The shortage of student accommodation has left students vulnerable to the exploitation of landlords. Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande released a report in March acknowledging that thousands of students across the country have to live in appalling conditions and that he saw it as a “miracle” that they managed to pass any academic course while living under such conditions.

The main reason identified for the countrywide shortage of student accommodation is the growing number of student enrolment into universities. The report found that nationally only 30% of students in need of accommodation were catered for by their universities. The report further recognised the problem that the provision of private student accommodation is unregulated in South Africa, thus allowing widespread exploitation of students and exposure of students to various levels of risk.

UP SRC Secretary-General Kleinbooi Legoabe told Perdeby that the SRC knows of many students coming from places as far as Venda and Bizana in the Eastern Cape who cannot afford private accommodation. The SRC then tries to negotiate with TuksRes on behalf of these students. Unfortunately, not all these students can be accommodated and are forced to live in surrounding areas like Sunnyside, Arcadia, Mamelodi and Tembisa. Legoabe told Perdeby that “last month the SRC compiled a document to the City Council that states the challenges of UP students living in Hatfield or surrounding places.”

Professor Roelf Visser, Director of Residence Affairs and Accommodation at UP, confirmed that “it is a major concern that landlords are in fact exploiting our students on high rents, contractual agreements, day-to-day maintenance, support in general, sub-standard quality of facilities, health and safety issues, [and] security.” According to Prof. Visser, the UP executive has appointed his office to oversee the accreditation of private student accommodation in the area. He added that students who are in need of support are welcome to contact him.

An engineering student told Perdeby that she had a problem with accommodation in the past month. She lived in a communal house with 11 other students (males and females) and had to share two bathrooms with only one toilet. They paid a woman, who they thought was the owner, a deposit and two months’ rent. Two months later a man claiming to be the real owner of the house arrived at the commune saying that he knew nothing about the contract that the students had signed. The man requested that the students pay him a deposit and two months’ rent if they wanted to continue living there. When they tried to reach the woman who had claimed to be the original owner of the house, she did not answer her calls and was nowhere to be found. The woman had allegedly rented the house from the man and was sub-letting it to the students.

Jacolien Barnard, a senior law lecturer at UP, said that students who find themselves in these situations are protected by the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the Rental Housing Act. Landlords who have entered into a contractual agreement (verbal or written) with tenants have a duty and obligation towards the tenants to maintain the accommodation and provide undisturbed use and enjoyment of the property. Students who feel they have been exploited by their landlords or feel that they are not in compliance with the CPA can take legal action.

In Johannesburg, students are resorting to sub-standard illegal commune accommodation because of a shortage in student accommodation. Mail and Guardian reported that students felt defenceless against slumlords who allegedly charge exorbitant rent and ignore the City of Johannesburg and the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) policies to regulate accommodation.

John Mukwena, a student at UJ, told Mail and Guardian that students are charged huge amounts of money by landlords for rooms that are not up to standard. He said they take them because accommodation is rare and students want to be near campus. Metro newspaper reported that in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Durban, the shortage of student accommodation at universities and tertiary institutions has led to some universities outsourcing their accommodation to private developers to assist students who need accommodation.

It was indicated in the report released in March by Minister Blade Nzimande, that an immediate response to the infrastructure backlog has been implemented where an amount of R3.8 billion has been allocated as an infrastructure and efficiency grant for universities over the next two financial years to assist in alleviating the student accommodation problem.

Photo: Charné Fourie

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