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Student Accommodation

Worst student housing problems revealed

We've all heard student housing horror stories, but what are the real issues? We asked students from all over the country to find out...

leaking ceiling and damp next to rat

Credit: Andrey_Popov (left), InessaI (right) - Shutterstock

New research by Save the Student has revealed the most common issues students face when renting private accommodation at university – and it's clear that things aren't in a good way.

We asked over 1,300 students about their experience with accommodation for our National Student Accommodation Survey, and you guys revealed just how bad the state of student housing in the UK is.

From mouldy walls to rodent infestations, student houses are troubled by some seriously dodgy issues. Most worryingly, around one in three students said they were affected by damp and/or a lack of heating or water. This is all comes as rent costs are eating up the vast majority of student Maintenance Loans!

Feel like you're being ripped off? Here are the average rent costs at universities across the UK.

Worst student housing issues

wall with black damp

Credit: Infrogmation - Wikimedia Commons

Here are the worst student accommodation issues:

  1. Lack of water or heating (32%)
  2. Damp (29%)
  3. Disruptive building work (21%)
  4. Inappropriate/unannounced landlord visits (16%)
  5. Rodents and pests (16%)
  6. Other (8%)
  7. Dangerous living conditions (5%)
  8. Break-ins or burglaries (5%).

It's incredibly concerning that almost one-third of students are facing periods without water and heating, particularly in a year when there's been little else to do other than stay at home.

But that's far from the only issue students are facing in their own homes. A similarly high proportion (29%) have had to deal with damp, while a fifth have had to contend with disruptive building work, and 16% have been disturbed by inappropriate or unannounced landlord visits.

On top of that, 16% have suffered what many consider to be their worst nightmare: a house infested with rodents or pests, which is something we discuss in detail in episode one of our podcast, as one of the Save the Student team was unfortunate enough to share a flat with German cockroaches.

Again, given that coronavirus restrictions have forced the majority of students to attend at least some of their lectures virtually, it's worrying that they're having to do so in such poor conditions.

But these issues aren't just a strain on students' mental health. Rodents and other pests pose an obvious threat to hygiene, while damp and a lack of hot water/heating can seriously affect the health of inhabitants, causing coughs, chest infections and throat irritation.

Take a look inside one of the worst student houses we've ever seen.

Student landlords failing to act

run down terraced houses

Credit: BerndBrueggemann – Shutterstock

The issue isn’t just that these problems exist in the first place, it’s also that they often go unresolved for long periods of time. Many of you reported that landlords fail to take you seriously as students, and 50% said household issues take longer than a week to resolve.

Even worse than this, 5% of students said their problems have never been fixed.

Here are just a few of the quotes from this year's survey which reveal that it's not just private landlords who are neglecting their responsibilities:

- Finding a glass of orange juice that was turned to hard green mush hidden behind the microwave. (Private landlord)

- The electric lock on the main door into the flat wouldn't work, so their solution was to remove it entirely for a few days allowing anyone to walk in and have access to the kitchen (or bedrooms if they were not also locked by students). (Uni accommodation)

- Kitchen window leaked, maintenance came in without knocking and had been to other flats before ours with people who had tested positive for COVID living there, brought COVID to our flat and I tested positive two weeks later, kitchen window was never fixed. (Private halls)

- I hate it because it isn't good value for money. It's small, cramped, dangerous, full of antisocial people and the management do not care about problems at all. We had a bug infestation from previous students and it took them four days to come out [...] and we haven't heard back about a partial refund. (Uni accommodation)

Taking all this into account, it's hardly a surprise to learn that now just 50% of students view their accommodation as good value for money – that's a drop of 10% on the previous year's survey.

And, of course, for much of the 2020/21 academic year, many students have been denied access to their accommodation.

Our survey found that, thanks to coronavirus restrictions, 58% of those surveyed have been unable to live in their university homes for at least some period of time, with 43% spending three months or less there.

To make up for the disruption, 32% of students have been offered a discount on their accommodation – but just 9% were offered full refunds.

And even taking into account the compensation, we estimate that close to £1 billion (£933,270,890) has been wasted on rent for rooms that students have been unable to access.

Here's what to do if you're trying to get a refund on your accommodation.

Where to seek housing advice

block of flats

As many as 61% of students turn to parents for advice on housing problems but, while they may be able to offer some advice from their own experiences (or provide a more authoritative voice to scare a landlord/estate agent into action), there are plenty of expert sources that provide free information and guidance too.

Here are some places to turn to for info and advice on housing issues:

  • Your university – Most universities will give advice on private housing issues, and student unions offer guidance on landlord problems as part of their advice centre. These services often also offer to check over your tenancy agreement for free, flagging up any issues which might affect you further down the line.
  • Legal advice – If you want to take things further, there’s also the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, your local council or the Property Ombudsman who'll be able to advise you further on your legal options.
  • Shelter – If you’re not sure where to turn first, housing charity Shelter will advise you on your rights and the most appropriate course of action.
  • Landlord reviews – This last one may not be a source of advice for you, but you can help other tenants by giving your landlord a review! Some universities or areas will have their own specific websites for this, but the likes of Marks out of Tenancy and Rental Raters are nationwide services that allow you to review your experience with a landlord or letting agent.

We also asked students what the most annoying housemate habits are – how many are yours guilty of?

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