Student Housing: campaigners call for change to hold landlords accountable

Campaigners call for increased regulations after reports showed that students’ mental health was being affected by poor housing conditions. 

“We’ve got black mould in the bathroom which we have to clean pretty much every week, if not every day at the moment,” said James.

Campaigners demand change in policy as students report struggles with their mental health due to harsh living conditions and difficulties with their landlord.

65% of students said poor housing conditions affected their mental health, while over 30% had problems with their landlords, according to research by Shelter Cymru.

“Just generally the house is in very poor condition. I don’t know what they did,” said James Bhamra, a postgraduate student living in Cardiff.

James said that his house, which he shares with other students, has a number of issues while the description and photos posted by the letting agent and landlord do not reflect reality. 

“When I got here, I realised that they either lied about it or were just wrong,” said James. The issues with the house include mould, a lack of heating in the bathroom, and broken doors and drawers.

Shelter Cymru and NUS Wales published the report last month based on a survey of 293 students. In this survey, over 45% of the respondents were living in a shared house. 

“It’s frustrating because the issues that were described as being a real problem for students 20, 30 years ago, are still issues for students today,” said Becky Ricketts, the President of NUS Wales. 

Ms Ricketts said she would like to see students receive the same level of protection as other tenants under the governmental policy. 

Rob Simkins, Campaigns Manager for Shelter Cymru, said the Welsh Government should make it easier for students to hold landlords or the accommodation providers accountable. 

“The way in which students are able to do that is time-consuming and really complicated,” said Mr Simkins. He suggested the Welsh government expand the Rent Repayment Order that England had adopted; a law that deters landlords from unlawful conduct and provides greater compensation to tenants when landlords are in breach of licence agreements.

More than half of the HMOs (House in multiple occupations) in Cardiff were in Cathays, according to WalesOnline.

Bianca Sharmaine Cridland, the President of Cardiff University PGR Students’ Association, said that she had constantly received complaints from students regarding housing problems. “They [Student Union] have seen all spectrums of the student housing crisis and the housing problems,” said Cridland. 

The Cardiff University Students’ Union has created an online platform for students to find reputable landlords. 

Cridland claimed the government should protect students from irresponsible landlords. “The obligation is for the Council to enforce safe housing, adequate housing, to be free from damp, free from mould… I don’t think they (the council) are dealing with them (the landlords) properly. Because if they were, why would these problems keep happening?”

Sam said the chair was too old and inconvenient because it’s a computer chair but without wheels.

Students living in university halls also encounter problems regarding the conditions of their accommodation. 

Sam Tang, a postgraduate student at Cardiff University, didn’t have the opportunity to inspect the conditions in person before moving into his accommodation. 

He complained that the photos of the room were taken with a fisheye lens, which made the room seem more spacious than it actually is. “If I knew the size for the toilet is that small, I probably wouldn’t have moved in this accommodation,” said Sam.

William Yuen, a postgraduate student in Cardiff living in another university hall, complained about the old furniture, inconsistent supply of hot water and heating in his accommodation. 

“I felt like it put me consistently in a very annoying mood ‘cause I don’t know when the heating is gonna break down. When do I have heating, how cold my room is gonna be on a given day, when should I expect to not be able to take a shower if I come back when it’s cold”, said William. 

In terms of the university’s response, it addressed some of the issues raised by Sam and William, but the majority of their complaints remained unresolved. 

Within a week, Sam’s shared kitchen’s broken door was repaired. After his flatmate informed the university, the little fridge in William’s kitchen was replaced.

“I think the university must conduct a survey in every quarter so they can collect the opinions from the students,” said Sam. 

Simkins said students living in different kinds of accommodations would face problems, “None of them are free of any problems and issues. I think it’s important that we try and tackle all of them.”