The University keeps letting down renters

Student tenants need to be advised of their rights and given guidance in order to avoid dodgy landlords in York

Image: Rachel Sian

Housing, housing, housing. If Tony Blair were to run for office today, it would almost definitely be the slogan for his campaign. This is the kind of incessant prioritisation we could do with in York: next year, the weekly rent on my house will go up by a fiver per student, which shouldn’t affect a third year like myself – except the viewings won’t end and I’m sick of not leaving my dirty laundry on the bedroom floor. Please, can some unfortunate group just cough up and sign for it?

Except it doesn’t seem to be that easy for York students. At a time when maintenance grants are, well, no longer in existence, and the City of York Council is literally run by an anti-Labour coalition on the basis of not building houses on the green belt, it’s hardly any wonder that students are feeling the pinch. Basic economics dictates that, when demand exceeds supply, prices go up. Are we getting better service for this premium? Au contraire.

Just two editions ago, Nouse reported that 7 in 10 off-campus properties exhibit signs of mould or damp, while nearly half have not had an up-to-date gas safety check. You would think that, flush with new student cash, these landlords could invest in some quality – but their track record indicates otherwise. The story was similar in 2014: Nouse polled the student body and found that 44 per cent of students lose their deposits altogether, with 88 per cent believing their loss to have been unjustified.

Three years after that poll, my own landlord chanced it. After we cleaned the house from top to bottom, he claimed that £1500 of repairs and cleaning had to be undertaken for the house to be in good shape again. This, conveniently, was the same sum as our combined deposit. However, he offered us a ‘discount’ of only charging £500 – so long as he didn’t have to provide receipts. If, he warned us, we asked for them, he would be ‘forced’ to withhold our entire deposit.

We called his bluff. I asked for the receipts, and also whether he had protected our deposit in a government-backed Tenancy Deposit Scheme: a legal requirement for all landlords. For a few days, there was silence. The next thing I know, we’ve all received personal cheques of £300 from his own bank account, first class in the post – with a short explanation that “circumstances have changed”. His expedient inability to do maths probably hadn’t.

For us, this was a crisis averted. For thousands of York students, however, they lack the legal knowledge to fight back – leaving them vulnerable to chancer landlords. I know for a fact that my old landlord still does business with student letting agency APYork (avoid at all costs), who refused to take ownership of his behaviour. Legally, they don’t have to: it’s all on the landlord if the agency doesn’t manage the property.

These are the facts York students need to know. More importantly, we need to know which landlords are reliable and who to avoid. The annual YUSU Housing Fair, while a step in the right direction, fails to go the distance: students need ongoing support for when issues arise throughout their tenancy. Not enough landlords are signed up to YorProperty; voluntary accreditation remains far from the mainstream.

I’m hoping that the idea of a landlord rating system resurfaces and gets implemented soon. One simple Google search of APYork brings up a whole host of their derogatory responses to reviews of the agency. Why not create a safer space – an intranet, even – for students to exchange their stories? There’s so much this union can do to avoid students getting ripped off. We have the scope: now it’s time for more ambition.

In the meantime, with two new colleges on the way, it would be nice if the University was to build more than just the usual Premium accommodation. Though I won’t hold my breath.

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