Private renting after six months of student accommodation is both a welcome change and a colossal headache. On top of the endless trauma of flat hunting, there’s the joyous occupation of dealing with difficult landlords once the deposit is finally put down and the flat is yours. Recent research from Shelter showed that in the last five years, 24 per cent of student renters claimed that their landlord had charged them excessive fees, as opposed to just 16 per cent of the rest of the population. The survey also showed that 67 per cent (a whopping two thirds) of student renters had, had problems with poor conditions in the last year, including damp, leaks, electrical hazards, mould, animal infestations and gas leaks.
Of course, there are numerous struggles and pitfalls to face before you even get to the stage of difficult landlords. Budgeting is always an issue: how much money do you think you have, and how much money do you actually have? It can also often difficult to compromise with your flatmates-to-be: be grateful if you end up with at least one person who literally couldn’t care less where you end up, because chances are they’ll be the least argumentative, even if they are completely useless.
So if you thought leaving home for the first time was daunting, flat hunting will certainly be an eye-opener. It helps if you have some notion of geography (I was, for example, accidentally organising flat viewings in Leith), but working out multiple times where a potential flat is in relation to George Square, the level of hygiene it’s likely to maintain and how shady the neighbours will be, all for the first time in your life, can take its toll.
Anyone who has been renting privately will agree that minor technical issues with flats are common occurrences; it’s the way in which landlords deal with them that determines the relationship. One student, speaking to The Student, was without an oven for six months, and was repeatedly fobbed off by the estate agent. They were told firstly that they were wrong and that the oven clearly did work, secondly that it would be too expensive to replace, and finally that they would be unable to find one that fitted. Another student has been forced to buy a dehumidifier to deal with the damp in her room, caused by a vent hidden behind a wardrobe that the landlord neglected to tell them about. Most notably, there is also a case where a broken oven ring constituted a major fire hazard and caused a serious burn. The students in question moved in on August 23 and the matter is still unresolved.
Unfortunately, issues can emerge that are more serious still. A case study from Shelter, for example, details a group of students who were charged over £400 by their landlord simply to change the date and name of an occupant on the contract. When questioned, the landlord produced an invoice showing that she was charging them for a registration fee for the National Landlords Association and four hours of legal advice, neither of which were the students’ responsibility. When the students protested, their landlord threatened to take them to court – and still hasn’t paid them back.
Getting out of student accommodation is undoubtedly a blessing, but as these case studies demonstrate, it can also be a complete nightmare. There are, however, a few simple solutions to minimise the hassle. Firstly, never be afraid to pester the landlord. If something breaks, it’s their responsibility to get it fixed. End of. Secondly, investigate any suspicious fees as soon as they emerge, and don’t pay until you’re absolutely sure they’re legitimate. Thirdly, have a good look around the flat both before and after you move in to make sure it’s safe, and make sure the inventory is accurate and up to date. Many first-time renters feel that it’s their student status that makes them so easily susceptible to exploitative landlords – make sure you don’t fall into the same trap.