Students are desperate for houses; desperate to be with the people they want; desperate to get a house in the right location; and desperate to find a house that isn’t falling to pieces. Although, of course, landlords want to find tenants for their houses, once the contract has been signed, they no longer need to be as eager to please as they once were.
Arriving to find leaking floors, broken hobs, and mould are examples of issues that students will have faced when they moved in this September. It is only once we move into our houses that we discover what it is really like. This is not just a wordy inventory list of everything that is wrong with my house—I do love my house. But when these issues go ignored it makes me think of the bigger picture: the fact that most of the time we have no idea of the real state of the house until it’s too late, and how we have no idea of how willing to help the landlord will be once he is no longer needed to do so.
Just like people—as landlords are—there are good and bad ones. Some will use the two months half rent paid over July and August to bring the house back to a condition you would expect. They will also take note of any issues you may have once you have moved in and get them resolved as soon as possible. However, the issue is that there is no way of knowing whether this will be your landlord until the contract has been signed and you’re living there.
Once there, and you begin realise that it seems unlikely that anyone has set foot in the house all Summer, it dawns on you that, without something truly awful happening to the house, there isn’t much you could do to terminate your contract. Even if there are valid reasons, the upheaval it takes to move out and find a new house in the middle of the year would put most people off even attempting it. Landlords have us under the cosh.
But of course, situations like this pop up frequently in our lives. We are forced to commit to something without much opportunity to turn back on our decision: buying a coffee, or renting an AirBnB or an Uber are such commitments you make where you can’t get a refund on the service—at least, without a great deal of hassle.
But these aspects of our daily spending remain at a reasonably high standard. Though there are many problems with Uber, the driver doesn’t treat you with contempt like some other taxi drivers might—demanding cash before you leave and shouting his demands along the way. An Uber driver will try to encourage conversation and maybe even a smile to make the journey that bit more pleasant. They may not want you back, but they want people back. To get people back they need you to enjoy your ride so you leave a positive review for all to see.
Although a review system has its flaws, it seems to work well for systems like this—systems where the customer is in need of a service either way, but to whom he or she chooses to give the job to is up to them. Using a public reviewing system, the service is improved to get you, or anyone else, back again.
After a quick Google search, I found rateyourlandlord.org.uk, a website that seems to be exactly what we need. However, a reviewing system such as this can only be effective when enough people are on board. At the moment, this site is only active for a small selection of universities. However, if this became as widely used as TripAdvisor, students would be in less of a predicament.
There is the obvious issue that people could be awfully ruthless with their ratings, threatening to drop a star if unreasonable demands aren’t met. Yes, this is a potential issue but one that may be resolved with a similar review system to Uber, in which the driver also has the opportunity to review the passenger. In this case, the Landlord could also review the tenants. It may appear to be like a potentially slippery slope, perhaps leading to a constant paranoia over whether one foot out of line will lose a star on their review; a landlord never to let again and a student never to rent again.
But, in reality, that seems to happen in circumstances like these is that the review is never too prominent in the minds of either party. Instead, it hangs silently in the background, a subtle reminder that neither party is helpless if all goes pear shaped.
Of course there may be better ways of maintaining standards in student homes. If so, I’d like to see them in action. But with the current state of things, more needs to be done. I don’t believe that all students should be living in palaces. I enjoy the shoddy furnishings, it’s homely. The issue lies with the fact that whatever you find when you first open your door in September is what you’re stuck with.