By Rachel Nichols
The alleged poor treatment of Somerville students by the letting company North Oxford Property Services has led the Principle of the College to write a formal letter of complaint.
JCR President David Railton said: “There are some Somerville students who have had unsatisfactory dealings with NOPS.”
He said problems experienced by students renting with NOPS and other agencies had included rat infestation and flooding.
In addition, the letting agency’s practice of releasing housing lists on the same day led to students camping outside the offices last November in order to be in with a chance of securing accommodation.
Railton described the policy as “cynically designed to create hype”. He insisted that this was not a new problem: “This has been the case for every year in living memory.”
Josie Messa, a student at the College, described the practice as “ridiculous”. “I lived a few doors down from the queue and went out with tea and hot water bottles last year,” she said.
However, a spokeswoman for NOPS, Charlotte, said that in previous years the release of the housing lists had been split over two days, and that only this year was it decided to merge the two.
She said: “The agency does not ask students to queue up outside, but if they want to get a particular property first, they have to.”
JCR Welfare Rep Richard Nias said he feels this single release date will inevitably lead to decisions over housing being made “earlier and earlier”. Somerville student Lucy Arora said this “added a major stress to the first months of university”.
NOPS’ treatment of its customers after moving in has also angered students.
One Somerville student, who did not want to be named, was dissatisfied with the state of his property due to building works following a vacation: “NOPS had just been digging a pathway through the entrance corridor to connect their shop on one side of the house with one they have bought on the other side.”
Railton has worked with the Principal of the college, Dr Alice Prochaska, to compose a letter to NOPS “concerning the awful experiences that some students have had with them”. The Principal, he said, feels very strongly on this issue and is keen that Somerville College make an effort to protect students they feel are currently “being taken advantage of” by the letting agency.
Arora said NOPS had “dealt with house issues effectively during the period of our tenancy”, but added that Somerville students feel “that they deserve the same level of respect as tenants who are professionals”, hinting that this is not currently the case.
Many students who spoke on this issue advised consulting other letting agencies. Nias said: “Don’t let NOPS fool you into thinking if you want a house in Jericho, then it has to be with NOPS. There are other letting agents.”
However, Railton suggested that NOPS is just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of private accommodation problems in Jericho.
Catherine Jenkins and Hannah Miller also helped with reporting