Durham Students’ Union has launched a “Take time to sign” campaign, in response to the time of year when Durham students start looking for housing for 2021-22. Prior to signing any tenancy agreement, the campaign urges students to explore all options, scrutinise the contract and ensure that they are fully aware of their rights as tenants. In addition, it stresses the importance of getting to know future housemates. Following this guidance, it is argued, “can prevent unexpected issues further down the line, which could be costly and/or distressing.”
The campaign was set up last year by Ewan Swift, now Durham SU’s Welfare and Liberation Officer, when he was Senior Welfare Officer at St Cuthbert’s Society. It is being run in collaboration with College welfare teams.
“Regardless of what you may hear, read or are told, I want to make it very clear that there is no shortage of student housing in Durham.” The campaign aims to minimise issues caused by the “common myth that in order to get a ‘good’ house for your next academic year, you have to sign early”.
“As part of the campaign, we’ll be sharing information on the housing market in Durham, what you should be looking for in your contract before you sign it, the things you might want to consider when finding your future housemates, the impact of Covid-19 guidance on housing viewings and the support available to you if you need it. We want to make sure that as student tenants, you are empowered to make informed decisions about housing through awareness of your rights and knowledge of the local market. We recognise that some of you will feel comfortable and ready to sign early, and that’s okay. However, we ask that if you do make this choice, please don’t put pressure on others to do the same.”
“As we now move into a period where housing will likely be a common topic of discussion, I’d urge you all to check out the work your welfare teams and others are doing in this area: attend their housing talks, read their resources, engage with their campaigning and ask questions or seek out your own answers. Above all, if you are unsure or hesitant about anything during the house signing process, we want you to feel empowered to take a step back and breath, assess your options, and take time to sign. ”
Palatinate has received reports of signs at letting agents that students needed to get housing before it runs out. In response, Ewan commented to Palatinate that “landlords and letting agents use those particular messages to create a sense of panic that the number of houses in Durham is much smaller than it is. Letting agents are often under enormous pressure from the landlords whose houses they are signing on behalf to get the properties signed as soon as possible, but it’s definitely true that more housing appears on the market from January onwards.”
“Any estate agency will love to tell you that it’s the students which cause the housing rush, and not the shameful tactics they employ with such messaging, because they want to be absolved of responsibility for the stress this panic places on so many students. What’s worse is that time and time again you hear the horrific stories of students who signed early because the pressure these messages apply, only to live in damp and mouldy houses where the landlord couldn’t care less. This pressure is artificially created by this messages, and realistically, the effect of the pandemic on the job market has seen a lot of students returning to do postgraduate courses, often only getting accepted onto these courses from May. Funnily enough, they’ve all managed to find housing!”
Further information about housing can be found on the Durham SU Advice Service can be accessed via www.durhamsu.com/advice-and-support.
Image: Amana Moore