Kat Clementine

Brunel alumni launch ‘Trip Advisor for student accommodation’ on the same day as ARC’s Housing Fayre (Monday 19th January).

The website ‘Stars Key and Hutch’, is designed as a social network to help British and International students find the best rental accommodation. Three Brunel MBA students founded it, each with their own reasons for setting up the site.

With around 15,000 students and just 4,957 places for on-campus accommodation, many students choose to live in off-campus housing. This includes those sought through the housing office, private landlords, local estate agents and even lodging with families in the nearby area.

Most are lucky to find a great house for second year with friends they met in halls, other students fall victim to scams, expensive deposits with hidden costs, and even suffer homelessness.

One of the website’s founders, Rajan Dua, 32, who came over from India to study, ended up living in a TravelLodge for two months when he came to Brunel to start his MBA in General Management.

Paul Rajan Launch credit Stars, Key and HutchRajan used property websites to find a place in Uxbridge but was told he needed a guarantor and had to pay six months rent up front.

He said, “I called from India but they said unless I could come over for a viewing I wouldn’t be considered. By the time I came over, most of the property had been taken.”

He added, “If I’d have been able to speak to a fellow student before coming over here, I’d have been able to plan better. So when I met Chloe and Paul, we came up with the idea of a service to help students and Stars Key and Hutch was born!”

Chloe Lin Zhen, 29, from Shanghai, was worried about parties and noise in Uni halls and so wanted to find off-campus accommodation. She found fellow Chinese students when she arrived at Brunel.

She said, “I remember thinking how great and helpful it would have been if I could have made contact before I came with people who were about to embark on the same journey.”

Paul Ouro, 33, Uxbridge, rents out several properties in close proximity to Brunel and describes himself as a ‘good landlord’. He met Rajan and Chloe on the MBA course and has insight into the local property market.

He said, “Rajan and Chloe’s experience gave me the insights of international students which made me think how popular it could be in Shanghai and Delhi.

We want students to talk to other students, learn from others’ mistakes and help each other.”

The Stars Key and Hutch site has three functions for students:

* Stars – Give aspects of their rental accommodation a star rating

* Key – Discover the truth about their property and neighbourhood before they get the key

* Hutch – Let others know the truth about the hutch (home) they’ve lived in

The launch day saw founders Paul and Rajan meeting with current students including Anoushka Bastin, as the website hopes to forewarn and educate students to avoid situations such as hers from happening again. But she’s not alone.

Maryam Serour, 21, studying Journalism, was evicted by Scotland Yard Police because her landlord didn’t pay the mortgage for the property.

She said, “We had to find a new place in a week which meant the four of us staying at a friends house. Since we couldn't find anything that quickly in the end we had to each find somewhere separately if we wanted to still live near uni.”

Joe Difford, 20, studying Theatre, Film and Television lost over £1,000 from his tenancy’s damage deposit and struggled with mould during his second year at Brunel.

He said, “It wasn't the nicest of places but from looking at a few we decided this one was the best of a bad bunch.”

He advises students to take care with inventories and damage deposits.

“I would urge any student to take photos of everything at the beginning, middle and end of their tenancy and keep a log of every email conversation between you and your estate agent, otherwise you will never be able to dispute a penny of the money they will inevitably keep it.”

The student entrepreneurs created the concept with the support of Brunel’s Innovation Hub.

On launch day, Barry Hodges-White, Innovation Hub Manager, was excited about the website’s potential to change behaviours in landlords, benefitting them and students alike.

He said, “On the surface it’s another rating site but in reality it’s a lot more than that. It’s fundamentally quite innovative because they’re looking at changing the way people deal with each other. It got my vote!”

The launch of Stars, Key and Hutch coincided with the ARC’s Housing Fayre in Academy, which saw local estates advertising properties to freshers.

Nu Pad, a family-run lettings agent, were amongst the businesses with a stall at the Fayre. Office Manager, Raymond Mann thought the website was a great idea.

He said, “This gives students the opportunity to post their views and their airs to everybody else in a similar situation and it will also give the agents a chance to respond.”

The website provides a service that could lead to negative comments about a business’s service but Mr Mann insisted his company has nothing to hide.

“We work under strict guidelines set be the University and also by the local council such as HMO regulations. We would not let a property to students if it were not fit for purpose. We’ve got all the accreditations to prove that we will only rent the standard of properties that students need.”

He added, “It will bring out the bad landlords who try to go round the system and it will definitely weed out the landlords who don’t use agents or reputable companies that they need to try and let their students to.”

Students were reminded at the Fayre to contact the local council if they have any concerns or issues aren’t being resolved with landlords directly.

Sammy Chan, Senior Housing Surveyor at Hillingdon Council supported the idea of the website.

He said, “It’s a very good idea to make potential tenants aware of what problems they may face and also bring to their attention that there are a few properties may not be suitable for renting.”

By the day of the launch, Stars Key and Hutch already had more than 1,000 registered users.

Paul, one of the co-founders was pleased by the launch and his visit to Brunel.

He said, “When I went today and spoke to students about this website it really cemented the feeling that this is something we need to launch and it’s definitely going to help them.”

Rate your student house today at www.starskeyandhutch.com Check out their Facebook page and Twitter @StarsKeyNHutch