The controversial introduction in 2011 of the HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) exclusion zone, which bars landlords in the town centre from accepting tenants from three or more different families, coupled with a significant increase in university enrolment over the past few years, has led to a dire shortage of affordable private accommodation in St Andrews. As it stands, finding or paying for housing is thought to be a substantial problem for ten to fifteen per cent of the University-based population, according to a report by the University Centre for Housing Research.
The number of second, third and fourth year students returning to halls of residence as a result of increased competition for private sector rentals has caused a shortage of university-managed accommodation as well. As a result, some sixty-two incoming undergraduates were moved to postgraduate accommodation, with dozens more encamped in four or five person dorms arranged ad hoc in the common room of St Regulus Hall and the senior study room of University Hall. This has precipitated claims of an ‘accommodation crisis’ and calls for the university and Fife council to take action to ensure that the supply of affordable housing remains sufficient to meet the demands of a growing student population.
The Saint sent money editor Danielle Golds to interview a representative from Eve Brown Property Services to gain a new perspective on housing issues.
With rates on many properties in the centre of town exceeding £800 per month, students are increasingly anxious about the affordability of rentals in St Andrews. Students concerned about rates are recommended in their search for private housing to ‘look beyond Market Street and North Street’ to properties on the outskirts of town and consider ‘broadening their horizons,’ where rental rates are lower.
Rates likewise tend to be more reasonable for those looking to rent a property in larger groups, with smaller one or two bedroom properties accounting for a large proportion of the more expensive properties on offer for let by Eve Brown.
Moreover, tenants looking to save money on utilities are warned against trying to reduce energy bills by leaving their heating off for long periods of time as constantly activating and deactivating the boiler, while allowing rooms to get cold, tends to result in greater expense in the long term.
When prompted to suggest solutions to the crisis, a representative of Eve Brown emphasised the need for an increase in the number of places in halls of residence in order to ease pressure on the private sector: ‘there’s not enough accommodation for all the students. The expansion of halls will have to happen.’
She went on to hold the HMO ban responsible for being ‘constrictive’ for students and landlords, whose rates are being pushed up by the increase in demand for private housing outside the HMO exclusion zone. She also alluded to the possibility of introducing a restriction on rates to ensure that private-sector rentals remain cost-effective for students: ‘capping rates is something that has to be considered, we can’t have people being held to ransom.’