Poor housing conditions. Maintenance issues that fall on deaf ears. Surprise check-ins. These were just a handful of issues that law graduate Natasha Hopewell were all too familiar with as a student renter in Lincoln, England.
And the 24-year-old could hardly forget that one time a maintenance worker used a key to let himself into her bedroom early one morning whilst she was sleeping — with no prior notice.
These were some of the encounters that fuelled Hopewell and her former housemate, Lawrence Thorpe, to create CribAdvisor last year. Then final year students at the University of Lincoln, they built this free website for UK university students to not only look up accommodation provided by landlords, letting agents or universities, but to also anonymously review them.
‘Can you help fix X?’ ‘Err… next week!’
Natasha Hopewell (left) and co-founder Lawrence Thorpe giving a talk on tenant rights at the University of Lincoln. Source: CribAdvisor
According to reports, student accommodation providers can often take weeks to address issues raised by their tenants. In some instances, they’re not addressed at all.
The National Student Accommodation Survey 2017 found that some of the most common maintenance issues faced by students is dampness (47 percent), followed by a lack of water/heating (42 percent). One in four complaints never gets fixed, while close to 50 percent of issues take over a week to be sorted.
The following year’s survey saw some improvements.
Damp or lack of heating/hot water affected one in three students; additionally, one in three students are still left waiting up to a month for maintenance issues to be fixed – and seven percent said problems are never fixed.
Similar findings followed in its 2019 survey.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the problems myself and my housemates experienced in my second year of university renting with a local student letting agent, are the same problems that are experienced by students all across the UK,” Hopewell told Study International via email.
Natasha Hopewell is the founder and managing director of CribAdvisor. Source: CribAdvisor
Hopewell and Thorpe set up the website after a disagreement with their letting agent resulted in a dispute requiring them to sign an NDA in their final year of university. Their graphic designer Dominic O’Connor came on board as he too had a poor experience with his accommodation provider as a student.
By providing students a platform to share their experiences with their accommodation providers — the good, the bad and the ugly — they hope other students can make an informed choice before they sign their tenancy agreement.
‘All your options in one place’: A useful tool for international students
CribAdvisor was launched last July, and can serve as a useful resource for incoming international students to the UK. Source: ROBYN BECK/AFP
Every tenant has their share of landlord horror stories, many of which could have been preventable had they known more about what they were signing up for when they signed the lease.
When a website like CribAdvisor comes along, its warm reception by student tenants was imminent. Since its inception, it has attracted over 700 reviews to date, with more being posted each day.
Hopewell said the platform can also be a valuable tool for incoming international students to the UK, as it allows them to search and choose an accommodation provider that is endorsed by local students.
“For instance, CribAdvisor features most of the major student accommodation providers in Lincoln, all in one place and with links to their websites to find specific properties, and are ranked by their tenancy satisfaction,” explained Hopewell.
“As a previous study abroad student, I know it can be confusing to start a search for accommodation in a country you are not familiar with, but CribAdvisor simplifies the process by putting all your options in one place, and telling you which are the most recommended.”
Shifting the power back to students
Hopewell and Thorpe worked hard on developing a comprehensive Tenant Right Enforcement Guides, which are customised for each accommodation provider. Source: Justin Tallis/AFP
CribAdvisor’s impact goes beyond warning students of errant landlords.
It’s moving the latter to apologise for not meeting standards, or explaining how a problem came to be, even changing their practices to ensure future student tenants do not have to suffer the same issue again.
Almost as soon as they launched, they had a provider who reached out to say that thanks to the reviews posted on their platform, he was made aware of issues he didn’t know had previously existed within his agency.
As a result, he changed the way the agency checks maintenance fixes within tenant homes to ensure the job was done properly and safely each time.
“This was one of the reasons we created a platform for tenants to leave real-time anonymous feedback for their provider, so that a provider is given valuable insight on issues they may not have noticed and given an idea on how to improve their tenancies going forward,” said Hopewell.
“A tenant can always update their review if their provider reaches out to them and gets the issue fixed in a satisfactory way!”
Liked this? Then you’ll love…
COVID-19: International students in Europe can ask for rent refunds or discounts
5 alternative housing options for UK students who are kicked out of halls or can’t go home
UK university students – here’s how to handle unfair student accommodation providers