Mould, leaks, blocked toilets and sewage stench: The reality of student living in Leeds

Students in Leeds have shared tales of horror houses as a university union calls for a 'huge cultural shift' in how student tenants are treated.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 11:45 am
Students in Leeds reported leaking ceilings, damp and mould, blocked toilets and filthy conditions on move-in

Tenants reported rat infestations, crumbling houses and 'filthy' homes on move-in, as well as landlords and letting agents shirking responsibility for repairs.

Leeds Beckett University Union launched its House of Horrors campaign this year, encouraging students to get in touch with tales of ghoulish lets and offering advice and support.

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A rat scurries away in the bedroom of a student let. Letting agents are calling for more work with Leeds Council to tackle rat infestation

Students reported a whole host of issues, including leaking ceilings, damp and mould, blocked toilets and filthy conditions on move-in.

One second-year student, who lives in a three bedroom property in Woodhouse, told the YEP she is "snapped at" by her landlord every time she reports a repair.

The student, who did not want to be named as she feared she could lose her deposit, added: "It's disgusting the way a lot of these agents and landlords twiddle students, it's a cycle of blame. We make up a huge proportion of the economy in Leeds.

"I don't think all letting agents are bad, but many thrive on students rushing to sign houses in a state of panic and competition. There needs to be some kind of student law firm that sticks up for students, there needs to be a big change."

A 52-week letting cycle means landlords have just 24 hours to check properties and carry out repairs

Another student moved into a nine-bedroom property to find it crumbling, dirty and in a state of disrepair. He says an overwhelming sewage stench from the sinks made the basement room "almost inhabitable".

Other tenants reported landlords turning up unannounced, broken boilers and appliances being ignored for weeks, and rat infestations keeping them awake at night.

Jess Carrier, Welfare Officer at Leeds Beckett University Union, said a huge "cultural shift" is needed to support students in the housing market.

And Luke Gidney, managing director of letting agents LetLeeds, agreed that the 52-week student tenancy system is "broken" and leaves letting agents with only 24 hours to check the property, clean it and conduct any repairs.

He has called for a overhaul of the student tenancy system in Leeds and said that more work is needed between letting agents, landlords and Leeds Council to address issues such as rat infestations.

Luke said: "It is the system that is broken, and it’s the system that needs changing. 52-week tenancies and 24-hour turn-arounds does create problems and anxiety for tenants.

"We need to look at how other cities deal with the student lettings cycle."

Luke suggested that following other student cities such as Manchester, where it is common to have a three to four week break between tenancies, would give landlords and letting agents more time to get properties up to scratch.

Changing a 'culture of exploitation'

Although Jess recognises the 52-week cycle is an issue, she also thinks landlords should take a more proactive approach to the changeover period.

Jess said: "I agree the system is broken, but I think landlords who are renting to students are making the choice to buy into the cycle, it benefits them in making money.

"There should be more responsibility taken by the landlords to work with tenants, particularly in the week before they are moving out, and to have a more guided and proactive approach."

Jess also said students were rushed into signing contracts, with evidence of some letting agents offering Netflix for a year or cash incentives to sign immediately, rather than getting the contract checked with university unions or housing charity Unipol.

Jess said: "We need a big cultural shift away from exploiting students as consumers and towards them being valued the same way that a landlord would value a young professional or family let.

"We need to move towards a more educational approach. Students are paying an extortionate amount of money and treated badly for what they pay.

"There is a clear link between students living in poor conditions and how they feel in their own space, and the affect on their mental health and whether they come into university.

"The unions and universities are keen to address housing issues, as their students are more likely to succeed academically."