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Home, but not dry

So, you’ve just moved in to a student house for the first time and, well, its not completely what you were expecting was it? That leak in the ceiling that the landlord just promised would be fixed is still pitter-pattering water onto the floor. To top this the excitement and newfound sense of independence you felt after moving out of halls quickly dissipates on seeing impressive amounts of mould colonising the wall. This neatly complements the slug trails intricately secreted all over the wooden floorboards. You instantly get on the phone to your new landlord, who tells you after much wrangling that he’ll “Send someone round later” to fix the problems. As the landlord hangs up the phone he cackles demonically, crying: “They’re only students, I don’t need to care about their living conditions.”

Thankfully, students experiencing this ‘Young Ones’-style accommodation and these unscrupulous landlords are gradually becoming a thing of the past. This is due in part to recent government legislation, such as the tenancy deposit protection scheme, as well as students becoming increasingly more demanding about the kinds of accommodation they are willing to pay for.

According to a leading UK student accommodation website, www.accommodationforstudents.com, the average weekly rent for Manchester students is now £60.12, making our city one of the most inexpensive areas of the country for students to live.

Time was, many Mancunian landlords and letting agencies could rely on healthy demand for their accommodation and therefore spending time and resources on maintaining properties was not always seen as a priority. Over the past ten years things have improved considerably, with a major innovation being the tenancy deposit schemes touched on earlier.

Protection

From April 2007 landlords who let property on an assured shorthold tenancy have been obliged to protect their tenants deposits with one of three approved schemes, the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), MyDeposits or the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS). Don’t let this bewildering collection of acronyms throw you off, all of this means that it is easier for you as the tenant to have more confidence that your precious cash is safe from devious landlords.

While these schemes are designed to protect tenants’ deposits, one of the most frequent issues that students face with their landlords or the agency that they rent with is that they keep much of their money without good reason. Many students have taken their former landlords to court when they felt they were being unjustly treated. According to a recent YouGov poll 20% of tenants are still not aware of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, introduced three years ago. This figure means that many students looking to rent privately are still potentially at risk if they are not renting through known, reputable agencies or landlords.

Rogue operators

Last week the housing charity Shelter revealed that almost one million people have been the victims of scams involving a private tenancy or landlord in the last three years. While the government legislation has helped protect new tenants and particularly students there is still more that needs to be done. The minority of so-called ‘rogue operators’ are making it increasingly difficult for new students to be sure they are dealing with one of the majority of good providers.

The Shelter study has identified a number of common scams used by rogue landlords to cheat vulnerable students out of their money. The first is known as the ‘Let and Run’ scam, whereby con artists have broken into empty properties and then rent them out as their own. This has resulted in unsuspecting tenants handing over large sums of money as a deposit and rent, after which time the ‘landlord’ simply disappears.

Another trick employed by these crooks is to ask for money to be wired as a sign of good faith that a tenant is committed to letting a property. The landlord will ask that funds are wired to the tenant’s friend or relative to demonstrate that they can afford the property. They ask for proof of receipt and then withdraw the funds using the transfer details. More simplistic tactics used by some malevolent landlords include charging tenants without their knowledge for hidden costs such as fees for a tenancy inspection, which the owner then ‘forgets’ to inform tenants about. This tactic has, in the past, put people in arrears.

Tenants’ experiences

In preparation for this feature I surveyed students for their experiences with private rented accommodation, both positive and negative. One name which came up fairly often was the company Manchester Rent a Home.

One student who used to rent with Manchester Rent a Home was disappointed both with their service, and the amount their deposit was deducted. The student is currently engaged in legal proceedings with MRaH in order to recover their deposit, so cannot be named. Here, they describe their experience renting with both with a private landlord and then with renting with a larger company:

“With our first house, we looked up our prospective landlady with Manchester Student Homes to ask she was a licensed landlord and not just someone who wanted to steal our money. They checked up on her and it was all fine.

After this we dealt directly with her, it was really easy to give rent to her. She gave us her phone number so we could call her if anything happened. We texted her after someone tried to break into to our back door, which was wooden, saying that we weren’t happy. Within two weeks she put in a big triple Yale lock PVC door and everything was fine.”
“The next year there were more of us, we cleaned our house and got our deposits straight back. Then, with glowing references from our landlord and full deposits in our pocket, we moved into our MRaH house.

When we arrived we found that the inventory of furniture was many years out of date, it said things like ‘brand new leather sofa’ and when we looked it was a battered old PVC couch. We insisted that they updated the list but after this was done they wouldn’t give us a copy of the inventory saying it was not ‘common practice’.

From then on they were just a pain. For example, they brought in a lot of people for viewings without telling us, yet claimed they had. They’d just unlock your room and walk on in; one day I was ill in bed and the woman leading the viewers around left them in my room asking me questions about what it was like living there and how to deal with bills and everything. It was so inappropriate.

We wanted to be part of our local community and we saw our elderly neighbour trying to clear his garden of weeds coming from our overgrown front lawn.  We apologised to him and asked MRaH to trim our garden but they refused, saying it wasn’t their responsibility. They then proceeded to forbid us from borrowing a lawnmower to do it ourselves telling us that it would be a breach of our contract. Another time there was a horrible stench of sewage coming from the basement. We told the company so that it could be dealt with before a further problem arose. Instead of thanking us they berated us saying that we weren’t allowed to go into the basement.”

Another student, similarly engaged in legal action with letting company MCR Students, told The Mancunion, “The building that was supposed to be ready for students to move in was just unsafe, wires hanging from ceilings, cracked floors etc. It angers me how these companies bully students and get away with it – the words this particular area manager used were “If students complain and don’t pay rent, we’ll pick them off one by one.”  As The Mancunion went to press Manchester Rent a Home refused to comment, while MCR Students were not available for a reaction.

While private letting can potentially be risky, by taking a number of simple precautions you can make your lettings experience one to remember for the right reasons.

Tags: Manchester Rent A Home, MCR Students, tenancy, Tenancy Deposit Scheme

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Nick Renaud-Komiya

Former Editor-in-Chief of The Mancunion (2011-2012). Graduated in July 2011 with a BA in History & Social Sciences.
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