Does your landlord care about you?
Students speak up on the reality of student living amidst the current housing crisis.
By Eilidh McCartney
When I moved into my new flat five weeks ago, the oven didn’t work, the kitchen window was jammed shut and my energy meter was already in debt - but I had paid a deposit and a month’s rent so there was no going back now.
I was directed to the ‘Request a Repair’ form on my letting agency’s website. They ensured me once I filled out the form it would be no problem to get everything sorted. In the days that followed, my hob stopped working properly, the microwave had an electrical fault and the shower bracket fell out of the wall. Five weeks later and still nothing has been done. I reached out to my fellow students, wondering if my experience was unique.
But the harsh reality was that it isn’t, in fact, my flat could be considered quite pleasant in comparison to some of the answers I got back.
One student at the University of Aberdeen told me their flat began to grow mould no matter what they did. The mould spread to their wardrobe and their belongings, and they had to throw out some of their clothes. No matter how bad the mould got the landlord did nothing about it and eventually the ceiling fell in. The tenant had to take their landlord to court to get them to fix it.
Our polls found that 74% of students have problems with mould or have had in the past. Additionally, 45% of students believe that their landlord doesn’t take repairs seriously. The Repairing Standard (Housing (Scotland) Act 2006) requires that “any fixtures, fittings and appliances provided by the landlord under the tenancy are in a reasonable state of repair and in proper working order”, but this rule doesn’t seem to have much of a real-world effect when landlords get away with the bare minimum time and time again. Another student told the Gaudie that her landlord claimed the mould she experienced was due to the age of the building and therefore there was “nothing they could do”. On moving out this student got her flat professionally cleaned but her landlord refused to return the deposit due to ‘dampness’, despite earlier claims that the mould was due to the age of the building.
Students are in the unique position where flats almost exclusively become available during the summer and moving during off peak times is difficult. If you don’t like it, you can’t simply leave as you risk having to live much further away from the university, in a flat where the landlord is just as non-responsive or the mould is just as bad.
Upwards of 70% of students we polled feel that their landlord does not care about them as a tenant, which should seemingly be the bare minimum. Landlords do not need to be our best friends, but their job is to maintain their properties, otherwise they are simply profiting from making their tenants lives as difficult as possible. A landlord should see their tenant as a person at bare minimum - but even that seems to be too big an ask.
The stories students told the Gaudie illustrate this perfectly.
“Coming back from holiday, I arrived at my flat and was about to start a night shift when I walked through to the kitchen and felt my socks become wet. Looking at the light switch on the wall I saw masses of water streaming out. Quickly turning off my electricity at the fuse box, I moved all of my important electronics and documents out of my flat. Coming back the next day the whole flat was soaked from my bedroom to the bathroom.
During this time, I wasn't offered emergency accommodation via my landlord, and I was effectively homeless for 3 weeks, couch surfing, waiting to get a spot in student accommodation. There was little to no communication as to when the flat would be fixed, not until I persistently contacted them asking when things would be ready. When I went back to the flat, whilst much of the mould and damp had been sorted by new floors, walls and insulation, all the old doors, vents, curtains and mirrors were being used. Mould was still present on the window caulk seals, and the in-building storage still had a collapsed roof.”
A student in Edinburgh told us that their toilet was broken for 4 months because the landlord “kept forgetting to fix it”. Additionally, their landlord asked them to move out during August so that the property could be rented out during the Fringe Festival season. But she was ‘lucky’ right? She managed to find a flat amidst the Edinburgh flat crisis?
It is these violations of a person’s home that demonstrate how far removed from reality landlords seem to be, and due to the housing shortages - they get away with it. Simply because you own a property, does not mean it is not someone else’s home. Someone’s home should not be an opportunity for profit. We all deserve our homes to be safe, and warm, and free of mould. This is not a big ask. If a landlord cannot meet this basic standard - it is time to sell.
So what can you do about it if your landlord isn’t taking their duties seriously?
Ensure you document everything. Take photos of mould and damages that they refuse to fix. Have records of your text messages, emails or letters. Ask for any agreements in writing. Make sure you have read your lease and you have a copy of it at hand. Know your rights as a tenant. And if necessary, remember that it is possible (and it is your right) to take legal action - Shelter Scotland offers some great resources on this. To have a home is a human right.
Images provided by University of Aberdeen students showcasing the living conditions of their flats.