Features | Are letting agents and landlords exploiting students?
Following a recent LS investigation into a landlord who wasn’t who he said he was, we investigate how much letting agents know about the properties they advertise and what students need to be wary of.
In Leeds approximately 27,000 students move into privately owned properties every year, scouring letting agents all over the city to find the best value accommodation. In a survey run by LUU, the majority of students admitted they paid over £90 a week in rent, yet, even at this price, problems are still being reported with the quality of the accommodation offered.
By law, landlords letting houses for five or more people are required to have a Housing in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) licence, which requires the property to be safe enough to live in. It is once they obtain this that estate agents can start advertising their accommodation. Some estate agents then visit the property and double check that it is suitable for students to live in; however this is often only done when the property is first taken on and if the house or flat then deteriorates over years, students can end up living in unsuitable accommodation.
Charlotte Street, a former Leeds University student, found out first hand the difficulties in moving into a house that Environmental Health claimed was “unfit to live in”. On moving into her house last August she found the house had not been cleaned, had extensive mould on the walls and a door hanging off the latches. “It wasn’t liveable at all”, Charlotte claimed. On visiting the estate agent who was managing the house she was repeatedly told that someone from the office would check the problems highlighted, which was not done until weeks following her first complaint, forcing her to stay in a hotel, paying for it out of her own money.
Following this lengthy process, Charlotte visited the landlord’s office and demanded a full refund of the deposit and admin fee, which were finally granted after the estate agent was threatened with legal action. Charlotte stated that, in the end, “They admitted they had breached the contract”, but believes that “if our parents hadn’t got involved, they would have completely taken advantage of us.”
It is problems such as this which lead many to question whether the letting agents in Leeds are doing enough to aid students in finding suitable properties. There have been problems reported in both properties managed by letting agents and those managed by private landlords. Many estate agents offer a management service to property owners by charging them an extra fee of 5 per cent and a percentage of the maintenance.
However, CityRed, a leading estate agent for student lets, claim that a rising number of rental accommodation is being privately maintained due to landlords not wanting to pay the extra fee for outside management, making it even more important to ask to meet and find out the name of the landlord before signing anything. LS recently reported on a sex offender who was acting in his son’s name to rent out a property to students and who was only discovered after the students searched for his name and found his offences online. These students were then forced to pay £1,500 to be released from the original contract in order for them to move into a more suitable accommodation. On this issue, Unipol, who the students used as a letting agent, stated how the landlord was not Unipol accredited and that it is only “if [students] rent with an accredited landlord [that] there is a level of accountability”.
Although this is a rare case and not one that most students will encounter, it does raise questions about whether UniPol should have properties on its website that it does not accredit and whether letting agents take enough responsibility for what they offer students. An issue that more students will be likely to encounter is with the property itself and the landlord or letting agent’s failure to respond.
However, if the property is being managed by a private landlord or by the estate agent, there are some who manage properties and offer support after the signing of the rental agreement. CityRed, when asked about the rental properties that they did not manage but advertised, stated that “if students were being ignored, and there was an issue, such as a bro- ken fridge, [we] would take it upon [ourselves] to resolve the problem and then that issue would be then between [the student] and the landlord”.
Not all letting agents offer such services once the contract has been signed between the landlord and the residents so it is important to check before signing. The key thing is to not be rushed into signing a contract. There are plenty of houses available, so make sure to take some time, checking that the property is in a good condition and that the person managing the property is not just looking to exploit students.