Brunel entrepreneurs solution to off-campus housing problems

Kettle Mag Kat Clementine Stars Keys and Hutch founders
Written by KayClem

Brunel alumni launched the ‘Trip Advisor for student accommodation’ on Monday 19th January.

Founded by three Brunel MBA student, website ‘Stars Key and Hutch’, is designed as a social network to help British and International students find the best rental accommodation. 

Brunel has around 15,000 students and just 4,957 places for on-campus accommodation, leaving many choosing to live in off-campus housing. 

Most are lucky to find a great house for second year with friends they met in halls. However, other students fall victim to scams, expensive deposits, hidden costs, some even suffer homelessness, hence the idea for Stars, Key and Hutch was born.

Students helping students

One of the website’s founders, Rajan Dua, 32, who came over from India to study, ended up living in a TravelLodge for two months when he came to Brunel to start his MBA in General Management.

Rajan used property websites to find a place in Uxbridge, but was told he needed a guarantor and had to pay six months rent up front.

He said, “I called from India, but they said unless I could come over for a viewing I wouldn’t be considered. By the time I came over, most of the property had been taken.”

He added, “If I’d have been able to speak to a fellow student before coming over here, I’d have been able to plan better. So when I met Chloe and Paul, we came up with the idea of a service to help students and Stars Key and Hutch was born!”

Chloe Lin Zhen, 29, from Shanghai, worried about parties and noise in Uni halls, wanted to find off-campus accommodation. She found fellow Chinese students when she arrived at Brunel.

She said, “I remember thinking how great and helpful it would have been if I could have made contact before I came with people who were about to embark on the same journey.”

Paul Ouro, 33, Uxbridge, rents out several properties in close proximity to Brunel and describes himself as a ‘good landlord’. He met Rajan and Chloe on the MBA course and has insight into the local property market.

He said, “Rajan and Chloe’s experience gave me the insights of international students which made me think how popular it could be in Shanghai and Delhi. We want students to talk to other students, learn from others’ mistakes and help each other.” 

How it works

The Stars Key and Hutch site has three functions for students:

  • Stars – Give aspects of their rental accommodation a star rating
  • Key – Discover the truth about their property and neighbourhood before they get the key 
  • Hutch – Let others know the truth about the hutch (home) they’ve lived in 

Early challenges

The website founders faced challenges in the early stages. The Innovation Hub at Brunel runs competitions for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas, and the trio were unsuccessful at first. 

Paul said, “Even though we did not make the top five ideas, which was devastating, losing can be really helpful. A winner gets knocked down 9 times but gets up 10!”

Barry Hodges-White, Innovation Hub Manager, was excited about the website’s potential to change behaviours in landlords, benefitting them and students alike.

He said, “On the surface it’s another rating site but in reality it’s a lot more than that. It’s fundamentally quite innovative because they’re looking at changing the way people deal with each other.”

Bad experiences

The launch day saw founders Paul and Rajan meeting with current students, as the website hopes to forewarn and educate prospective tenants avoiding negative situations.

Journalism student Maryam Serour, 21, was evicted by Scotland Yard Police because her landlord didn’t pay the mortgage for the property.

Joe Difford, 20, studying Theatre, Film and Television, lost over £1,000 from his tenancy’s damage deposit and struggled with mould during his second year at Brunel.

He advises students to take care with inventories and damage deposits.

“I would urge any student to take photos of everything at the beginning, middle and end of their tenancy and keep a log of every email conversation between you and your estate agent, otherwise you will never be able to dispute a penny of the money.”

Raymond Mann, Office Manager at Nu Pad, a family-run lettings agent, thought the website was a great idea. 

He said, “This gives students the opportunity to post their views to everybody else in a similar situation and it will also give the agents a chance to respond.”

He added, “It will bring out the bad landlords who try to go round the system, and it will definitely weed out the landlords who don’t use agents or reputable companies.”

By the day of the launch, Stars Key and Hutch already had more than 1,000 registered users. 

Paul, one of the co-founders was pleased by the launch and his visit to Brunel.

He said, “When I went today and spoke to students about this website, it really cemented the feeling that this is something we need to launch and, it’s definitely going to help them.”

Rate your student house today at Check out their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @StarsKeyNHutch. Have your say about student housing and this initiative in the comments section below.