Crisis project – student accommodation

“You chuck in a bunch of people who don’t really know what it’s like to live in a house together and you’re just not really helping them out at all, they’ve got no experience of what to do in situations [like this].”
Those are the words of Jack Kelly, a third-year film production student at the University of Gloucestershire, speaking about the lack of help he and his housemates received when their boiler recently broke down. And for many students who experience issues with their accommodation, they get to the heart of the problem.
For many of us, university is the first time we’ve lived away from home ‒ of around 2.2 million students in 2015/16, only around 14 per cent chose to commute from home. As such, many of us start our studies without much idea how to fend for ourselves, which makes us much more vulnerable when things go wrong in our accommodation. You would expect landlords and letting agents to act compassionately in these cases, and they often do – but for some students, that isn’t their experience at all.

“There was no urgency to sort it whatsoever, no consideration for us,” Jack’s housemate, third-year digital marketing student Saul Haycock, says. “Probably the worst thing that happened was, I told [the estate agent] we were without this and that, and she said to me ‒ and I quote her on this ‒ ‘Just pour the kettle and put it in the sink, and then you can wash your dishes with that.’ It was a nightmare dealing with it but it shows more about them than us.”
Though this was clearly an inconvenience for them, neither Saul nor Jack say they feel short-changed by it; their main issue is with how they were treated by their estate agent. “I don’t feel ripped off financially, but it was just so cynical and sinister how they acted,” Saul says. “Just to not deal with the problem with any urgency whatsoever, this ‘Get on with it, we’ve dealt with it’ kind of thing, use the kettle to do your dishes. I didn’t really think of the money or the rent at all; it was just more their attitude and how they dealt with it, it was pretty bad.”

Saul and Jack’s story is far from an isolated case. This year’s National Student Accommodation Survey found that 90 per cent of the 2,196 students surveyed had reported a problem with their accommodation. The vast majority of these problems were maintenance issues that had left tenants without basic services or living in unsafe conditions – 35 per cent reported issues with condensation damp, while 32 per cent had suffered a lack of water or heating. Additionally, one in ten students said they had waited over a month for their issues to be resolved, while 4 per cent said their issues were never resolved.
With the average student paying £541 rent per month (£125 per week), it’s not unreasonable to think that some of these would be feeling a bit ripped off – like they weren’t getting what they were paying for. Since 2016, Twitter users have been using #ventyourrent to share horror stories concerning their houses and expressing that they feel ripped off, and some of them are students. One of them, Coventry University student Sütsüz Çay, posted a video clip in November showing water pouring through the light fitting in his kitchen ceiling, as well as exposed wiring in the wall above the oven.
“It took months for the letting agency to sort this out ‒ many emails and phone calls,” Çay wrote. “On top of this, they didn’t release the deposit… I got it back in full because they didn’t give a reason, even during the deposit dispute process.”

In February, the National Student reported that a group of students at Goldsmiths, University of London, were set to protest ‘unaffordable student hall fees and ‘appalling’ living conditions’. The group, who call themselves Goldsmiths Housing Action, would frequently receive posts on their Facebook page complaining of blocked sinks, collapsed ceilings, broken heating and rat infestations amongst other serious issues. Given the considerable rent prices in Goldsmiths halls of residence – students at Surrey House were charged £162 per week in 2018/19, while those at Chesterman House were charged £187 per week – did any of them feel they were being ripped off?

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