Students stake tents and claim houses

News

Students camped out overnight outside a letting agency last week in an attempt to secure houses for the next academic year.

On Wednesday of sixth week, the pavement outside North Oxford Properties (NOPS) was thronged by students waiting for next year’s housing leases to become available.

The queue formed despite the fact that, since last year, an unknown Oxford college has bought many of the properties formerly owned by the company.

Groups of students arrived with heavy coats, tents and sleeping bags, preparing to spend the night outside the Walton Street agency that is known for its Jericho properties.

Unusually for an Oxford estate agent, NOPS has a single release date for all of their houses, which generates huge competition amongst students for properties that according to one Trinity second year, “are the best for their price in Jericho, which is one of the more expensive areas for students to rent in Oxford”.

A Univ third year outside NOPS explained her motives for queuing: “We had originally decided to go for NOPS since they had numerous four-bed houses in Jericho. NOPS has a monopoly over Jericho when it comes to four-beds, so to get a house you have to queue – we even arranged to pay someone to take our place in the cold rain.”

Queuing outside the agency overnight has become something of a tradition for Oxford students in recent years, and the NOPS website has a small archive of BBC News reports on students sleeping out, braving temperatures at and below freezing.

The news that NOPS had fewer properties available after selling many to an anonymous college came as a surprise to queuing students.

Another third year from Univ, who began camping out on Wednesday evening, commented: “We started queuing only to find out a couple of hours in that a college had bought a tonne of properties, including all the good ones, leaving very little and poor choice for us. NOPS did not make things clear, the situation wasn’t great, and in the end we didn’t go for a NOPS house.”

Students sleeping outside agencies is viewed by many as part of a wider problem concerning student housing in Oxford. “Students seem to get scared that by the new year all of the best properties will be gone, and so there is a great rush to find houses at the start of every Michaelmas,” a second year Law student from Brasenose commented.

In recent years, college JCRs have advised against queuing for houses outside letting agencies and being compelled by agencies into signing early for houses. “There is no need for students to camp outside any letting agency,” Tom Rutland, OUSU president, told The Oxford Student. “Oxford has a surplus of student housing, meaning that students have time to decide who they want to live with, where they want to live and explore all of the options available to them. I didn’t sign my lease for my house this year until February, and there was still a great range of housing available.”

Last year, David Townsend, then president of the OUSU, ran a campaign to delay the release of student properties until February.  As a result of a petition signed by 1,500 students, all University JCRs and MCRs agreed not to publicise early release dates put forward by agents.  Rutland said that the campaign was designed to “encourage students to wait until they’re ready to sign a contract, instead of giving in to letting agency pressure.”

However, one fourth year at St Anne’s did not see the value of this policy: “A discussion of early release dates doesn’t solve the problem of agencies who have all the best houses in one area. No matter what time those houses are released there will always be fierce competition for them, and if they are released on the same day there may well be queues overnight.”

When asked for comment on its decision to have a single release date for all of its properties, NOPS did not respond.