Housing

Exposed wires, black mould and rats: State of student housing leaving residents with health issues

Nearly 55% of students have experienced mould or damp in their homes, according to a survey

Image: Shutterstock

Crumbling walls, damp and hospital visits are not the first things that come to mind when you think about university. However, for an increasing number of students this is becoming the norm around what is, for many, their first experience living away from home.   

A quick search of student accommodation on TikTok brings up thousands of videos, and the majority of them are less than positive. From broken windows to exposed wires, holes in the ceilings, and mould, these videos are exposing pitiful living conditions.   

Nearly 55% of students have experienced mould or damp in their homes, according to a survey conducted by charity Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS).

Tom Allingham, Communications Director for Save the Student, said: “We’ve seen a constant upwards trend of students reporting that their health suffers as a result of their housing, rising from 54% in 2020 to 60% in 2021, 62% in 2022 and 72% in 2023”.   

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Olivia Peterson, 19, a theatre, writing and directing student at the University of York faced problems with damp and mould in halls last year after her shower flooded. It then took the university two weeks to send someone to help clean up and reduce the damp. “I developed a bad chest infection and had flu-like symptoms for months afterwards,” she said, which she believes was caused by the mould in her accommodation. She was later prescribed antibiotics to help treat the infection.   

Inhaling or touching mould can cause sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes and skin rash. Asthma + Lung’s UK in-house GP Dr Andy Whittamore explained that ”[even] people who don’t have asthma can develop an allergic response”. He also explained that “in some cases, mould can be breathed in and can be found growing in the lungs – it can be life-threatening”.  

It wasn’t just her health that suffered – the conditions in her room also affected her finances. “There was a financial burden of having to buy products to clean everything and even throw some things away to get rid of the mould,” she said.    

This, coupled with missing classes due to illness and having to be around to let maintenance staff into her room, meant mould was seeping into her life.  

Maya, 19, a philology and politics student from the University of Manchester was unable to view her accommodation before moving in. She found herself in a flat covered in black mould and seemingly housing a population of rats. “The only information I had was online photos and word of mouth about what it would be like, but it was the only accommodation I could afford,” she said. 

Maya added: “Throughout my first year I was constantly ill and even contracted pneumonia in December, which the mould likely contributed to.” She was not the only one in her accommodation to get ill – her housemates also had to consult doctors about ailments which appeared once they were living in the flat. “Friends in my accommodation suffered with black mould so bad that they’ve had to have constant check-ups and have been coughing up black mucus,” Maya said.  

The cost of living crisis is undoubtedly affecting students trying to secure accommodation, reducing the already small number of affordable options.    

Eve, 21, from the University of Leeds who studied Criminology with Psychology is one of the students who took to TikTok to share the black mould growing across the walls of her house. She said she took to the short-form video platform because “[she and her flatmates] were so annoyed that [their] landlord wasn’t doing anything. We thought that more people needed to see the conditions he was making us live in.”   

Eve’s housemates were eventually forced to make trips to hospital to be treated for severe chest infections. Eve was constantly fatigued, another common symptom of breathing in black mould.

Allingham said: “In theory, the government’s planned renters reform bill could have a positive impact. However, it seems that student lets may be written out of the legislation, leaving students more vulnerable than the rest of the population.”

Orla McAndrew is a member of The Big Issue’s Breakthrough programme.

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