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The true reality of student housing

Written by Laura Chapman and Kate Rossini

A survey of 300 students carried out by NUS Wales and Shelter Cymru found more than half reported living with damp or mould. 24% also reported problems with rats and vermin. With COVID restrictions finally lifting, students are able to return to lectures and leave the online classrooms behind. Prior to this, 2/3 students said poor living conditions were effecting their mental health.

Lucy Fletcher, 20, in her student houses back garden

We interviewed Lucy Fletcher, a 20 year old human geography and planning student at Cardiff University. Lucy lives in Cathays and rents from a local letting agency. Lucy moved into her three bed property in September 2021, but to her disappointment, the property had numerous issues. The tenants wrote a list to the agency of all the issues throughout the house and were verbally promised resolutions after going into the office to push for a response. When Lucy asked for written confirmation she was called “pedantic” and told her request was “unnecessary”.

The work did not get completed, leading Lucy and her housemate to file a formal complaint in October 2021, this was ignored by the letting agency. At this time, the students had a broken oven and washing machine, and had also experienced two minor gas leaks, meaning all their major facilities were out of bounds, nothing was done until the students moved from emails to going into the office to complain.

The students then requested the agency fix the cracked bedroom window and missing garden fence meaning the students’ garden led onto their neighbours’ with no privacy. The ongoing issues and lack of communication were harming the students; “it became detrimental to our mental and physical health, we all had continuous colds colds through our tenancy”. The issues were worsened by lack of response from the landlord and nothing changing.

The issues got so extreme that the students requested three months rent returned in order to compensate for their ongoing problems and poor living conditions; “we viewed that they had not fulfilled the contract in pre tenancy checks and communication”. The most recent outcomes for the students has been getting the council involved after noticing vermin above the kitchen and experiencing yet another gas leak; “our experience in this house has been unimaginable”.

Another student house we looked at was based in the Roath area, the group of 4 moved in August 2021. They found their house through a student letting agency in Cardiff. We spoke to Faye, 21 year old living in Cardiff. She said when herself and her friends were searching for houses they weren’t allowed to see the house they ended up renting in person due to COVID-19. So, the letting agency provided them with a YouTube video of the house. Faye explained that the house looked pretty normal from the video however, when she moved in, she was shocked to see the condition of the house.

The sofas smelt of urine and had to be washed by two of the students when they first arrived. One of the mattresses had not been replaced from the previous tenants and had a number of visible stains, the request for a new mattress was ignored by the agency. As well as cleanliness, there were issues regarding windows not locking correctly, the toilet not being able to flush and exposed wire in most the rooms.

The maintenance team fixed the window and flush pretty quickly according to the tenants. However the never ending list of problems started quickly after. The bedrooms started to show signs of rising damp and mould. Slugs started coming in through the front and back of the house. The tenants had visits from the health and environmental department from the council. They pointed out everything that had to be fixed within the house. The long list got sent to the letting agents but the students had to hound the agency pushing them to get the work complete.

Faye said the damp and mould had been present since September but builders did not come to fix the issues until January and in that time one student, who’s room had extreme rising damp had a cold/flu pretty much every month until they the work was finished. The students mentioned even though the work was done the house was left in a terrible mess by the builders with their rubbish being dumped in the garden and cutlery being unusable due to them being covered in cement. A few weeks after the work was done signs of damp and mould were back. Clothes from the downstairs bedroom were covered in mould and had to been thrown away.

Rob Simkins, campaigns manager for Shelter Cymru , said the Welsh government should make it easier for students to hold landlords accountable; “The way in which students are able to do that is time consuming and really complicated” said Rob Simkins. Simkins suggests the Welsh government needs to adopt the rent repayment order that England currently uses; a law that deters landlords from unlawful conduct and provides greater compensation to tenants when landlords are in breach of licence agreements.

The student housing crisis is seeming to be getting worse with horror stories arising frequently, it is clear that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the conditions many students are forced to live in, with little choice or escape due to contracts.

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