YUSU survey reveals “shocking” state of off-campus housing

  • Council passes motion to make all landlords of Houses of Multiple Occupation register or face a £30 000 fine
  • Stories of bed bug infestations, exposed wiring, and mushrooms growing due to extent of damp in one bedroom

Image: Jay Dyer

An online survey conducted by YUSU has revealed the “both eye-opening and shocking” state of some off-campus accommodation in York. The survey, which had 60 respondents, revealed that 70 per cent of properties either currently have mould or damp, or exhibit evidence of having had such in the past, while 60 per cent said that there was no up to date PAT testing on all electronic equipment provided by the landlord. 43.3 per cent also reported having no up to date gas safety check, and 8.3 per cent also reported overcrowding.

YUSU’s survey was commissioned at the request of Councillor Michael Pavlovic, Labour member for Hull Road Ward, where many off-campus second and third-year, as well as postgraduate students live. At a City of York Full Council Meeting last Thursday 26 October, Cllr Pavlovic proposed a motion to make all landlords, regardless of the size of their House of Multiple Occupation (HMO), register with the council or face a £30 000 fine, which was unanimously supported cross-party, including by the executive member for housing.

Houses jointly rented by students that are owned by private landlords are classed as HMOs, which means landlords have extra responsibilities than private rentals such as: having proper fire safety measures in place, annual gas safety checks, the electrics checked every five years, that there are enough bathroom and cooking facilities for those living there, with communal areas and facilities which are clean and in good repair, have enough bins, and they are responsible for repairs.

Houses that are three stories high or have five or more tenants are classed as large HMOs, for which the landlord must be licensed. However, despite there being 3000 HMOs in York, only 480 are licensed, with smaller HMOs not being subject to the same checks as landlords who are subject to mandatory licensing.

In York this has led to some poor quality, unsafe accommodation, with housing enforcement officers dealing with around 300 complaints a year.

Cllr Pavlovic outlined some of the individual responses to the survey, which included infestations of bed bugs, rubbish being left in the garden from previous tenants, exposed wiring, withheld deposits, no smoke alarms, damp to the extent that mushrooms were growing in a bedroom, and a landlord using sellotape to fix a broken window. 16.7 per cent of survey respondents also ranked the difficulty of getting in contact with their landlord a five on a scale of one to five where five is the most difficult, with the average difficulty level being 3.6.

A University fire safety officer wrote to Cllr Pavlovic that “over the past five years I have been asked to assess many [HMOs], and in the main I have been appalled by the level of fire safety provision and understanding from landlords and letting agents”.

Cllr Pavlovic commented to Nouse: “I’m very grateful to YUSU for undertaking [the survey]. The results show just how much some landlords need to improve the quality and safety of their properties. If my motion is now adopted by the council we can start the process of improving the living conditions of not just students but everyone living in an HMO in York.

“Thank you to those who’ve responded to the survey and if there are problems in your property that the landlord or agent won’t sort out at all or in a reasonable time please contact the Councillors in your ward.”

The survey was designed by YUSU Disabled Students Officer Aisling Musson, who is also chair of the University of York Labour Club. Musson told Nouse: “The results confirm what we anecdotally already knew to be true – that landlords generally have a lax attitude towards the condition of the houses they let out, and are slow to respond or don’t respond at all to students’ attempts to contact them. I’m thrilled Councillor Pavlovic is looking into this and I hope the data gathered can convince the rest of the council to commit to tackling landlords that disregard their tenants’ safety and wellbeing.”

The Council resolved to request that the Executive undertake a review of the evidence supporting the case for extended licensing across a proportion of the city where the density of HMOs is the greatest to assess the case for the introduction of additional discretionary HMO licensing.

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