Anyone who has moved out of university accommodation and into a private rented flat will recognise the overwhelming stress felt around March time. When everyone you know has somehow managed to not only find a flat they like, but have also secured it as their very own, either by partaking in an infamous sprint to be the first ones back to the letting agents, or by fashioning an application so elaborate it almost out-does the one that got you to university in the first place.
So, we have a load of students, who are totally clueless regarding bills, inventories and tenancy agreements. The question is, does the university do enough to support them?
Sure, I’ll give them credit where it’s due, there are a selection of wonderfully well-presented information pages on the International Students information page. They give a general idea of how much you should be expected to pay for rent and bills, however, speaking from my own experience, it’s an effort to find, and not really geared towards students who are seeking more information on private rented accommodation. Despite the fact that the website provides advice on avoiding letting companies which could perhaps not be genuine, there is no advice on how to deal with a landlord or letting agency which takes advantage of you. From the very start, us poor students are made to jump through hoops, and pay bank breaking deposits for flats which are in a horrific condition when you move in. The university should be more aware, and more proactive concerning the way in which students are treated by letting agents in Edinburgh.
A couple of people I’ve spoken to about this issue describe paying deposits and rent for their flat, and on the day that they moved in discovering that the previous tenants had been disguising a particularly potent damp and mould problem. Luckily, the university has taken them into emergency accommodation, but they are limited to how long they are able to use it, and once again are in a race to find a new flat.
Speaking to a representative from Living Rent Edinburgh, the Scottish Tenants’ Union, it becomes apparent the true severity of the crisis facing tenants in Edinburgh. In the last seven years alone, rents have gone up by around 40 per cent compared to inflation levels of 15.6 per cent. They recognise that students, as a group, are some of the most vulnerable in terms of how they are treated by letting agents and landlords. There are numerous amounts of laws which students seem unaware of which protect them from wrongly losing their deposits or being charged illegal fees. Students have often lost their deposit to pay for cleaning fees for an already clean flat, and never receive any receipt of this. It also seems to be a common occurrence that students simply do not feel they have the resources or the power to fight back against these landlords. Living Rent Edinburgh are actively challenging these letting agents and landlords by laying out the law, and using social media as a means of calling them out.
In a small city, with a low rate of building taking place, where the share of people looking for private rented accommodation has doubled in the last seven years, it can often feel like there is not enough housing for the number of students. In spite of this, Living Rent encourage young people not to get ripped off by landlords due to their vulnerable position. They advise that students should never accept any kind of fee; whether that’s disguised as a ‘service fee’ or any kind of administrative fee. These such fees are actually illegal in Scotland, and you should never hand over money other than your rent and your deposit. They also advice that you should check that any landlord is legitimate by using the Landlord Registry, where you only need to enter your postcode in order to find out.
In my view, The University of Edinburgh has a definite pastoral responsibility to ensure that their students are well educated on the law, and that they not only know their rights within a tenancy, but also know how to address their grievances. It seems a shame that students struggle to live in Edinburgh due to the problem of rented accommodation, and I feel the university should be more obliged to step in and defend its students where it is clearly necessary. It seems apparent that by taking on more and more students every year, the university should have a duty to ensure that these students have a safe and secure place to live, having moved out of their student accommodation. According to the university website, over 1,000 more students have accepted offers with the university since 2013. Whilst effort is being put into making sure there is sufficient first year accommodation, the university should also be concerned with the amount of housing available to students after first year.
To their credit, the Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s Advice Place provides vast amounts of information on the search for private rented accommodation, and with Living Rent Edinburgh looking to join forces with them, there is plenty of information available to you if you are struggling. It is advisable that tenants look into Living Rent and consider joining, as if you come into any trouble with your tenancy, they are there to defend you, as well as fighting for a change in policy. If you have any concerns regarding renting a flat, drop into the Advice Place or get in touch with a representative from Living Rent Edinburgh, who are easily found on Facebook.
Image: Kim Traynor via Geograph