The latest housing controversy to hit York is not, for once, about the future of Vanbrugh. Since the building of the gruesome log cabins of Donald Barron Court & Barbara Scott Court, all is cosy and perfect in the fiefdom of Matt Oliver, just in time for the upcoming conference season.
Instead, the news this week is the controversy between a landlady, and the six students who were living in her property on half rent while building work was completed. Needless to say, when the rent returned to its normal rate the project was not completed, the students felt they were being ripped off, and the landlady felt her generosity had been exploited.
I don’t want to explore the minutiae of the ongoing court proceedings, but this example is typical of the lack of awareness and communication that ensure we get a raw deal wherever we choose to lay our silly little heads. In the case outlined above, the University actually took the side of the landlady, leaving the students to defend themselves without any extra financial or legal aid. There is some confusion as to why this is the case, but the proceedings, it seems, could have been avoided entirely. If we just paid a little more attention to what we are signing up for, and had some basic understanding of our legal rights as private tenants we could avoid the messy aftermath of our own stupidity.
It is an oft-forgotten fact that because students never ask for anything in writing, they can never prove anything they have agreed with the proprietors. Furthermore, they will happily sleepwalk into contracts with the larger letting agencies, such as Sinclair Properties (not the company used in the current controversy). Sinclair students find themselves agreeing to the kind of stop-and-search which the police require a warrant for, but that the aforementioned letting agency euphemistically term an “inspection”. The University’s legal team, which offer to check over every student’s contract, has been known to unofficially warn against Sinclair. Nevertheless few students take advantage of this service, let alone are aware of Sinclair’s reputation.
Many people are so clueless that they end up paying for things they couldn’t possibly avoid causing. Witness the friend who was left with a severely defunct old vacuum cleaner. The agent acting on behalf of the landlord promptly charged all the students living in the house £50 apiece for, surprise, surprise, a thick layer of dust all over the carpets and skirting boards.
Though in addition to the exploitative nature of some owners of student property, we don’t help ourselves by being some of the most filthy creatures ever to crawl the earth. How can we expect landlords to treat us like decent human beings when we act like half-evolved primates?
Of course, the situation is certainly not alleviated by the fact that Sinclair advertise pops up on the YUSU website, despite their dubious record on student welfare. But regardless of this, we need to be far more aware of our legal rights. Perhaps the students from the latest legal case should have gone to their Academic and Welfare Officer? Hold that thought.