Three quarters of Bristol students have experienced mould in private rented accommodation, an investigation by Epigram has found.
The survey, taken by 137 Bristol students, also revealed that 42.7% are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the quality of rented student accommodation in Bristol.
Of the 92% of respondents that have experienced problems with private accommodation, 74.4% have experienced mould, 65.9% damp, 40.3% broken or leaking windows, 28.7% a pest and/or vermin infestation and 62% reported that their home was dirty when they moved in. One even revealed that they had found a used condom under their bed when they moved in.
32.4% of students said their house doesn't have secure windows or doors and 57.4% do not have a working burglar alarm (with 29.4% not sure), concerning considering the recent spate of burglaries of student houses.
Poor quality of housing was a common theme among comments left by students, with one remarking that ‘students have to take these properties—which they would not otherwise touch with a barge pole—because of the massive demand and relative scarcity of places to live’.
70.8% of respondents also said they have experienced problems getting their landlord or letting agent to carry out repairs.
As for finances, 52.6% of students pay more than £450 in rent a month. When securing their house, 58.4% of respondents had to pay more than £150 in agency fees and 39.4% of students had to pay the equivalent of six weeks rent or more as a deposit. 60% of respondents said having to pay these upfront fees posed financial difficulties.
Many commented on the seemingly bad value for money of Bristol’s student housing stock, considering the number of problems, the time it takes them to be fixed and the prevalence of high fees and rent. One commented: ‘Stop increasing rent year on year for the same damp house,’ and another: ‘I don’t know what we actually pay agency fees for.’
When finding and signing for houses, 38.2% said they signed in November- December, while 47.8% said they signed in January-February and 9.6% in March-April. When asked what their top two criteria were when looking for housing, 67.6% said location, 65% said the quality of accommodation and 59.1% said the price of rent.
55.5% of respondents think they rushed into signing housing contracts. Many identified the ‘culture of fear’ around finding accommodation.
Despite SU initiatives such as ‘Don’t Rent Yet’ last year, ‘Ready to Rent’ this year, the Just Ask service, housing fairs and the University’s accommodation office, 89.7% of students think there is not enough support for student renters. 93.3% think the University should give more support to students looking for and living in private rented accommodation.
‘Support for students privately renting is terrible,’ one student commented: ‘they only have one person who deals with these issues in the Accommodation Office who is too busy to ever meet, and in the SU lettings building it may say “come in for a chat” but staff were very curt with me when I visited and weren’t helpful at all.’
Although assessing letting agencies was not the aim of this survey, many students in the comment section of the survey noted the failings of individual agencies. Both Digs and 2C Properties were mentioned.
One student commented that ‘2CProperties were awful - they removed our front door locks with no warning and didn’t return them for weeks’, while another wrote that ‘Digs are awful, [they] live up to their horror story reputation.’ Epigram contacted both Digs and 2C Properties for a response, but have not yet received a response.
The survey comes at the same time as questions surrounding the sustainability of student numbers in Bristol and the impact on housing in the city, especially considering plans to build a new campus by Temple Meads and the demolition of The Hawthorns accommodation.
We’re all set at this year’s Housing Fair, eager to talk all things Ready to Rent! Come give us a hola, we’re here, ready to chat though all your housing needs! We also have a range of resources so make sure you come and grab a copy! pic.twitter.com/USiU1Z9x3R— Bristol SU (@Bristol_SU) November 30, 2017
A spokesperson for the University said: ‘We’re very concerned to hear that students are having such negative experiences of private sector renting. We have been working closely with Bristol SU to see how we can best address these issues to ensure our students aren’t faced with unacceptable living conditions and costs.
‘Our Accommodation Office provides substantial advice to students when they look for rented accommodation in the private sector, and we have a Private Sector Adviser on hand to offer help and expertise on everything from tenancy agreements to issues with a landlord.
‘We urge any students experiencing problems to contact our Private Sector Adviser, Tash Burden. We also provide a number of advisory documents on our accommodation web pages for students wanting quick answers and advice.’
Today’s the day! Our student house listings have gone live! We specialise in student property, with a range of properties throughout Bristol AND we have no tenant fees! Dreamy! Interested? Course you are! Get in touch today! https://t.co/CVkyAl54h8 pic.twitter.com/6cYKIyuiHD— Bristol SU (@Bristol_SU) December 4, 2017
Lucky Dube, Student Living Officer at the SU, said in response: ‘we take on board the comments made in this article and we are glad this discussion is taking place. This article backs up evidence we’ve seen from the surveys and campaigns we have run, and we know that housing is a key issue for all students.
‘Since Bristol SU Lettings opened in 2013 we’ve saved Bristol Students nearly half a million in tenant agency fees as well as reinvesting all of our profits back into student activity. Our 2018/19 listings are now live, and we will continue to offer high quality and affordable housing throughout the winter, with new properties being added each week.
‘We look forward to continuing working with the University to support students in regard to housing.’
Featured image Epigram / Alex Boulton
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