Sheffield landowners under scrutiny as student homes are deemed uninhabitable

A study has found that 87% of Student accommodation is “unfit for human habitation”, prompting outrage amongst tenants of all stripes.

By Charlie Arbuckle

The poll, taken in October by student jobseeker app ‘Stint’ reveals the damning figure, alongside detailing that 40% of houses suffer with damp and mould, and upwards of half have broken doors and windows.

The definition of ‘unfit for human habitation’ is taken from the 2018 Homes Act, a government published document with aims to help landlords maintain a good standard of living for tenants.

However, in the 3 years following its publication, it seems as though renting, both in the private sector and through universities, is becoming increasingly inhospitable. 20% of students spend the entirety of their maintenance loan to cover the rising costs of rent in Sheffield.

In 2009, the World Health Organisation urged governments to tackle poor quality housing, stating that there is “sufficient evidence” to link indoor mould to many throat and lung diseases.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is uni-house.jpg
Crookes is one of the most student-dense areas in Sheffield

In conversation with former University of Sheffield student tenant turned Crookes Labour candidate, Minesh Parekh, he detailed an experience with a “negligent landlord who seemed inconvenienced by the idea of making a rental property liveable.”

The issue that Minesh faced was a gaping crack in the ceiling, one that spanned the entire ceiling and would routinely leak, requiring a bucket placed underneath at all times. This remained unfixed for the duration of the tenancy.

However that was not the only problem he and his flatmate, Christy McMorrow faced. Upon leaving the property, the landlord, who marketed the property as ‘bills included’ repeatedly defected  for the cost of the utilities on his housemate, harming his credit score until a successful appeal.

Christy said that the experience made him more negative about private renting, and the fact that the landlord was willing to put his credit future at risk over a water bill was very upsetting. Despite repeated attempts to contact the landlord, he was frequently ignored- a theme that ran throughout the tenancy until he threatened legal action.

“Unfortunately there are far too many landlords like this, emboldened by a lack of government action and reprisal” said Minesh, “It’s why we need councils to introduce landlord licensing, to ensure all homes are safe and liveable, and ban landlords who don’t meet these conditions.”

A 2018 freedom of information release showed that over 1/7th of local district  authorities across the UK had not prosecuted a single landlord in the three years prior. Sheffield itself had only prosecuted 18 in that time.

Minesh continued, “It’s why we need councils to introduce landlord licensing, to ensure all homes are safe and liveable, and ban landlords who don’t meet these conditions.”

Landlord licensing is a scheme that can be adopted by local councils which ensures buy-to-let landlords are looking out for tenants, tacking on bans from renting and other consequences if tenants aren’t respected. This scheme is widely adopted in London and has been credited with helping renter’s situations in the capital.

ACORN, a community union of working class tenants, also shared this sentiment when contacted, with a representative stating: “Student renters are not respected by landlords, they are seen as an easy source of income and face poor quality housing, high rent and problems with deposits.”

This came after the detailing of a case in which ACORN has helped an international student whose landlord used their lack of familiarity with the country and rental system to rip them off.

They concluded by doubling down on the need for Landlord Licensing in Sheffield. Due to their efforts, and the stories of countless tenants, citywide inspection teams were formed, who aim to deliver a report on the need for city-wide licensing by the end of this year.

While Minesh’s landlord has been the target of multiple ACORN campaigns for deposit theft and neglect of his properties, he continues to let homes in the Sheffield area. Minesh concludes that “it’s easy for landlords to play off tropes and blame students for disrepair caused by the landlord,” before encouraging unity amongst renters to hold those in power to account.

If you are struggling with renting, you can contact ACORN at https://www.acorntheunion.org.uk/contact

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