Universities plan to regulate student digs

2014-04-02 00:00

UNIVERSITIES based in Pietermaritzburg also want to play their part in controlling the mushrooming of student digs in the Scottsville area.

The Witness reported on Monday that a group of Scottsville residents were constituting themselves into a formal body, the Digs Action Group (DAG), to fight the unregulated proliferation of student digs in the suburb.

This as owners of boarding houses say they are only taking advantage of the demand in the market place.

Khetha Mngadi, head of student accommodation for the Durban University of Technology (DUT) Midlands Centre, said they were moving away from hiring small houses to taking over blocks of flats where they are able to accommodate more students and have fewer places that they have to monitor.

So far, they have acquired the Rivers End complex and three other blocks of flats, two in the city centre and one in the Alexandra Road vicinity.

They were also working closely with the municipality to ensure that municipal regulations were being followed.

Mngadi said they had a set of criteria by which outsourced residences were assessed and constantly monitored. These included proper supervision of students, each student being allocated a desk, there must be a proper kitchen with the necessary facilities, as well as built-in cupboards for students to store their belongings in.

He said that according to regulations set by the Department of Higher Education, there could be no more than two students per ordinary-sized room.

Mngadi added that DUT also ran residence programmes where students were given rules and guidelines on how to behave. “It is made very clear to them that where they are staying is an extension of the university,” he said.

Mngadi added, however, that they did not have control in situations where students and parents make their own private accommodation arrangements. He said that in some instances students themselves form groups and rent their own places.

“This creates a problem because other property owners focus on the university, and feel that the lack of upkeep of the property and ill-discipline is our responsibility when we don’t even know if those are our students living there,” he said.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) was interviewed a while back and at that time indicated that there were plans to build on-campus residences. Executive director for Student Services Dr Sibusiso Chalufu said at the time that they had started with Durban as the first phase, building new residences on the Westville and Howard College campuses, which will result in 1 000 extra beds. These residences are expected to be completed towards the end of 2014. The Scottsville DAG expressed disappointment that UKZN had no immediate plans to build more campus residences in Pietermaritzburg.

Property developer Andrew Barnes, who has let out two buildings to DUT, said he decided to go into the field of student housing because he had been approached to do so.

Brian Ngiba, joint owner of a boarding house, indicated in his application for special consent to the municipality that, as a young black entrepreneur, he was taking advantage of a gap in the market.

A boarding house owner who did not want to be named believed that the situation would work itself out. He said entrepreneurs were attracted to the business because of the market demand. However, he has discovered that it is not as lucrative as he first believed, saying: “For what you charge, there is very little return for your money”.

The owner said he struggled to get his rent and that a bigger headache was that students did not look after the property. He spent more money fixing up the place, and found that the water and light bills were extremely high.

“We have no control; lights are left burning day and night and I have even found showers left running. For the amount of stress I get, it is not worth it,” he said.

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