Students at Durham University have resorted to queuing overnight to secure rented accommodation for the 2023/24 academic year.
Hundreds of students began queueing outside letting agents when accommodation was released on October 23 and 24.
Some joined the queue straight from clubbing, while others were reportedly doing work on their laptops throughout the night. Due to the large number of people waiting, the estate agents were forced to open an hour earlier, although some students reported waiting up to three hours before they could speak to anyone.
In order to secure accommodation, some students signed contracts for houses they hadn’t seen, conducting first viewings after they had already agreed to rent. There were reports of groups of six signing for seven-bedroom houses, and students signing housing contracts against the windows of nearby shops.
The city is in the midst of a housing crisis linked to rising student numbers, increased rents, and a system in which all available properties are released onto the market at the same time.
Durham MP Mary Foy said the situation is “absolutely ludicrous.”
The university said that it had “anticipated pressure” on the private rental market, and said that the issue was receiving its “urgent attention.”
Like many institutions, Durham guarantees university-managed accommodation for first-year undergraduates, but students have to find their own housing after that.
The news comes with the announcement of an oversubscription of places made by the university, as well as huge price increases in rent. Many students have reported prices of more than £850 per month for sub-standard accommodation. Some have also accused landlords of price gouging practices.
Joe McGarry, president of Durham Students Union (DSU), said: “There is a housing crisis in Durham. Students looking for housing right now know that the cost and availability of houses mean they risk not being able to find somewhere affordable.
“Durham has too many students for the size of the city, and not enough planning has gone into this. The university has a responsibility to the students they recruit and admit, and have a duty of care to students whether they live in university-managed accommodation or not.”
A letting agent said: “Durham council will only let around 10% of houses in a certain area be converted into student housing – so we have run out of properties.”
Asked for comment on the crisis, a Durham University spokesperson said: “We work hard to support our students across both academic and non-academic matters, including working with Durham Students’ Union and student leaders as appropriate.”
Warwick students looking for external accommodation should be advised that Warwick Students Union provide an advice centre which offers guidance on matters such as housing contracts.