Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of the Edinburgh student experience is the search for flats. It’s not surprising; the city is infamous for its competitive housing scene. This is made worse by the fact that the entirety of first-year students have no experience in it. Furthermore, landlords insist upon exceptionally high rent compared to other cities in the UK. A 2016 Royal Bank of Scotland survey found that Edinburgh was the most expensive city for students in the country. Studies such as this only add to the conception of Edinburgh as an upmarket and inaccessible university city, closed off to those from poorer backgrounds.
So how did we get here? One major aspect contributing to the city’s high cost is its ‘architectural allure’ and standing as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This has the consequence of hindering the development of property construction in the already-crowded city centre, severely limiting the amount of students that can be housed feasibly close to the university campus. Moreover, Edinburgh has a reputation as a beautiful city which incentivises many tourists to visit each year. Articles like the 2016 Rough Guide poll, which ranked Edinburgh as the fourth most beautiful city in the world, plays no small part in promoting this idea. Although such a survey admittedly has no empirical foundation, it nonetheless significantly increases the number of short-term lets, notably in the form of Airbnb rentals— a phenomenon which has seen the development of a movement to ban the company from operating in the capital.
The culmination of such factors leads to a housing situation which is admittedly not ideal for students. Many first-years admit to feeling apprehensive about setting off on the flat hunt, likely owing to the fact that they have no experience in the area— and candidly are not even sure where to begin. And therein lies the main problem for these novices on the property market, the attitudes of landlords in areas such as Marchmont who recognise the naivety of first-years, and exploit it for their own gain. The fact that they are given free rein to operate, charging students exorbitant amounts, is reprehensible.
This is exacerbated by the fact that a majority of these students will fail to report, or otherwise make known, any landlord malfeasance, for a number of reasons. Firstly, they often feel powerless in their relationships with landlords and do not feel as though they will affect any change in their conditions. Moreover, it is often the case that students recognise the extremely competitive nature of Edinburgh’s housing market, and are therefore prepared to accept any blatantly inequitable housing conditions purely for the sake of securing a flat. Secondly, and most notably, students are none-the-wiser to any malpractice from their landlords and unknowingly fall into the traps of high monthly rent and holding fees (which are not required by Scottish law). Instead, they are largely oblivious to the bylaws and regulations of the process.
This situation is evidently immoral. Therefore it seems clear that additional rent control is necessary. The rising levels of rent for students are spiralling alarmingly out of control, and if landlords are not confronted about it soon, then it is unknown to what extent the situation will escalate. While the ‘flat-hunt’ is already an arduous enough process when combined with university studies, the insensitive and frankly malicious behaviour of landlords adds a considerable amount of salt to an already deep wound.
Image: Ninian Reid via Flickr