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Students: nasty surprises in your rented house?

5th March 2013
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When I was younger I would sit down with an interiors catalogue and cut out every exquisite accessory and item of furniture. I would glue them to a sheet of paper and file them away for use in my adult life. I knew exactly the house I wanted. However, my first experience of living away from home was not picture perfect.

My first university accommodation in Bath came with company. In the corner of the bedroom, woodlice would move across the wall. I once turned the curtain to the side and lots more black shells crept around. I never looked behind it again.

I faced more horrors when viewing houses for my second year. During the first viewing, I stumbled down a couple of steps to the kitchen and my eyes darted to a rolled up towel tucked in front of the back door. This led to my friend and I questioning whether we should be expecting a flood.

In the second house, there was a precarious ladder leading to the third bedroom. The landlord said to have a look up, so I stepped back to give the same friend the honour of a first viewing. With both feet on, she clasped the side supports and they started to shake. She managed to get to the top and quickly observed the room. I asked how it was, but she encouraged me to have a look for myself. I crawled up like a cat. I looked up, said it was good, then cautiously stepped down. Maybe I had only gone up a couple of steps, I don’t know. What was in the room? I still don’t know. 

The Bath Studentpad provides an accommodation checklist. For the interior, there are three main points to take notice of: signs of damp, dark patches, peeling wallpaper or flaking paint; signs of condensation such as mould on the walls, and if there are any signs of pests, like slug trails and mouse droppings. In my first student house, I had all three. It poses the question of whether students should be expected to compromise on living standards.

A graduate from the University of Worcester had to conceal a hole in their sink with newspaper as the landlord failed to correct the problem.

Complications are a regular occurrence in student houses across England. One student in Sheffield had a nasty surprise when frogs decided to make their house a home.

Charlotte, a graduate from Manchester University, was forced to live with mice in her second year when the estate agent failed to further the complaint. She said, "I thought one was going to climb on my duvet. I kept looking for it and tried to distract myself by putting music on. My friend set a trap. We had slugs there as well."

Charlotte offers some advice to students who are looking for housing: "Always look for damp. Damp causes so many problems everywhere else. Also, ask the current tenants questions about their experience living there."

On The Guardian’s Housing Network, Penny Anderson reports on ‘The sorry state of student housing’. She says: "Most student renters are living independently for the first time. They accept shabby property, because leaving home is liberating, and hey – it's only a broken window … (until it's December, freezing and the landlord is awol)."

With university being the first time the majority of young people will leave home, there is an urgency to find accommodation as soon as possible, leaving students in houses which look likeable - but within a few weeks cracks may begin to appear. Landlords may see students as guaranteed lodgers and taking advantage of their lack of knowledge of the housing market.

In a 2011 online Guardian report, Linda Harrison reports on a room swap system that allows students to stay in each other’s family home. The report states that, "according to a recent survey by home insurer LV, almost half of all students (47%) are expected to live with their parents by 2020. The current figure for those living at home is one in five." But are more young people willing to compromise the student lifestyle to live at home?

A graduate from Bath Spa University said she would: "I work better in a warm and tidy house. I would never concentrate if I had mould or other problems to sort out all the time. I could stay at a friend’s house if they planned a night out."

However, Elliott, a graduate from the University of Sheffield said: "More is learnt living away from home, otherwise it is too similar to school. Distance matters though, and circumstance. I think people should have earlier chances to be self-sufficient."

Charlotte also disagreed, saying: "When you look back at university you remember your social life probably more than your education. It’s your first time to be independent, away from your parents."

Personally, I agree with what Dorothy says: "There’s no place like home."

Whatever our personal preferences the issue still remains, however - and students should be wary of settling for substandard accommodation. 

Read TNS's guide to finding decent accommodation here




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