student life

High rents and unsafe accommodation putting pressure on students

student housing
Written by Nigel Simpkins

Students are growing increasingly angry about their living conditions, with 90% of them reporting problems with their accommodation. Many are living in poorly maintained housing, and potentially putting their health at risk from unsafe conditions. The 2019 National Student Accommodation Survey has also revealed that over 15% of students are unable to keep up with rising rents, and that the financial pressure of paying rent was seriously impacting students’ mental health. These students are vulnerable, relying on often evasive landlords to cover the maintenance of essential plumbing, and deal promptly with potentially dangerous issues such as damp and mould. Students are already petitioning their universities over unfair rents, and, in the meantime, there are steps they can take to address any health and safety issues with accommodation.

Dealing With Problems Promptly

Some of the problems experienced by students include damp, rat infestation and a lack of running water. Of those students reporting problems, 10% wait over a month for them to be resolved, if indeed they ever are. With rents so high, it’s unfair to expect students to tolerate dirty, defective and often dangerous accommodation. When work needs to be carried out, independent building suppliers such as EasyMerchant support the prompt completion of projects. A fifth of students report prolonged and disruptive building work as a concern, so when repairs and replacements are finished on schedule, the stress caused to students is minimised.

Taking Further Action

As a result of their accommodation being temporary, many students accept poor housing standards as an inevitable part of student life. However, they have the same rights as any other tenants, and after first raising issues with their landlord, can go on to take further action. If a landlord refuses to undertake necessary maintenance, the situation can be raised with the council’s housing department. Using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), they will inspect accommodation to assess any potential risks to health and safety. In addition, the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, introduced in March this year, allows renters to sue their landlord if they fail to address issues such as damp or issues with drainage and sanitary conveniences. Ultimately, a judge can issue an injunction that compels a landlord to undertake the necessary work.

Safety Around Building Work

Away from their accommodation, it’s also important for students to be vigilant about health and safety while in and around other buildings on campus. Many universities and colleges are undergoing major redevelopment, and since 2014, construction has begun on nearly 600 schemes across the 24 Russell Group universities. With so much building work taking place, the risk of trips or falls increases. Even if they don’t result in injury, any accidents or building defects should be reported to the university in order to minimise the risk of harm to other students, staff and visitors on the campus.

Students often accept poor standards of accommodation and ongoing building work as an unavoidable element of university life. However, with such extortionate rents for student accommodation, angry students are being encouraged to take action to improve their living standards.