Statement released 23/10/18
All students should live in good quality housing, and understanding and tackling the obstacles to this is one of the areas I’m working on this year. As students, we rely on our landlords and accommodation providers to be accurate and transparent in their information about accommodation provision, and to ensure it’s of good quality – as we often sign up without being able to visit and see for ourselves first. It’s concerning that in recent weeks we’ve been doing lots of work at the Students’ Union to help a number of students who have come to us with complaints about the new private student housing block, Dun Holm House, on the Riverwalk in Durham City Centre. This is an example of accommodation which appears to have failed to meet these standards. This has had a real impact on these students, and has been of concern to many of us across the community – and I hope provides impetus to encourage other providers to do better and students to be aware of their rights with housing providers.
This particular block was due to be completed by the start of this academic year and Fresh Student Living (the accommodation provider) let rooms to students on this basis. However, upon moving in – already a week later than the initially proposed move-in date – students found that their rooms remained uncompleted, with reports of exposed wires, unfinished facilities and contractors entering flats without notice.
In response to these growing concerns from students, I attended a site visit at the property with MP Roberta Blackman-Woods on Friday 12 October, along with representatives from the planning, construction and management of the block, including the contractors (Robert McAlpine), a representative from the local County Council, the Operations Manager of Fresh Student Living and a local Health and Safety Executive.
It became clear that the building work is still very much underway, and that many of the problems regarding Health and Safety, while they did meet the minimum required legal standards, seemed to have been rectified within the days approaching our scheduled visit. One such example was a wooden panel that had been put in place to block off an area where there was a sudden drop. While this did exceed the minimum height required from a Health & Safety perspective, it was evident that this was not a permanent or suitable solution to students being able to access an area where there is a sudden drop to the river.
We also interviewed one of the tenants who had made a complaint to Fresh Student Living. They expressed their concerns about international students and their difficulty in knowing how to navigate the uncertain circumstances that they will have found themselves in upon arrival. The student told us that they felt the rooms were mis-sold to students and that the facilities were sub-standard, with many of them unfinished to date. They also told us that the state of the building was extremely unsafe until a few days prior to our visit, and that work on their room had been completed only that day.
Fresh Student Living assured us that they had sourced alternative accommodation for students and offered them a 2-week reduction in rent. I don’t feel that this adequately compensates for the disruption and impact to wellbeing that this has had on over 200 students in their first week in Durham. Students are being charged up to £215 per week, equating to an enormous £10,965 per year for facilities that are not finished and rooms they cannot work in due to the constant disruption. And there has been no formal or meaningful apology issued by Fresh Student Living.
As a body that represents students, we will be doing everything in our power to ensure that students are treated fairly and that appropriate mitigations are put in place. I will be lobbying Fresh Student Living to provide adequate compensation for the disruption students have had living in their unfinished accommodation and ensure their marketing materials are reflective of the standard of accommodation that is provided upon move-in. Students are once again being taken advantage of due to their need for accommodation in a University city with increasing student numbers and limited accommodation options. This is a big and challenging area of work for students, but I am committed to identifying where issues like this are occurring across Durham, and developing a plan for how we can tackle and address the causes of poor or unaffordable student homes in Durham.
We will keep this page updated with our progress. If you would like individual advice on your situation, please get in touch. You can also read more detail in Palatinate’s recent article about Dun Holm, here.