Student housing problems: we've had enough, haven't we?
As an international student, the process of looking for a student accommodation after year one was quite scary and confusing.
I was thrown into contracts full of complex terminology; I felt I had nobody to turn to and ask all the questions. It was very much a process of constant trials and errors with some issues left unresolved even until today.
I had considered myself a responsible adult, but my experiences with real estate agencies have made me reconsider the term ‘adult’. For as much as the law recognises my legal age, it seems that the agencies I have been in contact with over the past two years go by different standards. I have been laughed at and ignored by adults who are obliged to respect me as a tenant, but merely pretend to do so.
Had this been something out of the norm, it would not have bothered me. However, majority of the students I have talked to seemed to have experienced similar kinds disrespect.
What shocks me is that 64% of landlords and agencies say that they are wholly dependent on students, reports a survey by the City Council. So what brings about such discord between the student tenants and the lettings agents? Why are we treated with such deplorable manners?
I have spoken with students who had rat infestation problems; whose houses had been broken into; who had flooded bathrooms, mould decorating their walls as well as unreliable heating systems. I found that such issues students encounter remain unanswered, or the provision of appropriate measures is delayed to an extreme level.
To share my experience, I had to bear the mould in my room and in staircase throughout the entirety of last year. It was late March when my landlord finally sent a crew to change the gutters which were causing the problem after numerous solicitations, unanswered phone calls and ‘misplaced’ emails. But he never implemented a clear measure that could fundamentally remove the mould. This year, although I am staying with a different estate agency, I seem to have similar issues that are not dealt seriously. For an instance, regarding the piles limescale in the boiler I discovered earlier that increases electricity consumption and eventually makes the bills go up fast, I was told it is something normal that any student would experience and I should only use the boiler when needed.
Funnily enough, when my parents got involved the issue was addressed and resolved as quickly as three hours.
For the average rent price of £82 (pwpp) in Canterbury (Rents Release 2016), a tenant could expect professional interaction with agents and landlords and the properties to be up to code with the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1995.
However, three quarters of students in the UK (NUS) find themselves indebted for paying all sorts of fees that occur when securing a student accommodation, and yet end up still living with vermin problems, condensation and mould. Why should students tolerate such unacceptable living conditions? It has since become my intention to find a place for consultation to bring housing issues into light and to come up with solutions applicable for all of us.
Although universities have remained on the sidelines in terms of providing direct assistance regarding housing issues off campus, below are some University contacts and services that not many students know about or use, but can be a crucial help.
The annual Housing Week fair organised by the University and Kent Union in January is where you can ask all your questions and become informed as much as possible. I recommend you to sign contracts after attending the fair from which you would be able to prevent making poor decisions in signing your contract. This fair specifically aims to enable students to find righteous properties that comply with codes of housing. For more information, consult the UKC Housing Guide.
The University of Kent also provides a Guarantor Scheme for students who do not have an English guarantor, which is required when renting a property.
If you are concerned about being treated adversely by your landlords and/or estate agencies, you can check out properties on Home Stamp (via homestampkent.co.uk), a non-profit organisation and also a parter organisation of the University which lists properties that conform to housing regulations and codes. If you need further advice, you can visit Advice Centre in Mandela building on campus.
If you have an urgent issue regarding housing and student accommodation, or any remarks to make that could help us all, you can contact the Welfare Vice-President, Clara Lee, directly via firstname.lastname@example.org