Students left at mercy of landlords in housing bill

December 5, 2003

Nearly 900,000 students will be excluded from government plans to "protect the most vulnerable" in the new housing bill, leaving them exposed to rogue landlords and unsafe housing, according to the National Union of Students.

The NUS said this week that students would be treated as second-class citizens if ministers pushed ahead with the bill, heralded in last week's Queen's speech.

The bill is designed to improve health and safety in private housing and protect residents from mismanagement by landlords. It includes a licensing scheme.

But the union is furious that the government's definition of "houses in multiple occupation" (HMO) for the purpose of the licensing scheme, excludes 600,000 of the 800,000 students in private rented accommodation.

The bill also exempts the 260,000 students in university-run accommodation.

Verity Coyle, vice-president of the NUS, said: "Her Majesty cited that this bill will protect the most vulnerable. Why, then, when 48 per cent of student houses report damp, 53 per cent have never seen a gas safety certificate and 16 per cent report vermin infestations, are we being left at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords?"

The bill will reform the system for house-buying, introduce a new housing health and safety rating system and improve enforcement action against unacceptable conditions. It will also improve controls on HMOs through compulsory licenses.

But under the bill's definition of a larger HMO, which will be subjected to mandatory licensing, students will be excluded. Only HMOs with three stories or more and five unrelated residents or more are included. This covers only 25 per cent of students in HMOs.

The union is also concerned that the legislation excludes all accommodation provided by education establishments, as they are already protected by "a robust regulatory framework".

A spokesman for the office of the deputy prime minister said that the definition issue was not a "closed case" and that there would be further consultation.

No place like home

Birmingham University student Alison Buckler thought she was moving into a palace when she moved with friends into a flat across the top two floors of an old Victorian semi.

So handy was the location and so reasonable the rent, the 22-year old African studies student put on a brave face for the several hours of cleaning required to make the place "even vaguely habitable", she says.

But things went from bad to worse.

Just a year after moving in to their accommodation, the students had to put up with many intrusions as strangers wandered in and out on their way to the landlady's ground-floor flat.

The students also suffered a broken boiler, a dodgy fridge and a faulty hoover.

But things hit an all-time low when they were woken up one evening in the third term to discover the bathroom floor collapsing into the hallway below.

"For seven weeks we were without a shower or a bathroom we could walk across without fear of falling through the floor," Ms Buckler said.

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