Two students have filed a report with the police after their landlord became “aggressive and threatening” over their decision to display an NHS condom distribution poster.
Michael Hobbs and Lucy Gallard, who are volunteers with the NHS Fife scheme, had displayed the A4 sized poster in a ground-floor window. It said “NHS Fife Sexual Health Distribution Point” and did not contain any images.
But the landlord, David Donaldson, said the poster was offensive and visited the students at their Chamberlain Street flat to ask them to take it down.
“Apparently there have been complaints in the neighbourhood about it,” said Ms Gallard.
“He was very aggressive and kept saying: you will not have that on my property. Apparently it makes the place look like a ‘knocking shop’.”
Mr Hobbs said: “He refused to let us speak and tell him our reasons for not taking down the poster earlier. He accused us of ignoring multiple complaints to do so, of which he claimed to have informed Eve Brown [their letting agency].
“His aggressive and threatening tone and parting words of ‘I’ll deal with Eve Brown and then I’ll deal with you’ were incredibly intimidating and unacceptable. We have therefore filed a report with the police.”
Mr Donaldson told The Saint that he felt the incident had been blown out of proportion and that he did not see the need for police involvement. He did not wish to be quoted but explained he was concerned that someone looking to use the service may go to the wrong door, which could cause distress to some of the students’ elderly neighbours. He said he felt it was inappropriate to run such a programme in a residential area.
The NHS scheme is endorsed by the University and provides free contraception to everyone, including students. Mr Hobbs said: “We don’t feel we should take down the poster on ethical grounds. As a voluntary social scheme set up by NHS Fife to promote the health and awareness of all residents, we feel it is an essential service.
“Until I have a court order telling me to take the poster down it’ll stay where it is.”
Though Mr Donaldson claimed to have heard multiple complaints from neighbours, The Saint spoke to six people living nearby, all of whom said they had no problem with the poster and five of whom did not even know of its existence until alerted to it.
Mr Duncan, 53, who lives across from Ms Gallard and Mr Hobbs, did know about it but said he was not offended. “It’s no bother to me. I think it adds a valuable service”.[pullquote]“Until I have a court order telling me to take the poster down it’ll stay where it is.”[/pullquote]
Gordon Gibb, a PhD student who lives a few doors down, commented: “I couldn’t care less whether they have it or not. If you can barely see it then I don’t know what the problem is”.
Stephen Brown, speaking on behalf of the Eve Brown letting agency, said that he had previously been asked by Mr Donaldson to have the poster removed. He said: “I followed this [request] up with a phone call to the lead tenant to discuss the nature of the poster and thereafter I viewed the property from the outside to see the poster for myself.
“I formed the view that as the poster did not appear ‘offensive’, was not being displayed in contravention of any lease terms [and was not] unlawful in any way no action should be taken, and I advised the landlord accordingly.”
According to the students, only one neighbour, an elderly lady, had approached them directly about the matter. “The neighbour came and spoke to [Ms Gallard], who explained the reasons behind the poster and the importance of it being kept up. She appeared to understand our reasoning, even if she was not enamoured with it, and we agreed to push the poster into the corner of the window where it would be less obvious to people going to her door. [We] agreed to move the poster should anyone come to her front door asking for the service. She seemed happy with the compromise.”
Mr Brown said he heard nothing further on the matter until Mr Hobbs emailed him “alleging intimidatory behaviour” following Mr Donaldson’s visit to the house. He said: “The landlord demanded that we remove the poster. I again stated that as in my opinion the poster was not offensive, did not contravene lease terms [and was not] illegal, that Eve Brown was not prepared to take any action against the tenants.
“The landlord issued an ultimatum to me: either follow his instructions and remove the poster or he would find another agent. For the reasons stated above I had no alternative but to invite him to do so. Consequently, the landlord has advised me that the end of the current tenancies he will be moving all five of his properties to another agent.”
Mr Hobbs and Ms Gallard said: “[We] would like to stress how grateful we are to Eve Brown for sticking up for us.”
Mr Donaldson told The Saint that in the future he intends to start his own St Andrews letting agency based around his properties in the town.
Ms Gallard said that she would not feel comfortable renting from him again. “We are final years with no intention of staying in St Andrews. But if we were staying, I would not want to rent from him again unless he changed his attitude to tenants.
“It was thanks to intervention from Eve Brown that he wasn’t able to bully and threaten us into taking the poster down any more than he did. The idea of entering into an agreement with him without that protection is not tempting. I think students looking to rent from him in the future should be aware of this.”
Mr Hobbs has had trouble with the poster before. Last year, when he lived in a different flat, his then landlady and a neighbour demanded he take the notice down. He claims the neighbour became aggressive and threatened to “speak to Louise Richardson”, calling the poster “offensive to members of the community.”
Mr Hobbs commented: “It’s absolutely disgusting the way students are treated in this town. I don’t think there’s a single person who doesn’t have stories about a nightmare land- lord or another member of the town treating them badly.
“[Landlords] think they have a right to bully us and treat us like second class citizens. Even many of the estate agents provide living conditions and treat student clients in a manner that would never be deemed acceptable elsewhere.
“Also, one of Mr Donaldson’s [points] was that we were in a ‘residential area’, which angered both of us a lot because it shows that there are members of the town population who don’t regard students as residents with equal rights.”