Landlords vs. Agencies: the student housing dilemma
RESULTS ARE IN: STUDENTS REVEAL THEIR HORROR STORIES IN HOUSING SURVEY
The landscape of accommodation hunting at Sussex University has been transformed after Sussex Student Lettings recorded a dramatic increase in the number of students wishing to rent properties with them.
Reports from the past month show that over 300 students have already signed up to receive assistance from the Students’ Union-run agency, a sharp increase from just 80 students throughout the same period last year.
Even though the current figure has eclipsed the last academic years’ total number by a factor of more than three, the figure is likely to experience a further herculean rise as there are still three months before the agency gets down to the dirty business of finding suitable houses for students.
Jennifer Smith, Sussex Student Lettings manager, stated that the “potential number of students looking for accommodation through our agency is unknown, but I would anticipate hundreds more as the academic year continues”.
The newfound appeal of the letting agency has been considered by some to be due primarily to the fact that there are no fees or administrative charges awaiting hopeful students, a severe contrast to many other letting agents in Brighton who charge fees of up to £250 for an identical service.
A victim of these exorbitant fees was a third year politics student who explains that she “had to pay a crazy amount for both years – this year I think it was £135, and in second year I think it was £160, but this will always be the downside with renting from a lettings agency”.
The rollercoaster ride of finding the perfect match in the Brighton housing market hasn’t always been a comfortable one for second and third year students. As a sixteenth century bard once wrote, “the course of true comfort never did run smooth”.
The ‘Rate Your Landlord survey’, which is compiled every year by the Students’ Union, reads as an exposé on the catalogue of issues that unfold before students who choose to independently search and select landlords or letting agencies un-associated with the University.
Private letting agencies performed particularly poorly in the survey, almost constantly outscored by private landlords, who in most (but certainly not all) cases emerged relatively unscathed after student feedback.
49.6 per cent of students rated their landlord as “very good” in terms of politeness, in comparison to only 19.2 per cent of students who rated their letting agency as “very good”. Similar patterns followed suit in the categories of value for money (24.6 per cent to 8.8 per cent) and quality of property (27.3 per cent to 10.3 per cent).
The perception that students find landlords more agreeable than letting agencies was corroborated by Indi Hicks, Welfare Officer at the Students’ Union, who observed that “unfortunately on the whole students have reported a negative experience of renting through letting agents in the private sector. Interestingly however, those students who rented directly with a private landlord tended to have a more positive experience”.
A pressing concern was reported by a large number of students who found that properties with private landlords were largely under par in the furnishing and sanitation of accommodation.
A staggering 41.5 per cent of residents said that their accommodation has “extensive mould”, with their distress amalgamated further as the survey showed that 49 per cent of people who registered a complaint claimed that the landlord or letting agency in charge of maintaining the property did not resolve the issue.
In some cases, students were on the receiving end of violence or threats by their landlord for complaining. Such was the situation of a cognitive neuroscience masters student who is signed to the a major Brighton letting agency, who he describes as “completely incompetent” and who “always pass responsibility onto other people when a complaint is made”.
He continued: “We have an ex-professional fighter as a landlord who claimed he was going to ‘beat some sense’ into us after a complaint was made about mould on the walls”.
Another student who endured similarly difficult experiences with housing was a third year politics student who rented accommodation managed by another large letting firm (which is aptly ranked 8th out of 9 in the ‘Rate Your Landlord’ survey with -8 points).
She thought the accommodation to be unacceptably lower than her expectations. The woman commented “our living room was infested with slugs, our heating didn’t work, two out of three showers were broken for the majority of the year, and the fire alarm box constantly bleeped and woke me up in the early hours of the morning”.
It was also her regret that she didn’t consult the ‘Rate Your Landlord’ survey, which may have swayed her judgement away from her chosen property. “I wish I had read it before making my choice in second year. Every time I mention G4Lets now, I hear horror stories” she recalled.
Indi Hicks emphasises the importance of the ‘Rate Your Landlord’ survey for students to come to an informed decision regarding letting agencies and landlords. She explained: “the report works to empower students to make informed choices when looking for housing in the private rented sector. The report also provides a solid base for driving up living standards for students renting locally”.
Provisions are expected to be implemented in the near future to certify that rogue landlords and letting agencies are blacklisted from dealing through Sussex Student Lettings, keeping to their commitment to provide students with the best services.
As part of a scheme to attract proficient landlords, the agency offers a £50 rewards for anyone who recommends their landlord, of which two have been handed out already, providing they pass standard inspections.
Jennifer Smith asserted: “If we discovered that one of our landlords was a rogue landlord, we would simply cease to do any further business with them. We only want to do business with honest and decent landlords”. This view was reiterated by Indi Hicks who stated that, unlike other letting agencies, she was certain that Sussex Student Lettings would fully implement the report’s recommendations.