In September 2016, Birmingham City university partnered with University Locks, a brand new student accommodation building located in the heart of the city centre campus. However, what was expected to be state-of-the-art accommodation has been plagued with issues from concerns about the quality of construction to the lack of communication.
Managed by Derwent FM, the student property comprises of 64 two bedroom flats and 595 single, ensuite bedrooms, which are grouped into flats between five and eight rooms.
Despite the building only being three months old, over 50 students have got in contact with Birmingham Eastside raising problems ranging from power cuts, damp within their rooms, faulty showers and heaters to water leaks. Outside this, a number of students are raising issues of poor communication, that has as one student put it, ‘plagued us since day one.’
But what are the issues exactly?
One student described the state of the room upon her arrival;
“My room has been both cold and damp, whilst the heater didn’t stay on for more than two minutes, which is essential to a room with damp. A Maintenance man came and placed a dehumidifier in my room after identifying that my bathroom ventilator was not working and after asking three times over the past month, it still has not been fixed. It’s now damaging my clothes.”
Another student described the long wait period for repairs to take place;
“My lock was broken on arrival and has only been fixed this week [November 28th]. The shower is broken and the carpet tiles aren’t glued down.”
Poor communication was also reported by many students to Birmingham Eastside;
“We were told we can’t move in on the original date and they sent us images of another accommodation, which ended up not being the one we actually moved to for!”
One problem all students faced was a delay in moving in after the building works ran over into the first semester of the 2016 academic year;
“We were moved in over a month late and it meant our rooms were rushed! For example, my shower has been broken since about week two of living here and even though I reported it after a week it still isn’t fixed.”
Many students reported similar problems. Poor fixings, non-working bathroom facilities and almost every message we received mentioned building-wide issues that took sometimes over 24 hours to fix;
“The carpet tiles aren’t even glued down and to top it off the boiler has broken for the second week in a row! Last time it stopped working on a Sunday and wasn’t back on until Monday night/ Tuesday morning.”
Birmingham City university said that they understand student’s position on the matter and that they are working around the clock to fix the issues that have been raised;
“We completely understand how frustrating and unsettling these difficult issues have been for some students living in university Locks and we are working tirelessly with the managers of the building to reduce the potential for any similar problems to recur in the future.
The university urgently pressed the companies managing the accommodation, Derwent FM and Santander, to ensure the problems that arose were resolved as soon as possible. We have communicated quickly with those students affected at every stage and have offered a range of compensation and practical support, including alternative accommodation.
Birmingham City university staff have worked tirelessly, often overnight and over long weekends, to reduce the impact on those students affected, something we remain dedicated to doing in supporting all our students living in University Locks.”
The university was clear to state that since it is managed by a partner organisation, the faults referred to by students are not directly reported to them.
Many students also raised the issue of poor communication from the accommodation, with many saying that they have been left for hours without any communication, leaving to confusion among the tenants.
One student stated that the temporary accommodation she was placed into was not up to an expected standard. Speaking about the quality, she stated that the property had, “mould, some water ran black and the front door rarely locked.”
Whilst others raised concern at the quality of the poor communication, with one saying;
“This has stressed me out and my anxiety levels have been sky high, not knowing where we were staying.”
Another said that during power-cuts and an evacuation due to a suspected electrical fire, there was no communication leaving many confused and unsure of what was going on;
“We had to sit outside and reception for an hour. Keep getting mixed messages on what actually was happening.”
On the night of the power-cut though, students have since been able to claim for accommodation, travel and food, and arrangements were made with Endsleigh Insurance to recover costs for food that had to be disposed of in fridges and freezers.
The university did note that they understand people were not able to access their property for up to 48 hours and said they will not be charging students for that period.
“Accordingly, affected students will not be charged for that two-day period and this will be reflected in their January instalment/invoice. For students who have already paid in full, an amount equivalent to two days rent will be refunded to them in January 2017.”
There were also multiple reports of contractors on the site making inappropriate comments towards female students with several students claiming that they had been ‘wolf whistled’ by contractors.
This is something that Birmingham City university had received messages from students about and something that they take very seriously.
“When students moved in on the 20th of September there were still contractors on site completing external works. During the course of the afternoon and the following day we received reports from students of contractors acting inappropriately and these were passed on to the Site Manager who held a meeting with all contractors.
They were told that there was to be no communication with staff and students. Unfortunately, one or two of the contractors did not take heed of this and were immediately removed from the site.”
For some students this is too little too late with one saying;
“It makes you question what am I paying all this money for? An incomplete, inconsistent building!”
Whilst another had a stark message for prospective students saying;
“I would not advise anyone to this place. Don’t get me wrong, it looks nice, but there are many basic interior problems which should have been sorted months ago, it is just poor handy work.”
But how much are students paying? On a 40-week contract for one room, a two bedroom flat will set you back over £5300, whilst a single en suite room will set you back just over £5200.
Derwent FM’s managing director, Steve McDonough, said: “We’re aware that there have been issues with some of the properties at University Locks accommodation, and we’re working with both the contractor and Birmingham University to help resolve these as soon as possible.
“As this is a brand new building, any repairs to University Locks at this stage are the contractor’s responsibility. We will work closely with the contractor to ensure any repairs are dealt with as soon as possible.
“We apologise that some students have experienced problems with their accommodation; to ensure that any repairs are carried out swiftly, we would advise calling us on 01217 131930 or reporting these at reception, in order for us to pass the details to the contractor.”
The president of Birmingham City University’s student union, who has been spearheading forums for residents to raise concerns and who is today meeting the CEO of Derwent FM said;
“All I can really say is that the student concerns are currently being addressed and the Student Union are continuing to facilitate forums. Any concerns raised are then passed onto the university. I also have a meeting with Derwent FM, who are the company that responsible for looking after the students in University Locks. The university is working tirelessly to address student concerns at the moment.”
Do you live at university Locks or have you been impacted by the troubles there? Let us know in the comments section below or tweet us at @Bhameastside.