Advice from the Advice Centre: Housing

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Here at Wessex Scene, we’ve teamed up with the SUSU Advice Centre to talk about the kind of guidance and help that is available to you. This will be a monthly series that aims to cover the things that matter most to you as students. For example, information about your courses, housing, finances, among other areas. Of course, if there is a topic in particular you would like some more information on, just comment below so we can cater this series to you.

– Editor of Wessex Scene

Advice on Housing

Hello All, and welcome to our first post in Wessex Scene. This month, we’re going to talk about housing. Every week we see students who have rented sub-standard housing from sub-standard agents or landlords and who are now desperately unhappy due to their living conditions. We have seen students who have had trees growing out of their radiators, mushrooms growing from the carpet, ceilings collapsing and (warning – don’t read this if you’re eating) an exploding, maggot-filled rat falling onto someone in their sleep. Yep.

That’s even before we get into the more common issues, like landlords refusing to fix basic living essentials such as broken down boilers and faulty water systems. Don’t get me wrong, there are, of course, good landlords who genuinely care about their tenants and their properties and will provide great living experiences. But for those who have a bad landlord or a squalid house, the results are too often the same; depression, anxiety, poor academic performance and ill health. How can you expect to do well on your course when you have nowhere safe and warm to return home to?

Many of you will be thinking about your housing options for next year. If you are thinking of entering the private rented market then there are things you can do to protect yourself and make sure you have an enjoyable experience for the next year or two.

Firstly, and this may seem basic, but make sure you view the property you are interested in. It is not enough to rely on your prospective housemates to view the property for you. What is homely or even sufficient for one may be an absolute hell-hole for another.

When you are viewing a property, try not to succumb to artificial beauty. The property may look glorious but look a bit harder and is it all it is cracked up to be? This was made clear for our VP Welfare Officer Sam Higman, when she rented a property through a well-known (and much disliked by us!) letting agency which looked amazing and as she said, ‘it even had a dishwasher and a tumble dryer.‘ When they moved in however, the dishwasher wasn’t plugged in so it couldn’t actually be used and neither was the tumble dryer. It had been put there just for aesthetics. What she did find however was damp, mould and a rather unpleasant and incompetent agency. The point I am making is be thorough when you look around. Is there heating in each room? Are there any signs of damp or mould? Does the cooker work? What white goods and furniture can you expect to have in the property? Beyond the inside of the house ask yourself is there adequate street lighting? Good transport links? Are the gutters and drains clear? This list is by no means exhaustive but we do have a full viewing checklist which you can collect from The Advice Centre in building 40 which details all the things that you should really be looking for.

Also, are you planning on renting through an agency or directly through a landlord? If it is through an agency are they registered as a company and what is their business status? You can view this on the Company House register. Are they registered with a redress scheme? This is a legal requirement for all letting agencies. Are all their fees clear and transparent? They must be distinctly advertised on their website and in their offices. Also, don’t forget that you can shop around. Agency fees vary wildly between each agency and there is no ‘standard’ amount, so make sure you know what you are paying for.

One of the best reviews you will be able to receive about a house or the landlord or agent is from the current tenants. Students are great at looking out for one another and if they have had a shoddy experience then they will tell you, so don’t be afraid to ask. In our experience, when we see students regarding poor housing, sometimes they are looking to get help for themselves but more often than not they simply want to prevent it from happening to others.

On a final note, the Union does have support in place should you have concerns about your current housing or want advice prior to signing your contract. In The Advice Centre we can check your contract to make sure there are no erroneous or unfair terms, and we will support you in making complaints to your landlord or agent should you suffer disrepair at any time or struggle to get your deposit back. We can also direct you towards free legal advice should we feel that your needs fall beyond our remit. We have ready-made housing packs to give you which include the most important information you will need prior to viewing properties. We have an excellent housing officer, Leyla, who can be emailed on housingofficer@susu.org and there is also Sam Higman who is your VP for Welfare and you can contact her on welfare@susu.org.

If, at any time, you have questions regarding anything to do with your University experience, please email us at advice@susu.org.

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