels have disturbed sleep, study and privacy. Several students have had no warning of tradespeople entering their rooms to make alterations to their ceilings. One such McKenzies7 resident had to live with a huge hole in her ceiling for a prolonged period time. Sam Oldman also said that “a few girls have found extensive mould and mushrooms in their rooms,” and insists it is “a foundational problem with the building” Student accommodation services have failed to improve the situation at Unicomm hostels despite student complaints spanning back over four years. This comes as no surprise to resident McArthur who claims the hostels have had “problems throughout the entire year.”

Ninth floor Cumberland resident Danica Robinson described the rooms on the eighth and ninth floors as “construction sites.” It is no wonder with over half of the rooms being sectioned off for the use of builders and tradespeople and ceilings with gapping holes. “This was all while we were still living there” Danica explained. Renovations and construction in the residents’ rooms were only covered with tarpaulin. Tradespeople worked in the residents’ rooms between the hours of 8am and 4:30pm. This extreme renovation was announced with only two working days notice and construction is still continuing today. Girls in the hostel also had “privacy and safety concerns” about strangers being allowed into their rooms. Unicomm initially offered a compensation package of $100 and a night in a motel only if construction blocked access to your room. Danica called this compensation idea “completely unfair.” Despite Unicomm management saying they will put a hold to all noisy construction this has largely “been a lie” as far as most residents are concerned. Unicomm residents are not protected by the Residential Tenacy Act 1986 and the only contract residents have with Unicomm is largely one-sided, focusing solely on the student promising to be a good tenant. This has made legal action slightly difficult for Unicomm advocates but Unicomm does have a legally binding contract with Victoria Univeristy to provide a satisfactory study enviroment for students. McArthur believes that this contract is “obviously being violated.”

Sam Oldham and Josh McArthur began to hold meetings earlier this year in an attempt to “unite the residents in their common issues” as well as seek compensation for their dodgy year in a sub-par facility. “Leaky rooms and noise did not provide a workable living or study arrangement and it affected people’s exam results,” McArthur said. After meetings with Unicomm, management came back and apologised for the noise, leaks and dodgy foundations. “We definitely got the impression they were stalling,” McArthur claimed. Unicomm management did not however have the courtesy to let the residents know that they would not be getting any compensation for the unfair year they have had. “We found out through Radio Live and 3 News,” McArthur said.

It was not until national media attention that Unicomm management fronted up to students. Despite this they shut down Open Day tours of McKenzies and Cumberland to avoid prospective students seeing the planned protests outside of the two hostels. McArthur believes the cancellation of the tours was convenient for Unicomm management as students “got to see the hostel but not find out what it is really like.”Unicomm management also hired security to keep media outside of the buildings during the protest. Salient understands Victoria University banned Unicomm from having an information stall on campus during open day in an effort to avoid protests. Unicomm management and Student Accommodation Service have both been advised not to answer media questions and refer all media inquiries to the Victoria University Public Relations department. Victoria University failed to answer any hard questions put to them by Salient.

McArthur believes that Unicomm management and Student Accommodation Services are both responsible for the current unsatisfactory living conditions at Mackenzie and Cumberland. Danica believes that “bad management and communication” across the board are responsible for the predicament Unicomm and Victoria University have found themselves in. After several meetings between Unicomm management and residents no resolution has been made.

False Advertising – Broken Promises

Last year future Unicomm residents looking at the student accommodation services handbook and website would have read about Cumberland having a gym, study room, music room as well as its own laundry. Despite this information being available in two mediums the services promised are just not there. These promises have only just recently been removed from the website and Salient understands it is still promised in the student accommodation handbook. Sam Oldham believes that “this must be against the law … you can’t possibly promise services that simply are not there.” Victoria University would not tell us why the gym and music room continue to be falsely advertised.

Student Halls of Residence – A Commercial Enterprise.

The liquidation of EdPac-owned hostels puts no doubt in the notion that student accommodation is a commercial enterprise before a service to students. Victoria University’s Weir House, however, contradicts the notion that University-owned hostels run primarily as a service cannot be profitable. Weir House is owned by Victoria University and the surplus made is reinvested into student services such as Student Health and the counselling service. Weir House have planned their summer renovations to happen over summer so as not to disturb students.

VUWSA President Joel Cosgrove believes that “if you hang out with big business sharks they will choose making profits over student interests every time.” Cosgrove added that he sympathises with the University as it is not entirely their fault but makes it clear “by outsourcing your responsibilities to students to big business” you deserve public ridicule.

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Comments (34)

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  1. Jackson Wood says:

    When I was in McKenzies they charged me about $125 for the removal of a tiny bedside table that I accidentally left in my room. Cunts. That was when it was under management of some guy who got put up on fraud charges for his dodgey dealings.

  2. Tania Mead says:

    Nice, Jenna. I have never been more glad that I spent my first year in the suburbian but sanitary confines of my parents house. Clearly once you ‘get amongst the best’, you have to wade first through the excretement of the worst. Ick.

  3. I didn’t live in Unicomm, but I went there for Fish and Chip Friday a couple of times. It was ok.

  4. Michael Oliver says:

    WEIR HOUSE 2003 WOO. “Fill-Your-Own-Roll” day was always a highlight.

  5. Superior Mind says:

    Already being based in Wellington I didn’t have to go the Hall way, (mooching off parents is great, although I am mostly dead inside because of it.)

    However I’ve got a cousin moving to Wellington from Taupo to go to Vic, looking at either Cumberland or McKenzies. It was kind of a shame that the excitement of moving to a new town and going to University is marred because of all this crap. Oh well.

  6. Zebragirl says:

    I have been offered a place at mckenzies and thought i might try and find what old boarders had to say about it. i’m not so sure now.
    the hygeine sounds disgusting

  7. Peter Manglethwaite says:

    It is a horrible place. Might as well go out in the the big brave world and flat Zebragirl. It sounds tough but there are people at VUWSA who will help, and people at Salient too!

  8. Deats says:

    Yo im going cumberland next year with the hope that it will be done up. I could have gone to the new te puni but the rooms look like closets. Was i right to think this or am i doomed?

  9. Peter Manglethwaite says:

    Doooooomed. Doomed I tells ya!

  10. Wee Hamish says:

    I’m more or less of the opinion that you’re buggered seven ways from Brigadoon.

  11. Sophia Manglethwaite says:

    Hello. I’m Peter’s sister. I went to McKenzies in 2002. Pardon my language, but it was like living in a filthy whores cunt. You’re fucked. Fucked in the sphincter. I implore ye, try to reneg post haste.

    Hey Peter… why don’t you call me anymore? Mum says that you need to come pick up your laundry!

  12. Deats says:

    O damn. It might have improved.. Either way i dont want to stay in te puni. Too small for my liking.

  13. Gibbon says:

    More like Te Puny, amirite

  14. Deats says:

    Hmm well is it possible to change ?

  15. Megs says:

    Shit. I was late with my halls app for 2009 so got put on the waiting list…but today was offered a place at Cumberland. Not sure if I wanna take it now…fuck.
    What to do? :s

  16. Gibbon says:

    don’t live in a fucking hall?
    no one is forcing you.
    seems like the obvious solution.

  17. Ian McPherson says:

    I worked at Unicomm between 2001 and 2004 the RAs were imbezeling all the money. To add to that we would have students who complained removed.

  18. hobo says:

    Yuck, I see Unicomm is now called UStay and they rent at $69 a night that’s $483 per week! WOW! they really must have cleaned the place up to charge that much!

  19. Lana says:

    omg, sounds gross
    im looking at halls for 2010, and i had all of those mentioned on my list. which ones arent as bad as this? coz mckenzies, and cumberland were on the top of my list, but not now…lol

  20. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Lana: I hear good things about Stafford House on the Terrace, you might want to check them out.

    Matt.

  21. Laura McQuillan says:

    Stafford’s not bad, I lived there, but it’s not as social as other places. Hence why I’m a hermit.

  22. Flo says:

    I have been out of the country for a while now and was attempting to look for some old exploits of mine and a friend about a hostel we used to work at a couple of years ago and saw this…

    I would suggest that Unicom is not the only one that can have fingers, thumbs and all other available appendages that could be used to point at, pointed at it.

    Having had first hand experience of working in one such establishment, i can’t help but recall the letter brought to my attention by a colleague, penned by a Captain Doom about the appalling crap they had to put up with as an RA and deal with when the residents complained about the same poor treatment… not to mention the potential copy right infringement on their website… ripping off US collage brochures for shame Vic House for shame!

  23. Stevie Ray says:

    I’m off to Cumberland this year and I’m kind of marginal about it after all the slander it’s had…See, the thing is that on the website they have pictures of the Studio Single and Studio Double rooms (as well as the family rooms) but there is no mention of single rooms. Of course, no one wants to stay in a single room all alone in the holidays do they?

    I must admit, the rooms and foyer look really nice, but how do we know they haven’t just thrown some paint on to what was there before? And as far as I know, the normal single rooms might have not seen the light of day (or the light of a carpenter for that matter) the entire summer!

    The idea that they have just covered up the past with paint fits in nicely with slapping a new name on – they’re the same buildings this year as they were last aren’t they?

  24. Shitkicker says:

    Hope you’re gonna study law so you learn what slander means

  25. Wee Hamish says:

    Speckin’ of slandah, if yer readin’ this, Dad, go fook yerself.

    YEH I’M UP PAST ME BEDTIME, SOCK IT.

  26. Gordon from Glasgow says:

    You fooking little shite Hamish!

    Stevie Ray, I fooking werked on that thur refurbishment ta pay fur the damages the Air Nu Zealand plan sustained after Wee hamish soiled himself and the larger part of the economy class cabin and then hopped in an over head compartment (which he also soiled) and tried kickin the fookin ting in. An that’s not even menchinin the liquid damage done by the tears of a fooking fur yer ol’ who cries all the fookin way from Aberdeen ta Auckland. That like fookin eity liters of saline fur fooks sake! And if I cannae tell you one thang it is that you shouldn’t judge a mould invested, haggis covered hovel by some pikchures what you done seen on a webshite.

    Now Hamish. I know we’ve had our differences but canye just git the fook in ta bed or it’ll be black puddin an used heroin needles for a week in the special over head compartment I dun built you in ewer bed room.

    Oh fur fooks sake now ewer fookin mothers fookin awake…

  27. Stevie Ray says:

    I know perfectly well what it means – I’ve never lived there so I have no idea if it’s all true and what it is now… I suppose I just don’t want to believe it all :-p

  28. Sherwood says:

    i think that after all of this attention unicomm had the changes will have actually happened for the 2009 students.

  29. Thanks for this — i’m organising acommodation for a large conference and need budget accomodation for 600 people in wellington — I will now avoid vic hostels.

  30. Emirsyah says:

    I’m from Indonesia and will live in Welly in July 2009. I applied for the Weir House but i was put on hold. So the university offered me to stay at Unicomm McKenzies, Cumberland, or St. George. From the options given, which one is the best? thank you

  31. Stella says:

    Hi Emirsyah. Generally I’d say flatting is likely to be better and cheaper than any student hostel. Take pictures when you move in to make sure you get your bond back. Victoria has an Accommodation Service on Kelburn Parade that can help you. Wish you all the best for your studies!

  32. Emirsyah says:

    Thank you Stella, what about the Education House? i have never been to Welly before and it’s like gambling for me, though :D

  33. Anon says:

    Unicomm and St George have both had troubles like mould and critters in recent years. I’d go with St George because it’s been refurbished and is closer to town

  34. Stella says:

    Sorry, I don’t know about Education House. Trust me, it’s always like gambling, even when you’re an NZ native. The best advice I can give you is that hostels offer very poor value for money, and if you do flat, never flat at 39 Mortimer Terrace. Also, be aware that it’ll be a lot colder and damper here than Indonesia. Bring warm clothes. It may work well for you to start out in a hostel that looks OK, for a short period of time (I think they do 6-month contracts) while you find a decent flat.

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