Unfair treatment of student tenants is on the rise

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Flat-hunting season is upon us. All around the city students are throwing each other down the stairs of any flat they can find, in the conquest to secure accommodation for next year.

When and if they get to the top, they face three terrifying foes: exploitative landlords, soaring rent prices and, probably, some mice.

Edinburgh is home to around 30,000 students, so it’s no wonder that the competition for flats resembles a property market minefield. If you thought getting into the library in revision season was a struggle, try getting a Marchmont flat in January.

Perhaps we need to be asking whether there are too few housing options available, flooding the housing market and lending to landlord logic that exploits the vulnerability of students.

Certainly, the high student population in Edinburgh has created a housing market in which rising rent prices is an unfair reality.

In a survey conducted by The Student, 64.2 per cent of participants felt that rent in Edinburgh is disproportionately priced. Often, they pay extortionate amounts to live in conditions that are sub-par, encountering mould, mice and poor plumbing.

Many find that their maintenance loans do not cover the cost of rent, with one participant alarmingly stating that the budgetary issues caused by rent payments meant “I’ve had to go days without eating.”

While not everyone’s experience is quite as dire, landlords know how to use the market to their advantage, at the expense of students.

Amid the backdrop of soaring rent, landlords have been reported to use the threat of increased rent to quicken the lease-signing process, knowing that the fierce competition will guarantee a panicked signing.

Moreover, our survey found that landlords and letting agencies often negatively stereotype students, taking harsher actions against them when minor issues occur.

69.4 per cent of students said they felt they had been unfairly treated by a landlord or letting agency. 34.7 per cent have had unfair noise complaints made against them and landlords also assume a level of disorganisation and inexperience amongst students, which they often capitalise on.

Asked for comments about the problem of exploitative landlords in Edinburgh, The Advice Place told us that the number of students enquiring about unfair treatment was “pretty high,” although explained that this was often because landlords were “not aware of the legislation.”

This may well be the case, but landlords should be obligated to understand and abide by housing legislation. Ignorant landlords, coupled with those who knowingly take advantage of the natural inexperience of many students, create a pretty grim landscape for student flat-hunters.

It is, of course, possible to have a positive renting experience. Our survey suggests that students who rented with private landlords had an easier time than those who went through agencies. The fact that the most affordable flats are owned by letting agencies marks another disadvantage for students, forcing them into situations in which they can be more easily exploited.

Outside of this, another participant remarked on the ease of renting through the university for accommodation after first year. However, the university cannot possibly provide this service to its entire student body, and as such, provides a limited solution to the problems that students face in the private sector.

Clearly, there are several converging housing issues in Edinburgh, which lead to students being disadvantaged and exploited. The huge competition not only drives prices up, but creates an environment in which landlords and letting agents benefit from student stereotypes and capitalise on their inexperience.

In a city which, after London, has the highest student living costs in the UK, we need to be mounting pressure on student unions, university and government, to facilitate easier and cheaper student living. If there’s one stereotype about students that holds true, it’s that they’re pretty skint. It follows then, that student rents should be cheaper rents.

Image: The Student

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The Student Newspaper 2016