StuRants: introducing Durham student housing

Oh, the dreaded Durham student housing scramble. Any liver-out at Durham will tell you that this one of the most hectic times of year. Each year, freshers are thrown into a new city and expected to choose people to live with after only a few weeks of knowing them. It’s easily the biggest stress of first term, and I wished I had more clear housing information.

That’s why I’m starting this column. To share some tips for every stage of the process; from finding people to live with, to ensuring your deposit money is protected. For good measure, I’ll throw in some personal anecdotes along the way, because what’s more comforting than being able to laugh at someone else’s tragic mistakes?

“The pressure continues in favour of the letting agent, and further away from the welfare of students.”

You’re probably thinking, “Whoa… Calm down. Isn’t it too early to be looking for next year’s house?”, and you’re absolutely correct. But it’s important to start the year with a warning. Estate agents in Durham (and pretty much every UK university), always create a frenzy around student housing. They set up early advertisements on Sturents, and only release a handful of properties at a time to make students believe there’s less houses available.

This exploitative process makes sense for the agents – why wouldn’t they want people to sign contracts for houses early on? It guarantees them income for the next year, regardless of the effect this has on students’ welfare. The effects of this scheme were clear last year. Some students camped outside the letting agents overnight, just to guarantee their ‘dream’ house.

In the next few weeks, you’ll start to hear of other groups signing houses in October and the need to sign a house will creep into daily conversation in colleges. As soon as one group signs, you’ll start to feel like you’re falling behind in a messed up race. So, the pressure continues in favour of the letting agent, and further away from the welfare of students.

“Do you really know anyone living out who’s been stuck homeless? Of course not.”

For this reason, the Take Time to Sign initiative was created. It aims to get students to really think carefully about the houses they sign and promotes actions far from the norm of this University, but anyone who’s waited ‘til after the initial rush to find housing will be in a better position in the long run.

Think about it; do you really know anyone living out who’s been stuck homeless? Of course not. That’s because there’s more student houses available in Durham than there are students. If you take your time to sign a house for next year, you’ll know the people you’re living with better. This makes conversations about budgets a lot less awkward, and you’ll know Durham better so you can think properly about house location. It’s a win-win situation, and the more time you have before signing, the more you can familiarise yourself with your rights as a tenant.

We can all agree that we’d rather have more time before signing houses this year. One post on Durfess put it, “everyone’s mental health is at risk right now – and nobody wants that to continue […] this year it makes zero sense to sign houses early.”. Nobody can do house viewings at the moment and let’s face it – letting agents’ MTV-cribs-style viewing videos will be a poor reflection of what a property is really hiding. Remember that these will be worse indications of the quality of a house than online photos are. They’re effectively another marketing tool to hide a multitude of problems, like mould and damp issues (unfortunately this is common in Durham).

I hope this serves as a reminder to not worry about housing yet. Don’t make any quick decisions this year, especially if you’re a fresher. If you have any questions about housing that you’d like me to address in future columns, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

Image: Gblakeway 11 on Wikimedia Commons.

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