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Investigation highlights the expensive, yet unsatisfactory, reality for student renters in York

The investigation highlighted that whilst 80% of University of York students spend a larger proportion of their income on housing than the average UK renter, 27% of students also claimed to have experienced mental health difficulties due to housing issues.

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Image Credit: George Hodan

An investigation into the quality and management of student housing was deemed necessary by YUSU and CAY amidst the increasing student population in York, many of whom live in private rented properties. The investigation discovered that around 80% of University of York students spend a larger proportion of their income on housing than the average UK renter.

Over half of the 600 students surveyed spent 60% of their monthly income on rent, with 19% spending more than 80% of their income on rent. High rental costs and a large demand for housing in York means that 85% of the students surveyed claimed they felt pressured to secure the cheapest rents possible, creating a ‘scramble to get the cheapest housing’ that has left many students tied into housing contracts months before the start of the following academic year.

Despite the high rents paid by students, 47% of them said that necessary repairs had not been carried out within a fair timeframe, with 31% even reporting pest or insect problems in their homes. 27% of the respondents claimed to have experienced mental health difficulties due to such housing issues.

In response to the difficulties faced by many students concerning private accommodation, YUSU and CAY have made recommendations for improving the sector, including a proposal for a strategic city wide policy approach, with stakeholders working together to develop a collaborative accommodation strategy. YUSU and CAY have also urged the City of York Council to introduce an additional licensing scheme that would see students housed in well-managed properties that meet basic health and safety requirements.

In response to this additional licensing scheme, landlords in York are threatening to take the Council to the High Courts. All student housing with five or more people from different household must comply with certain standards and the Council are looking to expand this to include all multiple household occupancies in student areas in York, The York Residential Landlords Association has deemed this expansion unlawful. The consultation will reach a conclusion by the 27th June.

The University of York has been encouraged to educate students more on private accommodation, establishing campaigns and online services to support students. Students themselves are encouraged to learn their rights as tenants, and to not start looking for properties for the following academic year until February time.

Fiona Derbyshire, CEO of CAY said: ‘It was clear from our work and the report that many experienced very challenging situations and often had neither the knowledge or support to deal with them.’ She hopes that the report will inform their future work with accommodation stakeholders in the City.

Patrick O’Donnell, YUSU President, stated that ‘the pandemic has shone a spotlight on some of the particular vulnerabilities that renters - including students - face.’ Following the report’s exposure of the poor management commonplace in York’s accommodation sector, O’Donnell emphasised the ‘urgent need to ensure that all of York’s residents can access safe and good quality homes.’

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