Oblivious of our rights and sleepwalking into property contracts

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.

4 comments

  1. I’ve asked different YUSU services officers over the past 2 years why they advertise for Sinclairs, despite the fact that they don’t meet the minimum standards as set by the University’s own guide for landlords, and I’ve never once had a reply from them…

    I learnt the hard way not to trust Sinclairs, and fortunately next year I’m not making that same mistake again.

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  2. Oh, come on, Sinclairs aren’t bad. It all depends on if you have a good landlord or not – it’s hardly Sinclair’s job to provide a vacuum cleaner; they merely manage properties.

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  3. Sinclair’s are frankly incompetent – they’re supposed to be managing the property on behalf of the landlords, passing the blame onto the landlords isn’t really something they should be doing.

    They left us without a working cooker for 3 months telling us that the only thing we need to cook is a microwave, and when their engineers came to fit the new one, they forgot to actually connect it to the gas; when our central heating broke (which took 9 days to fix) they gave us 2 fan heaters (for a house of 6) and expected that to be sufficient, then came back to pick them up 4 times, and sent us threatening letters demanding their return (when, in fact, they collected them on their second visit). At first they agreed that our mattresses were old and needed replacing, then went and ordered the wrong size, and later refused to replace one of them saying it was “brand new” (they only said this after we complained about something else, and had no problems replacing the other 5 in the same state. I presume the “brand new” mattress they were referring to was the one of the wrong size that they took back). Four of us decided to stay in the same house again, and told Sinclair’s this, but despite this we still had people turn up for appointments to look at the house for next year (despite us having a date for contract resigning set).

    They’ve never been pleasant to deal with – from having worked in customer service for 3 years, their phone manner is appalling. As the article quite rightly points out, the University warn against Sinclair’s contracts, however Sinclair’s will not even *give* you a contract to look at until you’ve paid the deposit and we were told that they “don’t change contracts” even if we had advice from the University to do so.

    Sinclair’s obviously treat students as lesser citizens. The best advice we found for getting Sinclair’s to do something is to get our parents’ to ring up and threaten them, which worked without fail. The fact that they listen to our parents when we ourselves are the ones paying them, and are adults at 18+ just shows how little regard they hold us in.

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  4. I agree that if work is to be completed the contract should state what will happen if it is not completed on time. In the past I have signed contracts stating that alternative accommodation and/or compensation will be paid if students are unable to use the accommodation without being inconvenienced.

    What I cannot understand is where so many identical contracts are being used by any major agency, why can’t Student Services just publish a summary of the clauses they have problems with and the Agent’s reply. Students could then make their own mind up and Student Services could concentrate on the cornucopia of private landlord agreements?

    Furthermore, I would like to bet that very few problems acually arise from the wording of tenancy agreements. Instead I bet more from the actual behaviour of the parties involved.

    I wonder which agents students would recommend?!

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