Bristol SU today published the findings of its report into Bristol University students’ experience of renting in the private sector. The Student Housing survey compiled the views of over 850 people living in student accommodation around the city.
Key findings from the report showed that:
All but two Bristol-based lettings agencies earned approval ratings of under 50%. But UBU Lettings, Bristol SU's specialist student lettings agency, won a 93% approval score.
Three quarters of students experienced mould or damp in their rented accommodation, and over 90% reported some kind of accommodation problem in the last year
A fifth of students were charged more than £150 in letting agency fees with the average upfront charges, including deposits, totalling £600
One in five were not provided any safety or security guidance, and one in 10 did not have a working fire alarm.
Safety for tenants was a consistent problem, with neglectful practices leading to unsafe living standards. One student commented “our boiler was broken for two weeks and only after we threatened to get the law involved did they begin to fix it. We were without heating or hot water for a month in total.”
Letting agencies were generally less well-regarded than private landlords. Students said their concerns were ignored despite paying “extortionate” agency fees, with one reporting “horrendous damp which they refused to do anything about. I lost about £150 because of their mistake but when I rang to let them know I was accused of lying.”
The report found that international students were particularly vulnerable, with some asked to pay a year’s rent in advance if they failed to provide a UK-based guarantor. Almost half of the international students polled said they were unsure how to have their tenancy contract checked by a third party.
Union Affairs Officer, Tom Phipps from Bristol SU said, “Students are facing a housing crisis in Bristol with ever increasing rents and falling standards of private sector accommodation. Much of the housing available to students is in such a bad condition that it wouldn’t be rentable to non-students.”
Phipps added, “The average annual rental cost for students is approximately £5000; well over the basic maintenance loan. These high rents make it increasingly difficult for students from low income backgrounds to live in Bristol. These findings should be a worry for universities in the city, especially as one third of students wouldn’t recommend Bristol University to friends due to their experiences of living in private sector accommodation.
“We will be working with the university and city council to implement the recommendations over the next year in order to improve living conditions for students in Bristol.”
Professor Judith Squires, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education at University of Bristol, comments:
“We are very concerned about the issues reported in this study. We will be working closely with Bristol Students' Union to see how we can best address these findings and ensure our students are not faced with unacceptable living conditions and costs.
“We already provide advice and support to students when they look for rented accommodation in the private sector, but there is clearly more work to be done with landlords and lettings agencies. The newly created role of ‘Head of Student Residential Life’ will be working with students, landlords and other accommodation providers to improve students' experiences in all kinds of accommodation, including those in houses rented via letting agents and from private landlords.”