Housing Disasters (And How to Avoid Them)

Written by Joshua Copus-Oxland |

House hunting, such fun!

It’ll soon be the start of a new term and soon after, a new academic year will approach faster than you think. Provided you haven’t blown your fresher’s year on clubbing or whatever, you’ll be looking for accommodation outside of halls. It’s a hard market for sure, as this town is oversaturated with other students looking for the same thing as you, and so, anticipate to spend a lot of time house hunting, either through an agency or through a website.

Some of you will most likely go for the first thing on the list, with or without a viewing. You get your deposit ready to move in. And when you arrive, you discover it’s a mess.

At least, that’s the situation I found myself at the beginning of the year when looking for a room. It was my first time looking for accommodation that wasn’t within student halls, and mistakes were made. I didn’t think to look for a viewing first to decide whether or not the place was worth it, as I was desperate to get housing sorted ASAP, not picking up the numerous warning signs along the way. Even talking to the residents would’ve been a good tell-tale sign that it wasn’t worth pursuing.

“Even talking to the residents would’ve been a good tell-tale sign that it wasn’t worth pursuing.”

So come September, I hauled all my luggage from my home in Exeter to Falmouth and took a taxi to this house. One would expect a room with central heating, perhaps. But I arrived only to find that I’d been moved to the outhouse with only a halogen heater for warmth.

This was situation that I found myself in | Image Credit: Joshua Copus-Oxland

It wasn’t so much a room as it was a shed, with a worktop that didn’t function as a desk and a bed that took up one half of the room’s space. The paint peeled off the walls. There were no blinds. That wasn’t what I signed up for.

Fortunately, my house-mates made all the difference, as they were kind and clued me into the situation. Months ago, I was booked to move into a room into the house as promised, as another tenant was supposed to move, but changed their mind, and the landlord flagged up the issue at such a short notice, they had no choice but to move me into the outhouse. No one had seen the landlord in two years.

Knowing there wasn’t much that could be done, I tried to make the best out of my situation, not wanting the extra stress of looking for another place. But when more problems surmounted, not only having to go outside to access the house from the back door, but also the toilet facilities, that made it harder to stay.

The last straw was during Storm Helene, in September, when I got drenched just going outside for ten seconds to get into the house during the night. I wasn’t under any contract as the landlord forgot to send the tenancy agreement before my move in, so I went looking for a new place to stay.

After a week or so of rejections and botched viewings, I found a place away from campus to stay, which was a compromise, but better than staying in that damp room. I moved in with no strings attached. If that situation hadn’t played itself out the way it did, I would still be in that house.So, that doesn’t sound too bad, right? True, I got off lucky, but many other students, being bound to a contract, were less well off.

“So, that doesn’t sound too bad, right? True, I got off lucky, but many other students, being bound to a contract, were less well off.”

Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, was in a state like this for more than a year, during their stay in Penryn, through Townsend letting agents. Townsend Accommodation in Falmouth has had a poor reputation on Google Reviews, getting a rating of 2.8 out of 5, so this account is rather telling.

For this student, there were constant issues with maintenance and water leaks, as responses would come much later than necessary and there would only be a lazy fix.

But they add: “What sent me over the edge with the property was the fact that I was not informed that a BT company was coming out to fix the WiFi.

“The router was in my room while I wasn’t at the house. A man was allowed access to my room without my knowing. Then the next day, he was allowed access again without my knowing again.

“I was in my room, just out of the shower with just a towel on when a knock came at the door. I quickly began to get changed but before I could this man had already let himself into the property.I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable.”

Soon after the incident, they left their housing and tried to terminate their contract under this breach, only to be denied and charged interest for extra rent. This left them with mental issues and affected their studies as a result.

This is an issue that can resonate with anyone, not just students, as housing misery is universal. This is especially relevant in Falmouth, as the housing here is in short supply, with plans to expand student accommodation lots such as the Penrose Student Village on hold, and with Falmouth University to increase the student cap from 5,000 to 7,500 by 2022, this situation is only expected to get worse.

So, unfortunately, options to get out of dodgy housing are limited once you’re already in it, but there are ways to avoid it beforehand:

  • Visit multiple properties to determine which is the best suit for you.
  • Be sure to check reviews of landlords or letting agents before you consider a viewing.
  • Talk to the current tenants of that household to determine the positives and negatives of the accommodation.
  • Talk to the landlord and look out for red flags, particularly miscommunication. 
  • Create a checklist as you go through every room to check it’s in good condition.