DSU Housing Survey results argue for landlord rating scheme

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Durham Students’ Union (DSU) has released the results from their ‘Private Rented Housing Survey’ conducted between November 2018 to January 2019.

62% of the 518 respondents to the DSU housing scheme said that an online rating scheme for landlords would make the accommodation search and renting experience better. Following these findings, Durham hopes to introduce a scheme for 2020/21.

The DSU has stated, “this will give students a platform to publicly shame rogue landlords and serve to warn prospective tenants away from their properties, whilst also rewarding good landlords.”

Their estate agent had been “rude and treated me as though I was a nuisance.”

The DSU has visited and discussed with other universities which have previously implemented these schemes, Leeds and Hull, and will attempt to build on their structure.

The need for stricter regulations on landlords was supported as 21% of students stated that their landlord or agent had entered their property without prior notice. This is a breach of their rights as tenants under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

Another 22 respondents said they felt threatened or harassed by their landlord or agent.

There were also complaints about estate agents, with a student commenting that “dealing with the estate agent has been difficult”, and they had found them “inflexible” as “they often ignore my emails and requests for issues with the property.” Another student commented that their estate agent had been “rude and treated me as though I was a nuisance.”

The survey reinforced the pressure on students to sign houses early, with responses including: “Sorting housing for next year was extremely stressful. There is a huge amount of pressure to sign a house early.”

Their findings support this, as 22% noted they began their search in October, and a further 35.9% started in November.

Students stated that 41.1% of this pressure to sign early was driven by other students.

Meanwhile, the national survey conducted by Save the Students (2019) found only 15.8% of students began searching before November. This illuminates the scale of Durham’s early housing hunting issue.

Students stated that 41.1% of this pressure to sign early was driven by other students. A large number of other respondents selected “multiple factors, such as other students, uncomfortable marketing techniques and pressure from landlords or agents, as also contributing to this culture of pressure.”

The DSU admitted “this culture of early house hunting and pressure amongst students is contributing to additional, unnecessary stress by creating a panic-fuelled housing rush”, raising concern as the survey discovered 15% of respondents said that “accommodation issues had made them feel mentally unwell (i.e. feelings of low mood, depression, anxiety).”

The DSU also noted it wishes to “push back when houses are released for signing so that students have more time to make informed decisions about where they will live and who with.”

The cost of student housing was a point for major concern, with 10% of students spending 81-100% of their monthly income on rent.

The DSU acknowledged that the rising cost of college accommodation is aiding the rise of costs.

This question generated a significant reaction from respondents, with one student asking: “Why does the price increase every single year? […] Can you stop them from exploiting us?”

The DSU acknowledged that the rising cost of college accommodation is aiding the increase in costs across the private renting sector.

In response, the DSU confirmed it will “continue to lead and invest it the #RippedOff campaign, to further demonstrate our opposition to rising college costs.”

The conditions of student housing was examined in the survey. The results showed that the most often-cited issues that students encountered were mould on windows and walls (45%), draughty windows or doors (43.2%), and unwanted items left from previous tenants (40%). Additionally, 16.2% of respondents had experienced a pest or insect infestation.

The quality of student housing was stated to be “reflective of the national picture” that the “quality of student housing is poor.”

The DSU stated it wants to “re-establish our relationship with ACORN – a tenants union which stands against rising housing costs and unacceptable conditions.”

The survey received 518 responses, 85.7% were Undergraduates; 9.1% Postgraduate Research Students; 4.8% were Postgraduate Taught students; and the remaining 0.4% were foundation level students.

Photograph by Nigel Gresley

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