Renting Right: An essential guide for tenants
A step by step guide on how not to get screwed over by your landlord while renting as a student – you’re gonna need it
Picture a Scottish student flat – single glazed windows, mouldy bathrooms and mismatched carpets in every room, right? Moving into rented accommodation as a student can be daunting. However, you can make it easier. Awareness of your rights and options is a must. When I first moved to Edinburgh as a student, I learned some of these rights the hard way (read: routinely exploited as a tenant). Following graduation and a particularly testing deposit withdrawal, I joined Living Rent, Scotland’s national tenant’s union, and have now found the power of collective solidarity as well as knowing my rights.
Looking for a property
This can be a difficult task when first starting out. In Scotland a new form of tenancy was introduced in 2017, won by private tenants campaigning for greater security, which provides tenants with more flexible leases and other protections. If you want to live with two or more people you are not related to or in a relationship with, you will need to find a property with a ‘houses in multiple occupation’ (HMO) license.
All landlords in Scotland must be registered – you can (and should) look them up on the Landlord Register. Unfortunately, plenty will exploit the rush for housing and advertise fake opportunities. As such, never hand over money without you or someone you trust viewing a property. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Some letting agents might try to charge you extra fees for references or a holding deposit. In Scotland, extra fees are all illegal; letting agents can only charge you for a deposit. If you have already paid these fees, you can reclaim them via a tribunal for up to 5 years after moving out. Your landlord should put your deposit into a protected deposit scheme – if they fail to do so, you will be entitled to compensation.
When you move in, make sure to document the condition by taking photos and noting any repairs needed. Check this against the written inventory from your letting agent and notify them of any discrepancies. You can use the photos and documentation when you move out to dispute any claims they’ve made on your deposit to give yourself the best chance of getting the full amount returned to you.
Let’s say the family of mice or the omnipresent damp get too much – you’re moving out. Clean the property thoroughly (some letting agencies recommend using a professional cleaning service, but it’s up to you and your scrubbing skills). Before leaving, be sure to report any repairs so they can be fixed now, meaning you don’t have to shoulder the cost. Your landlord will release your deposit through the deposit scheme and let you know if they want to keep any of the deposit for damage. You can dispute these through the deposit scheme or with the landlord directly. If you are having real difficulties with this, Living Rent is a good place to turn for help.
When you move in, your landlord should provide you with an emergency number to ring for repairs – keep this safe for any emergencies. Your landlord is obligated to ensure your home is of a suitable standard; if they do not see to repairs within a certain timeframe you may be due compensation – especially for heating or water issues. Recently, a member of Living Rent won almost £4,000 in compensation after having no heating and hot water for a year.
As an alternative to private rentals, housing co-operatives offer a different model. They’re run by members and offer more affordable rent and, in all honesty, are pretty cool. There are several across Scotland, with the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-op as the UK’s largest student housing cooperative and one on its way in Glasgow.
It’s not all bleak (I swear): the rental system in Scotland isn’t perfect but there’s still hope to be had and battles to be won. It can sometimes feel like landlords have all the power and tenants are at their whims – however tenants unions offer us an alternative. Living Rent fights for a fairer, safer and more affordable system for everyone. We organise on a neighbourhood level with branches across Scotland campaigning around local and national issues. We operate similarly to a trade union made up of dues-paying members. Joining a tenant’s union is also a great way to meet your community, particularly if you’re a student feeling disconnected from your local area. When our members have an issue, we work together to fight for better treatment. There is power in a union and together we can achieve so much.
Renting while at university (or, simply renting in general) has a bad reputation. Often, it’s deserved. Landlords can take advantage of the naivety of those new to renting but equipped with the facts, a little rage, and plenty of confidence, you can take on the housing market and work with others to redress the power imbalance.