Good housing – safe, affordable and properly managed – is a basic need, but student renters aren’t guaranteed an easy ride. Save the Student’s latest National Student Accommodation survey reveals many struggle with excessive costs and face widespread issues. Here are the most common problems uncovered by the survey, and the steps students can take to tackle them.
Almost half of renters complain of noisy housemates, while a third have issues with food theft (no small thing when money’s tight).
Raise issues early, but keep it neutral. Regular house meetings where you sort out bills, admin and issues is a good start. Simple compromises – such as wearing earplugs or gifting headphones to a noisy housemate – can work wonders, too.
Many students don’t read their contract, but take time to get familiar with it. For instance, the type of tenancy agreement you’ve all signed could indicate whether you can ask a problem tenant to leave, or if your landlord can arbitrate. In halls of residence, seek out the caretaker or welfare rep.
Your council may be able to help if issues involve excessive noise. Contact the uni (or the police) if it’s antisocial or threatening behaviour. Small claims court may be an option if housemates won’t pay their way.
Damp and mould
Damp or mouldy housing affects one in three students. Living with either is uncomfortable and it can also ruin belongings and damage your health, so don’t ignore any problems.
Your landlord will have to deal with damp or mould caused by penetrative or rising damp, ie where water gets in through leaks and cracks, or by building or maintenance issues. They should also act promptly if the condition affects your health.
The main responsibility for tenants is to avoid condensation. Turn on extractor fans while showering or cooking, open windows occasionally, and keep the place appropriately heated. Drying clothes around the house may be a student tradition, but an outdoor clothes line or tumble dryer is far better for managing damp.
Pests and vermin
Uninvited guests include slugs, bed bugs, rodents and wasps. Who’s responsible for sorting them out depends on when and why pests appear.
It may be the landlord’s job if your contract says so, or if they neglect repairs that let in pests. The key thing is to not let food, clutter or rubbish pile up: if these attract vermin, they’ll be your responsibility.
Construction work can be painfully disruptive. The noise pollution alone can leave you feeling fraught – and that’s before exams or essay deadlines loom. It affects more than one in 10 students and is increasingly common in campus accommodation.
Most landlords don’t have to re-house you during building work or repairs. However, they should give advance notice. This is a good time to discuss a rent reduction, compensation, or a contribution towards bills if workers use utilities you’re paying for.
Take steps to minimise stress in the meantime. Find alternative routes or places to work, or try active noise-cancelling headphones to drown out thumping noises. Your council can also intervene if noise carries on outside reasonable hours – that’s usually office hours.
Most landlords are great at treating students fairly (and remember: it’s a two-way street). However, there’s no shortage of horror stories, with almost a third of students waiting more than two weeks for issues to be resolved.
Lack of heating or hot water affects one in three students. Both are the landlord’s duty to repair within a reasonable time, so don’t be fobbed off.
It’s your responsibility, though, to report problems quickly. Once you’ve done this, remember the landlord may need access at short notice to do emergency repairs.
At other times, however, you should be given at least 24 hours’ notice, and can refuse entry if not convenient. With one in 10 students reporting inappropriate access – including some who wake up to workmen in their bedrooms – this is a right you shouldn’t be afraid to assert.
The golden rule is to report problems promptly. Keep a note of any communication, along with evidence of how issues affect your health or belongings.
Don’t just stop paying rent. You may be entitled to compensation or a rent reduction, but you’ll have to agree these with the landlord.
The council can intervene if landlords don’t respond in time, or if an issue makes your home unfit to live in. There’s new legislation about this, so it’s worth reading up.
It’s always best to approach your landlord directly first, followed by your university’s accommodation or welfare team if needed. For detailed advice about renter’s rights or when to consider legal action, visit Shelter or Citizens Advice.