Editorial Letter: Welcome Back, And Some Tips for Housing Season

Hey readers,

Hope you’re all good and congrats on having survived January exam season, especially if it was your first time. I always hated it when you’d leave the house super early in the morning before the sun came up and then you leave the library long after it has gone down. Glad I’ve graduated now and those days are (fingers crossed) far behind me.

The Christmas holidays have been lively to say the least from escalating tensions with Iran to Megxit. I spent most of it either reading or falling asleep by the fire. It was extremely stressful as you can tell. The Gryphon, or as it was formerly known Leeds Student didn’t escape controversy either. In an article on Lisa Nandy’s scandalous (it wasn’t really) cartoon in Newcastle’s The Courier, it was also revealed that former Labour Leadership candidate Jess Phillips was the author of a “Hot or Not” column in 2002. Offering her thoughts, Phillips (then-Trainor) celebrated the break-up of Steps, slated Red Bull, and praised Kylie Minogue’s bottom. Top quality political analysis from the Daily Mail for sure on this one.

Now we’re one week into semester 2 and we’ve got some fabulous new issues of The Gryphon and In The Middle – now with a new design. If you didn’t get involved last semester, there’s no stopping you from joining us this time around! New year, new society and all that jazz. You might think no one would want to read what you’ve written at this point but we all have to start from somewhere. 

If you are an international student needing to develop your English writing skills, you think journalism could be cool or you need something to distract you from that essay, then The Gryphon would be a great place to do that. There’s meetings for sections every week and content is posted online in all our Facebook groups! Also any illustrators, photographers, poets or cartoonists who want to get involved – just email me for more info!

Onto more juicy stuff and this year’s house-hunting season. Every year there’s a race in Hyde Park and Headingley to snap up all the available houses, and letting agents don’t help by making it seem that all the houses will be gone come Christmas. This is definitely not true as I signed a house for a final year literally at the end of June.

You all hear the stories. Mould so bad that you have your own mushroom farm growing on your windowsill. Smashed windows that don’t get fixed for months. A broken back door that isn’t fixed for weeks. If there’s one thing students love, it’s housing horror stories and sadly too many of them are true.

My house in my final year was situated above a takeaway and as a result, we had a regular rota of rats. By the end of the year, I think we were onto Remy 4 or 5. We also had a continuous gust that would blow through the flat and when it was windy, the flat used to shake. This didn’t exactly fill us with confidence about the structural integrity of the building.

We also had no idea who our landlord was – two different men would turn up at the property claiming to be the landlord. The agency was also unreachable at the weekends despite claiming to have a weekend telephone number. This was really helpful one time when water started coming through the ceiling of my housemate’s room on a Saturday night.

They also forgot to do an inspection until after we had moved in. The first time they visited they realized that the lack of bannisters on the stairs was a massive health-and-safety risk.

The sad thing is letting agents know they can screw students around. Many students are first-time renters and therefore are unlikely to know their rights as tenants and fight back. Is this because they know students believe there’s little they can do about it?

However it’s not just doom and gloom. There’s several things you can do. If something doesn’t feel right, you can fight back and speaking to the Union should be your first port of call before doing so. I know it might not seem like they do much but they have a great Advice team to help with all this kind of stuff. You can also run your contract by them at the Advice office. They will be able to make sure there is nothing in there that shouldn’t be there. 

If something is not being done in the property and the problem is making the property unsafe – for instance, a leaky pipe in the ceiling can lead to mould and other health issues – go speak to an adviser at LUU. If you realize your deposit is not protected or you’re unsure it is, get advice as soon as possible. Shelter also has information on all the different deposit protection schemes. 

If you feel the deposit for a property is too high too, you can negotiate it down if you haven’t signed yet. At the end of the day, they want you to sign so the ball is your area of the court until then.

You can read up on the law. Know your rights and get in touch with charities like ACORN if you’re not sure. Resources like Rate Your Landlord can also be helpful too. 

We are also here. The Gryphon can publish anything it likes as long as the evidence you have is sound and the case you have is strong. So if you’re having any issues with housing and want to apply some public pressure, do not hesitate to email me.

We have done reporting on these issues in the past. Our reporting on the issue way back in the 2007 was instrumental to the investigation of one notorious landlord.

To end on a more positive note, I’ll finish off with the biggest tip I have. Take photos of your house as soon as you move in – before you’ve even moved any stuff in if you can. Any mark on the wall, anywhere that’s not clean whether that’s corners, cupboards or showers, anything that’s chipped, missing, faulty or broken. 

Also make sure there is a date for these photos. This is the proof you have if your landlord then tries to knock unnecessary things off your deposit. Also do the same when you leave as well. You can’t claim the house was unclean when you moved in or you left it clean when you moved out unless you have proof. If possible, do an inventory too so you have evidence of what was and wasn’t in the property when you moved in. 

It might seem a pain but if you get your money back at the end of the year, it’s worth the effort. Basically make sure you’re well armed. 

Ed Barnes