Student accommodation is in crisis. Both nationally and in Edinburgh, we are paying too much for too little. Freshers at Reading this year were forced to live in hotels, due to a shortage of affordable accommodation. Students at UCL were living in what was described as a ‘building site’, infested with rats. The NUS estimate that on average, student accommodation takes up 95 per cent of the maximum student loan.
Accounts from University of Edinburgh students revealed similar situations. One student left her flat over the Christmas holidays, and upon return found that the landlord had switched her bedroom with the kitchen, without checking with her first. Another had her boiler literally set alight, then explode. Countless students report issues which result from landlords simply neglecting basic duties.
Why is it assumed that living in accommodation not fit for human habitation is an integral part of the student experience? Students fork out thousands of pounds over the years, often eating up the entirety of their student loans, to live with mould, mice and without a boiler. The age old perception of students in the mould of Rick and Vyvyan from The Young Ones, setting fire to beds and having food in their fridge so rotten it begins to talk, enables landlords to present themselves as taking on substantial risks by letting to students. By categorising students as subpar tenants, landlords can frame themselves as the victims, whilst manipulating inexperienced customers.
It is estimated that for every flat in parts of Edinburgh, five students are competing for each room available. Landlords use this scarcity to their advantage, expecting us to be grateful for simply providing us with a roof over our heads. Despite being paying customers, students are treated as a hindrance at every turn. After experiencing no hot water for a month, we were expected to be thankful when it eventually was granted by our benevolent landlord. The landlord-tenant relationship should not be this fractured.
The comparison website money.co.uk estimates two out of every five students do not receive their full deposits back. Landlords can charge disproportionate amounts for the damage caused, in one case withholding £250 of a deposit for one hole in a wall made by a drawing pin. Landlords also charge students for pre-existing damage, or blaming serious structural issues on students. One student reported being told the damp in their flat was a result of them drying their clothes in the flat, even though there was no dryer provided for them to use. Deposits are treated as extra cash for landlords, despite rent already being so high.
Rent increases occur every year beyond the rate of inflation, despite no improvements being made to flats. Edinburgh students report trends of rent increases year on year of over £100 for the same flat, even when landlords have made no changes. Such exploitative behaviour makes for a hostile living circumstance.
The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act, passed in 2016, and coming into force in late 2017, goes some way in rebalancing the relationship between landlords and tenants. The Act prevents rent being increased more than once in any 12 months, and that rent increases will have to be accompanied by a rent increase notice. If the tenant feels the intended rent hike is unreasonable, then they can refer it to a Rent Officer, who judges whether rent increase is fair or not. This decision can be appealed to the Private Rented Sector Housing Tribunal.
The spiralling rent, both in private and university accommodation, must be placed in context. Radical Housing Assembly described student housing as “a powerful enabler of the continued marketisation of higher education”. The proliferation of high end, extremely expensive ‘luxury’ accommodation fails to benefit students, but instead benefits investors and big business. Now or in the future, the living circumstances of students should not be something landlords or investors can take advantage of.
Whether we take to the streets for a rent strike, join a student cooperative or start taking landlords to court, it is time for action.
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