Student Living Officer, Stephen Le Fanu, discusses the Don't Rent Yet campaign and the role students can play in changing the private rental sector.
The threat of a deposit being withheld for cleaning that hadn’t been done when you moved in. Mould and damp. Repair promises left unfulfilled. A landlord coming and going as they please. Sound familiar?
Most of us will have heard stories involving poor quality housing, hidden fees and unscrupulous landlords, as they are unfortunately far too commonplace in student housing. A favourite story of mine Involves a landlord who had accidentally left her 'find your friends' app on her phone switched on, and as a result could be observed spying on her new tenants from her car. In my work at the Students' Union this year I have heard consistently about heavily deductions from deposits, by both letting agents and private halls.
Now I don't want to tar all letting agents and landlords with the same brush - certainly Bristol SU lettings should be praised for standing against the crowd, by offering advice and good standards as part of their package, with no agency fees! But there is, otherwise, a clear lack of accountability in the private rental sector. In many cases private housing providers will move in to take advantage of the growing demand for housing with expensive and unsuitable housing. This can exclude poorer students from accessing education, or exacerbate stress and mental health issues by forcing some students into working long hours to meet the demands of extortionate rents. It was for this reason that I, and other student union representatives, refused to award any of the housing providers put forward in Property Week’s Student Accommodation Awards with the 'student experience' award. Certainly it seems there is no cause for celebration, when students are faced with ever in-affordable rents.
Photo Credit: Arts SU
Fixing this broken system involves education on what we are entitled to as tenants and awareness of our rights. Over the next week as part of our Don’t Rent Yet campaign, we’ll be seeking to do just that. We will be on campus to talk to you, and putting on drop-in sessions and talks for students moving into private housing (link to events). An educated group of tenants can demand what we deserve and this way we will change the culture around letting.
Another way to change the practice of unscrupulous letting agents and landlords is to apply some public pressure. The community union ACORN has done great work in Bristol standing up for tenants rights - organising actions outside lettings agents, educating potential tenants and stopping evictions. They have firmly put tenant's right's on the city's agenda, with Bristol city council now making landlord licensing mandatory in some areas. I really believe that in a few years time, as local unions continue to pop up around the country, it will also be on parliament's agenda.
But what can we do now?
We have set up a student group to campaign for fair and affordable housing. If you have ever been screwed over, or want to be part of the change in the city, come along to hear how to get involved at our event on Thursday evening: Don’t Rent Yet - Be Part of the Solution!