Ignored and Extorted: Our Student Housing Experience

Written by Noah M. Abbot |

The private housing sector presents a difficult and harsh reality for students. Kassey, a student, had a landlord in Falmouth that would ignore the agreement of giving a 24-hour notice before arriving to shout and yell at her and her housemates for trivialities. She also claimed the landlord’s father, who often came to take care of the house, would insult them, calling them “stupid,” “dirty” and “lazy”. Many landlords are dismissive and often stall to fix issues while others can turn abusive towards their tenants.

Kassey’s landlord leant towards being aggressively nit-picky upon visiting. It’s a scenario that students know well; a landlord coming in unannounced and scrutinising their every move. Kassey described a situation where an automatic heat sensor in her housemate’s room kept him up at night. He decided to put foil over the sensor, but the landlord saw it and proceeded to yell at him for it. Even when students attempt to solve an inconvenience it can land them in hot water with the landlord.

In the end, Kassey’s landlord took her £500 deposit for leaving a box of old shoes and a computer behind. The landlord claimed he needed to call a skip to move the items. Unfortunately, Kassey’s story is one of many.

Anywhere a student goes, if they choose the private sector, it will be fraught with stress, anger, disappointment and pain. Poor management and bad interactions with estate agents are causes for concern. Too often students are taken advantage of and their distress ignored.

Throughout the UK, and indeed the world, students are increasingly extorted by estate agents who prey upon students not understanding or acting on their rights. Where students rely on private sector housing, estate agents and their letting agencies mistreat students and harm their growth. Accommodation and housing problems are energy and time consuming.

The National Union of Students, NUS, spotted this shared struggle. They are an organisation that seeks to guard and extend students’ rights around the United Kingdom. To do this, they surveyed 2,000 students about their living accommodation, and what’s been found is dire.

Over a third of students say they lived with damp and mould growing on the walls and/or ceiling. One in five students lived with vermin, slugs, and other pests in their accommodation. This led to a growing number of students concerned about their well-being: over 40% of students claim their mental health has gotten worse in private housing, and 17% say it has worsened their physical health as well. On top of this, 12% of students say they developed an unexpected health issue because of their accommodation.

One in five students live with vermin, slugs, and other pests in their accommodation.

Even more disconcerting is that the report found one in three students say it took their landlord a month or longer to fix issues such as electrical malfunctions or breakdowns in appliances like stoves, ovens, and refrigerators. Another 7% say that their issues were never fixed. This is not good enough. Yet even bleaker numbers follow: 31% say it’s affecting their studies, and an unsettling 44% of students claim to struggle keeping up with their rent.

Intrusiveness, stalling and ignoring, unfair criticism, and violations of contractual agreements are not everything a student must face. Many landlords make every attempt to squeeze money out of students with one third of students say their accommodation is poor value for money.

The deposits are large sums that are hard to pay, and while the average rent varies depending on the region, the national average is £131 per week—in Cornwall, it is £144 per week. The average maintenance loan is only £139 per week which leaves only £8 for food, transport and socializing, and doesn’t include emergencies at all.

Amongst these issues, there is also contractual fogginess, deposit insecurity, and struggles for finding the right people to live with—something that is already a major concern for students.

However, there are ways to prevent extortion and ignorance. Read the contracts carefully and have an advisor review it as well. Most importantly, know your rights as a tenant.

Lastly, upon leaving, review your landlord. Marks out of Tenancy and Rental Raters are nationwide reviewing services. Submitting a review will promote responsible and honest landlords, while shining a light on those who fail their obligations which will help future students.

Knowing what to do should the living conditions and/or relationship with the landlord break down helps. A student can use their local council or the Property Ombudsman for advice and legal resolutions. The most effective way to fight this crisis is to get the student unions involved.

All students share this plight. The struggle against abuse and irresponsibility is a painful theme and it’s time universities push to solve the issue. They have the power. It can begin with engagement. Engagement, feedback, and unity are the keys to creating a better livelihood. We need to stick together and look out for one another.