Okay, I’ll admit it isn’t quite Richard Branson and BA’s ‘Dirty Tricks’ campaign but I have had a run in with the local rag for the University of Warwick, which isn’t ideal given the bulk of our 300 student properties are based in areas intended for Warwick students.
Towards the end of last year I received an e-mail from a student journalist, citing a couple of allegations against Smarter Housing. I was being granted 24 hours to respond, after which time they would proceed regardless.
I managed to get hold of the girl via telephone and established her source was none other than the fraudster whom I am now due to see in court this August, claiming over £5,000 in black and white goods that he failed to pay me for [see my previous rant on this here]. I gave her a brief rundown of the background to the case and emphasised that the other party has spent the last 3 years trash talking my business. Thankfully he has a bit of a history of defaulting on payments so his comments have been taken lightly by most. She agreed that nothing would be printed.
A few weeks later the Warwick Boar journalist is again e-mailing me allegations via e-mail. I agreed to go and meet with her and another ‘reporter’ on campus. I taped the entire 1 hour and 24 minutes of the interview and I’m glad I did, as the preview sent to me a couple of days later was utter nonsense. Despite my suggestions they should carefully consider their wording a front page article emerged early in January – the middle of the house hunting season. I have since found out no fewer than five tenants were questioned and gave positive reviews of Smarter Housing, all of whom were completely ignored, although I never bothered taking any kind of action against the Boar.
What was clearly intended as a damaging article only served to increase exposure of the company, with Warwick’s intelligent students quickly noting the bias of the article. A near miss you might say!
The Boar did eventually print a positive article about Smarter Housing, although it was nestled in with the letters to the editor. I’ve managed to paste the print below as I suspect it may get deleted from the Boar’s servers sooner or later! I’m fairly pleased with Stephen’s comments it has to be said, although I would liked to have seen the full version – which he was told to cut in half upon first submission.
Smarter than you think
Tuesday 6 January, 2009
I am writing in response to the article published on the front page of the Boar, dated the 25th November 2008, about SmarterHousing and Adam Arnold. The article was an entertaining read, was possibly libellous but, in my opinion, did in no way give a fair and true view of the service that SmarterHousing and Adam Arnold provide.
I have known Adam since I started at Warwick in 2002 and since then we have kept in touch. I attended his wedding earlier this year and rented from him when I came to Warwick to start my postgraduate degree. I can say without reservation, that Adam is a thoroughly good chap who is trying to run an honest business. In my opinion, the article used half truths and poor research to paint an untrue picture, essentially character assassinating Adam Arnold.
There was no mention of the campaigning Adam has done on behalf of students in Warwickshire to increase the prohibitively small amount of rubbish that the council will take each week, a simple newspaper search would have shown this. No mention of the funding he won from Warwick Ventures for innovation to set up SmarterHousing; no mention of the talks he has given to other local businesses on the challenges of setting up your own company; no mention of the awards he has been nominated for as a businessman, or the fact that he was recently included in the Guardian’s top five-hundred entrepreneurs list. There was also no mention of the support he gives to numerous University of Warwick Sports teams (Women’s Netball, American Football, Rugby League and until recently, Rugby Union), without which the clubs would struggle to operate.
The article presented the facts of cases in a biased and unmeasured way. For example, the woman, who claimed her house was broken into before she moved in, admitted to being paranoid for her safety. Surely this is an admission that her grounds for complaint were unjustified; perhaps the Boar should invest in a dictionary and look up the meaning of paranoid – a suspicion that is not based on fact? The other residents of the house were perfectly happy with the state of the property; despite this, Miss Milton was given forty-three lines of text, while the defence only fourteen. Did the Author even ask the other residents their opinion, or was it not deemed important?
It was also stated in the article that a number of houses were found not to have been cleaned prior to the start of the tenancy agreements. Blame was inferred to be on Adam for going on honeymoon and not spending that time cleaning the house. Reading the article carefully it is apparent that Adam organised for the cleaning to take place before he went away, only to find that it wasn’t done on his return. The properties were then cleaned within two weeks. I would challenge any housing agency to do better and I do not see what more he could have done. The article however portrays it as if Adam couldn’t be bothered to do the cleaning.
The writer claims that they were unable to find anybody who was happy with their experiences of SmarterHousing. The only way I can believe this is if she didn’t bother looking. Surely a good start would be the captain of one of the clubs SmarterHousing sponsor (myself). No doubt this would have turned up the fact that I personally sent an email to the club recommending the use of SmarterHousing, citing my own positive experiences. Come to think of it, any member of the club would have sufficed!
Another piece of biased reporting of the facts in the article claims that Adam refused to talk to the Boar, as if this was an admission of guilt or shifty behaviour. The article doesn’t mention that Adam gave a frank and open interview to the reporter (presumably where his quotations came from) and was only when he was given a copy of the draft article and saw how he had been misquoted, refused to answer anymore questions and referred the Boar to his lawyer. Surely this is standard business practice and I doubt that any other reputable business would have done any differently.
At the end of the day, Adam is running a small business, trying to provide housing to students in the best way he can. The fact that he is an amiable and friendly person, going the extra mile for his tenants, can mean that, when something goes wrong, people tend to take it personally. I am not saying that Adam is perfect, and with the power of hindsight, maybe some of the problems that have come up could have been averted. However, he is learning and changing his business model accordingly. At the end of the day, he is acting as an intermediary between the tenant and the landlord, having to take in claims by both sides and make the best judgment he can.
This is just my opinion and understanding of the facts, which I am not disputing. My main gripe is with the writing style and the way in which the incidents were reported.
— END —
Visit the Smarter Housing website.