Sleeping-bag queues for Jericho houses

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Oxford University students have camped out for over thirty-eight hours, braving the snow and rain, in order to secure housing in the Jericho area.

The annual release of the student property list by North Oxford Property Services (NOPS), who operate on a ‘first come first served’ basis, is notorious for provoking over-night queues. This week, a group from St Anne’s College began queuing very early, taking to the streets at 6:30 on Tuesday evening in anticipation of the release of property on Thursday morning.

Many students commented that they had been warned against queuing up, and even against using NOPS altogether. A first year stated their College’s JCR advised caution, because students can “feel obliged to sign a deal because they’re worried they’re going to miss their chance.”

The system implemented by NOPS, which results in students camping outside in wintry conditions, has angered many. Jenni Butler, a first year student at Somerville College stated “it’s such a bad system, I can’t believe people started queuing so early, NOPS should discourage it, if they see people here they should send them home – at the moment you worry that if you don’t queue you’re not going to get anything decent.”

She continued, “I’m missing a class because we have to sign a contract at nine – I had to write an essay today on three hours sleep.” Though most groups are taking turns to wait outside in shifts, others were less fortunate; a fresher from Christ Church, whose prospective house mate was unable to make the queue due to ill health, commented that he had been outside for eight hours and had no alternative but to continue waiting for a further twelve.

Some undergraduates praised NOPS who had provided queue members with hot drinks and dry cleaned students’ sleeping bags after they had spent a night camping out in the snow. Others pointed out that such gestures were “nice but then considering the non-refundable admin fee of £135 per head, insignificant.”

The letting agency refused to comment on the legitimacy of the admin fee which students describe as “outrageous”, but defended the current process arguing that due to demand, the first come first served policy remains to be “the fairest system that we can implement.”

NOPS is not the only company to employ this strategy yet alternative estate agents have conceded that the system was by no means ideal. One estate agent stated that they were even aware of instances in which customers had been offered large sums of money in exchange for the opportunity to jump the queue and get first picks on houses.

Unlike other Oxford estate agents, North Oxford Property Services does not warn against overnight queuing.

A first year undergraduate from Somerville College referred to the company’s online clock which counts down the hours, minutes and seconds until the 9:00 release, describing it as “patronising and unnecessary”. According to NOPS “Students have missed the boat in the past, complaining that they were not aware of the release day. The clock means all students are aware.”

The company offered no comment as to why it uploads videos of past student queues on to the internet, however. A second year student who camped outside their office last year was critical of their actions, “They put videos of people queuing on the internet which creates unnecessary hype. It makes people think that unless they camp outside for two nights they won’t be able to live in the area.”

Welfare Reps are keen to point out that North Oxford Property Services are not the only letting agency in Jericho and that students should not sign a deal without looking around a house. But most students were unable to look at properties because NOPS have made the open day for viewing houses the same date as the release of the student list.

Only students who happen to know people currently living in the area have had an opportunity to view properties. This, combined with the competitive nature of the release, has led to fears that students may feel pressured into signing a deal before they have time to properly consider.

Laura Clegg, a second year student from St Hilda’s College recollected her experience on the day of the release, “You end up making a decision on where to live based on two sentences and thumbnail photo of a front door.” She described the state of her property on moving in, adding “our garden was too overgrown to use, there were slugs in our kitchen because it was so damp, our washing machine was broken when we arrived and never fixed, we had a broken window that was patched up with MDF for weeks, another window had a crack in it that was never repaired and our front door didn’t shut properly.”

Laura Adamson, a former tenant, also criticised NOPS. She said, “According to contract, it was meant to be the landlord who dealt with areas like the maintenance of the house but that did not happen in our case, despite many requests.”

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