• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

“I was sofa-surfing for three months”: Edinburgh’s Student Rental Crisis

ByOlivia Latimer

May 16, 2023

We are all painfully aware of the national cost of living crisis that is striking different demographics across the country. Students have been hit particularly hard, as they are facing the realities of the recession while receiving a meagre increase in their student loan.

Over the past 18 months students have been forced to make tough financial decisions, often making cuts on social life spending in order to pay rent and bills – but it now seems that in Edinburgh students can’t afford the latter, let alone the former. 

According to NatWest, Edinburgh is the most expensive city for students to live in. This is not just because the average pint in Edinburgh is almost £2 more expensive than in Newcastle just over the border, but because rent prices in Edinburgh have skyrocketed seeing students paying almost £1000 for a room. Several University of Edinburgh students have admitted being forced to make difficult decisions in order to remain living in the city. 

Not only are the rent prices at an all-time high, but rentals themselves are also scarce.

The rise in popularity and success of companies such as Airbnb has seen a decline in residential and student renting in cities such as Edinburgh. The council has made efforts to stall the impact of Short Term Lets and Airbnbs are having on the renting market, but the reality is that many students are simply not able to find a flat.

One fourth-year student who had to sofa surf for three months stated:

“We couldn’t find a flat last summer after we had someone unexpectedly pull out of our group and once the others found other places to go, and I couldn’t, I had to sofa surf and didn’t find a room until November”.

Her experience is not unique as many other students have been forced to choose alternative living situations. One third-year student after moving out of an initial rental situation due to personal reasons, had to move in with her uncle in Stirling and must commute to Edinburgh for university. She told The Student:

“I could not find another flat for less than £700 which is way out of budget. Instead, I live with my uncle and sleep at friends’ or live out of my car. This is not the student experience I expected and its stressful as I don’t get to be present in Edinburgh and don’t have a concrete place to live”.

Additionally, this student explained that when she asked for desperate help from the university she was told “to ask Shelter (the homelessness charity) for help or to look into council housing as they couldn’t help me. Both of those suggestions were not really an option, and it didn’t feel like this was proper support.” The fact that many students are facing temporary homelessness and having to turn to friends and family highlights the grave issues that Edinburgh students are experiencing. 

At this time of year students are on the search for flats for the next academic year and the prices are only rising and flats are becoming less and less attainable. On some letting websites within 15 minutes of being uploaded viewing slots are full meaning that searching for a flat is feeling like a full-time job for many students. This was the experience of one third-year student, who said: “I genuinely am checking Rightmove and Zoopla (online letting agents) more than I check my uni emails at this rate as the flat viewings all go within 10 minutes.”

Students are struggling to even get a chance to apply for flats and once they can flats are being taken off the market within days making the rental scene highly competitive. Some students even have had landlords try to haggle with them and only offering viewings on the condition they would be willing to pay more rent.

One student explained that:

“I had arranged a viewing on a letting app and later received an email from the landlord saying that we could only view the flat if we were going to offer more money as other groups already had. He was already asking for £650, and we could barely afford that. It feels really sleazy as well as just unrealistic”.

Given these conditions, many students are having to find money in different places just to afford a flat.

Another student stated:

“I can’t afford to live in Edinburgh with my student loan and my part time job salary so am having to borrow little pockets of money from several different family members as they are struggling just as much as I am…”

The normalisation of rooms costing up to £1000 is dangerous and ludicrous when the maximum student loan is £9250, which barely covers a whole academic year. This leaves even students who receive the most financial aid struggling to afford rent independently. 

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon introduced a rent freeze and eviction ban in September 2022 but the capital city is still seeing students struggling to find affordable flats. Many students feel failed by the university. Ultimately, Edinburgh may lose its appeal as a student city if something is not done about the growing unaffordability of its rental market. The University and the Council must do more to assist students, either through subsidiaries or caps, to enable them to live and afford the city in which they study. 

Marchmont Road, Edinburgh” by itmpa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.