Students from Northern Ireland shared stories of nightmarish conditions in their accommodation as part of a new call to ‘house of horrors’.
The National Union of Students and the Union of Students of Ireland (NUS-USI) were inundated with responses, past and present, after asking students about “dark, cold, damp with moldy walls and infestations” .
Responses from the St Mary’s Belfast Student Union showed a video from last year of an apartment with “indoor rain” as the living room was soggy with a leaking roof.
This was apparently caused by rain coming through a ceiling which the owner refused to fix.
Another showed mold on the walls of a neglected student apartment.
Commenting on the call, SDLP Foyle MP Sinead McLaughlin said: âToo often students are exploited like cash cows and little done to repair housing despite high rents.
âWe talk a lot about the fact that Dublin is a horror housing story, but we see the same thing starting to happen in Belfast. We must act now. “
Belfast SDLP Councilor Gary McKeown also recalled his own traumatic memories of student searches.
âWindows in the house sealed with coats of paint on frames built over the years – the owner advised us to put a chair by the window to get out if the house caught fire.
âI kept a lot of the deposit at the end of the year, arguing, ‘I want to make some money somehow.
Windows in the house sealed with coats of paint on frames built over the years – the owner advised us to put a chair by the window to get out if the house caught fire. Kept much of the deposit at the end of the year, arguing, “I have to make some money somehow.” https://t.co/6i3mqOdHB8
– Cllr Gary McKeown (@garymckeown) 28 October 2021
A former student commented, âMy student apartment was so cold that the water in the toilet bowl froze during the winter. That was over 30 years ago and, shamefully, things have not changed â.
Please read the quote tweets on this. Too often, students are exploited like âcash cowsâ and little assigned to repairing housing, despite high rents. We talk a lot about how Dublin is a horror housing story, but we see the same thing starting to happen in Belfast. Action needed now. https://t.co/I82yyGlN31
– Sinead McLaughlin (@SMcLaughlinmla) 28 October 2021
NUS-USI President Ellen Fearon said, âSome of the student housing stories I hear would give you the scare of a lifetime. Rats, mold, leaks, bare electrical wires hanging from the ceilings. My own ceiling was installed last year on a rainy night and it took our owner weeks to fix it. Everyone has a horror story in a student house and it shows how deeply ingrained the problem is. “
She explained that the student body would always have unique needs as tenants as they would move more often and become threatened by landlords who are not looking to build a long-term relationship.
âThis is why we are calling for a bill on student tenants that guarantees safe, affordable and good quality housing for all students. “
According to the NUS-USI, one of the lowest rents for private student accommodation in Belfast is Â£ 119 per week, which works out to Â£ 4,522 for a 38-week lease.
This compares to the maximum student maintenance loan available at Â£ 4,840, which means that 93% of non-means-tested student finances are spent on rent.
Students from low-income backgrounds with a full loan and bursary can receive a scholarship of up to Â£ 3,475, for a total income of Â£ 8,315.
This would still mean that more than half (54%) of that income is spent on annual rent of Â£ 4,522, while on average the UK population spends 27% of their income on rent.
NUS-USI launched the Students Deserve Better campaign, outlining five top candidates’ demands in the next assembly election.
This includes a student renters bill that would ensure affordable, safe and good quality housing for all students in both the private sector and student housing.