By Joel Renouf.
A University of Sussex student has approached The Badger with a plea that students learn their legal rights when renting. The student, who must remain anonymous for legal reasons, is keen to convey his personal experience of renting through a private landlord. He will be referred to as “Lee” from this point onwards.
International students are students attending a UK university who are from the United Kingdom or the EU; they are required to pay double the tuition fees of home students and do not receive loans from the government. On top of this they often must learn the new language and customs of a country they have never lived in before this can make them vulnerable to exploitation by predatory companies.
International students choose to study in the UK for many reasons; better student facilities, better healthcare and more industry opportunities, to name a few – students from China and India are the most likely to come to the UK to study, with students from the USA coming in at a close third – according to statistics from the UKCISA (United Kingdom Council for International Student Affairs).
Lee alleged that he and his housemates were treated unfairly by their landlord because they are international students; being forced to pay almost £4000 towards their deposit – 3x more than their UK student counterparts.
Speaking about his experiences renting in the private sector, Lee told The Badger that policies surrounding international student tenants are “really unfair”, going on to say that:
“As an international student living in Brighton for three years I faced a lot of issues finding a house. If you don’t have a UK based guarantor many landlords ask for 12 months in advance rent payments”. He went on to describe his experience, claiming that: “Many landlords wouldn’t even consider letting international students in their properties. But if they do let to you […] they will try to take advantage of you.”
Between 2017/2018, one fifth of all the students in the UK were from a non-UK country and it is becoming increasingly clear that many landlords understand how potentially lucrative letting, not only to students in general but, to international students can be.
Lee also alleged that the landlord asked for an extortionate amount of money to be returned at the end of his tenancy for “damages” which he claimed were “things we didn’t break and didn’t even see at the beginning or during our tenancy.”
He also claimed that the landlord was able to demand this money because of inconsistencies in the inventory report conducted at the beginning of the tenancy; “At the beginning of our tenancy the inventory company inspected the house briefly, took a few pictures of the gas and water meter and left stating that the house was in perfect condition.”
Feeling as though the inventory clerk was not thorough enough, Lee and his housemates took pictures of any damages they themselves found in the house. They attempted to contact the landlord with the additional information to ask that he sign off on the inventory report, however the landlord was out of the country and not replying to his emails, further stymying their efforts to get what they saw as a fair inventory assessment. Eventually Lee and his housemates managed to secure a verbal agreement on the amended report. However due to the unofficial nature of the agreement; the fact that the contract was not in writing and only based on the word of the landlord it left them vulnerable to esculated charges at the end of their tenancy.
The landlord sent the inventory company to conduct a check-out survey of the house however, it was a completely different company to the one sent at the beginning of the tenancy. Lee was shocked at the change which they had no advance warning of, “The fact that the initial inventory company changed in comparison to the one at the end of the tenancy is very peculiar”.
The new inventory company attributed to their tenancy the damages already present when they moved in and which Lee and his housemates had already mentioned to the landlord. Lee and his housemate’s received a bill from their landlord for £4104 in damages.
Lee described how he challenged his landlord, saying that: “he should have given us a proper photographic inventory at the beginning of the tenancy. These charges are unfair and, in our opinion, not valid […] he cannot show pictures of the house at the beginning of the tenancy…” Lee went on to tell The Badger that it he felt they as tenants were being unfairly taken advantage of “The events regarding the [change of] inspection companies was the most obvious [indication] that we were being taken advantage of; [firstly] due to us being international students and [secondly] because this was our first time renting a property and he was aware of that.” Lee added that, “we truly feel that we have been deceived.”
After logging a dispute with the agency, Lee was sent a series of accusatory and threatening emails – which according to Lee, were on the verge of “blackmail” – from the landlord which stated that they were willing to reduce the total deposit deductions by £1600 – from just over £4000 to £2500 – an amount which Lee and his housemates still believed was unfair. The landlord went on to write that: “We are not prepared to reduce this amount or negotiate any further and this offer will be withdrawn if the dispute process is followed and we will be claiming for the full amount of damages that you caused to our property […] We will not communicate any further on this matter with you, but await your response!”
The landlord cited evidence gained in the most recent inventory, which featured photographs taken by of documents on Lee’s notice board – which were in regards to an entirely separate, university dispute – and therefore held no relevance to Lee’s current tenancy. Lee argues that the documents were his private property, and the landlord had no right to take pictures of them. Furthermore he explained that the allegations displayed on the documents were “over two years old” and were resolved with no action taken.
In an email sent to The Badger Lee told that his intentions are not to“help with my personal issues with [the landlord] , but to prevent this from happening to other students […] we proceeded with arbitration, but many other tenants wouldn’t.”
Lee’s story is not an uncommon one, according to the Ombudsman Services: “of the 1.7million students experiencing problems, accommodation related issues top the list with 60% of students encountering a housing-related complaint from their landlords”.
If you feel as though you’re being treated unfairly or being taken advantage of by your landlord you can contact your local Citizens Advice Bureaux as well as Unipol, both of which are highly experienced in helping students – both national and international – with tenancy issues and other issues such as housing or finance. Savethestudent.com is also another good place for students to look for advice regarding all aspects of uni life as well as the University of Sussex Student Support Unit (SSU) which can be found on campus or on 01273 877466.