Student swindled out of NOK 20,000

Felix Omondi Osok may have to cancel his first trip home to Kenya in two and a half years after he was deceived by his own subtenant.

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– It is weird to be back here, Felix Omondi Osok (22) says, and draws the curtains inside his student flat at Sogn.

– I have missed the people living here. But I am saddened by everything that has happened, he says.

Omondi Osok is back in the room he used to live in until this summer. But he does not dare to live here anymore; all because of an unstable subtenant.

Summer subletting

Omondi Osok, from Kenya, is an international student and has studied Political Science in Norway for two and a half years. He has spent his entire time at Sogn Student Village. However, this summer he had a summer job in Larvik. During the two months of summer he consequently wanted to sublet his flat. He put out an ad searching for somebody who wanted to rent it. This is completely in keeping with SiO (The Foundation for Student Life in Oslo) regulations.

Omondi Osok put up notes and received a phone call from a man in his twenties a couple of days later. He wanted to rent the student flat, and the two of them approached the SiO Office at Sogn in order to submit the sublease agreement, a standard contract provided by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

– Then we were notified that the contract was invalid because he could not produce a passport upon arrival. I was in a hurry; my summer job started the following day, and I asked whether it was okay to sign the contract provided that he dropped by with his passport the next day. We were told that this was fine, Omondi Osok says, who brought with him a mate as a witness, both when the contract was signed and submitted at Sogn.

However, the subtenant never delivered his passport, maybe because he was too busy on the phone.

– I initially thought of disconnecting it, but he asked if he could rather pay the bill instead. I agreed, Omondi Osok says.

He smelled a rat when he received a phone bill at NOK 10,000.

– I called him to try and sort things out. He had paid the rent for the first month but denied to pay for the second month including the phone bill. Eventually, I was forced to go to Oslo and chuck him out, Omondi Osok says.

Used a false name

The phone bill finally totaled NOK 18,000. Counting outstanding rent payment, Omondi Osok is stuck with a bill totaling more than NOK 20,000. Furthermore, the subtenant has apparently used a false name when signing the lease. Now he has vanished even though he has been inside the flat following his eviction.

– He broke into the flat, destroyed the door to the hallway and crushed parts of the interior in my room. In addition, he smashed the window in the kitchen along with all my household articles, he says.

The result of the event was that the Political Science student no longer dared to live in his own room.

– I did not feel safe anymore. Consequently, I applied for an internal relocation here at Sogn, he says.

Omondi Osok reported the break-in, the misuse of his phone and the unpaid rent to the police. However, Omondi was told that the police did not have enough resources to investigate into the matter, and the case was subsequently dismissed.

– Should have been stricter

SiO has not been of any help to him either. The only assistance he has been offered is a down-payment plan.

– They keep telling me that the sublease agreement is invalid, and that they cannot help me, he says.

He is therefore stuck with a large bill that he cannot afford to pay.

– I cannot afford it. I am not eligible for grants or student loans here in Norway, and there are no means of funding available to students abroad in Kenya. I live off of what I earn and barely make ends meet. They have now suggested that I pay NOK 2,000 in monthly installments, but this is flat out impossible for me, Omondi Osok says, who is working part-time at Gunerius shopping centre.

– I don’t know what to do anymore, Omondi Osok says. He could only wish that SiO had followed up the matter or required that the subtenant subsequently showed his passport, or denied to authorise the agreement pending production of the passport.

- Their intention was probably to be lenient there and then, but they should have been stricter. Felix Omondi Osok (22), student

– Their intention was probably to be lenient there and then, but they should have been stricter, Omondi Osok explains.

He has not been back in Kenya during the two and a half years of living in Norway. He misses his friends and family back home but has not been able to afford the plane fare. This summer, he booked a flight back for Christmas, but he may have to cancel the trip.

– The cancellation deadline has expired, but I get a 40 per cent refund if I cancel the trip. At the moment, it looks as if I cannot afford anything besides canceling, he says.

Hard to prove

Magne Eek, divisional manager of the Norwegian Consumer Council, understands that the situation is perceived as unreasonable:

– An oral agreement is in theory as binding as a written one. And the oral promise to control the subtenant’s passport is in this case where the question around SiO’s responsibility is raised, he says. He underlines that this is part of an assessment of an actual matter, which the Consumer Council is not at liberty to discuss.

Gert-Fredrik Malt, Associate Professor of among others Rent Law at the Faculty of Law, holds that it is primarily the main tenant`s responsibility to control identity, in this case the international student.

– It is hard to prove an oral agreement, and maybe SiO’s statements were unclear, Malt says.

However, he thinks that SiO should have enough experience in order to be more careful about these matters than in this case, and he aims an unambiguous warning at the students:

– This is one of many stories that tell the tale of market swindles. Looks may be deceiving, and therefore it is important to make sure that such subletting is properly dealt with.

– An awfully sad matter

– We get cases like this from time to time, but we have never experienced such economic consequences, Guri Bergo, marketing officer of SiO Housing, says.

SiO often have difficulties in relation to subletting.

– This is a bit difficult for us. It is a service to the students. We understand that many students would like to sublet their flats if they are not in Oslo during holidays, but it creates problems. We get quite a substantial amount of complaints concerning summer subtenants, Bergo says.

She cannot promise Omondi Osok any economic support.

– This is an awfully sad matter. But our hands are tied. If we were to delete the debt, this would only affect other residents negatively. However, in the event that he cannot afford to pay, we would like him to get in touch with us again so that we can come to some kind of agreement, she says. She adds that she is surprised to learn that Omondi Osok and his subtenant made an oral agreement, where the latter was supposed to return with his passport, in the reception at Sogn.

– We need to treat this matter as unique. And we need to review our routines for subletting, she says.

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