Members of the University Court are “appalled” by student housing

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Photo credit: wikimedia commons

A mice infestation and a collapsed roof were among the terrible conditions witnessed by members of the University Court during a tour of sub-standard private student housing last week.

Pat Mathewson, president of the Students’ Association, led the tour in conjunction with the Students’ Association accommodation team, as part of their efforts to stir the Court into action on building more University owned accommodation.

10 Court members were escorted around student flats in various states of dilapidation. Other issues seen on the tour included sloping floors, animal droppings, damp, inadequate lighting in alleyways and “plenty of mould” according to Mr Mathewson.

10 students volunteered their flats, though the tour only encompassed four due to time constraints. However, many students who would like to have taken part were put off by the fear of their landlords finding out, perhaps resulting in the relatively small amount of participation. One student told The Saint: “We considered getting involved with it, since our house looks and feels like a recreation of the blitz right now, but we decided that we didn’t want to risk annoying our letting agents and end up stonewalled.”

Another commented, “I was too afraid of any repercussions that may have resulted from it from my landlord since I can’t afford to live anywhere else.”

As a result of the small number of flats included in the tour, Alex Ciric from the accommodation team told The Saint that they are compiling a portfolio of photos, exhibiting the damage in a number of other student flats. This will be released to Court members soon.

Catherine Stihler, rector of the University, took part in the tour. She said: “The tour illustrated the dreadful neglect afflicted on many students by private landlords. No one should live in a mice infested, damp flat where the landlord takes no responsibility. What was striking about the visit was the shockingly poor service letting agencies provide their tenants. St Andrews students deserve better.

“More action is required to put their poor practices in order before they will be forced to act when the Scottish Parliament will legislate on the private rented sector in Scotland.”

The tour was advertised by the accommodation team on Facebook and Mr Mathewson told The Saint that “students from across the University rose to support the project, volunteering their time and support or encouraging their friends to do so. And for many this was quite a bold move, risking retribution from their landlords in order to help improve the experience for fellow and future students.”

Niall Scott, senior communications officer for the University, spoke to The Saint on behalf of the Court members. He said: “The tour was very constructive and instructive – our Court members were grateful for the opportunity to visit a number of private flats in town and talk to students about the difficulties they can face holding lords and their agents to account.

“The group was particularly concerned to learn that some private agents and landlords appeared slow to respond to tenant complaints and requests, and that in some instances approaches had been ignored.”

Mr Mathewson expanded on this. “The members of court care very deeply about our University and our students,” he said. “I think appalled would be a fair characterisation of their feelings following the tour.  It was a testament to our close knit community how personally they seemed to take that students were forced to deal with these practices from landlords.”

The Court were also informed that of the 13 letting agencies who handle student lettings in town, only eight have signed up to the Landlord’s Charter produced by the Students’ Association. This Charter aims to enforce good and fair practice from letting agents and landlords.

Niall Scott continued: “The University, Court members and the Students’ Association will be working together to find possible ways of making private sector landlords and agents more accountable and to empower and support students to assert their rights as private tenants.”

Annie Newman – who sits on the University Court in her role as rector’s assessor – commented: “I think it was incredibly helpful for Court members who are not students and are not living in student flats to truly understand the depths of the private letting problem in St Andrews.”

“I was disappointed but not surprised to see the state of the flats that were on the tour,” she continued. However, she thought that it was a good step in “making sure Court members are on the same page” as students on the issues surrounding private accommodation.

At the conclusion of the tour, the University’s senior governor, Ewan Brown, asked that the Students’ Association bring a plan to the next Court meeting, proposing a strategy for tackling these accommodation issues.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Absolute garbage!

    Needlessly demonizes the local letting agencies, which I notice this “reporter” could not be bothered to contact for comment. Very good example of “balanced” journalism on display here.

    Firstly, there is already adequate legislation in place ensuring rental properties in Scotland meet satisfactory living conditions, namely ‘The Repairing Standard.’ Should a property fail to meet TRS and the landlord or Agent fail to take action, then the tenant easily has recourse to the Private Rented Housing Panel for review. Why has the “reporter” omitted this? Have they done any research?

    Should rental properties in town fail to meet the Repairing Standards and the landlord/letting agent fail to take action to address, then the University should be encouraging and assisting students to seek recourse through the PRHP.

    Furthermore, the rental market in Scotland is dependant upon Landlords/Agents having a close working relationship with their tenants. Tenants have an obligation under the terms of their lease to notify their landlord or Agent of their dissatisfaction. By encouraging students to anonymously report their Landlord/Agent, the University is simply trying their upmost to break down this relationship.

    Should landlord or Agents be failing in their duties, they should be publicly named and shamed, and the University should be helping the students seek legal recourse to address these deficiencies, not anonymously visiting properties and woefully shaking their head, and making offensive comparisons with properties bombed during the blitz. Were are the articles highlighting the luxurious living conditions of its affluent students, and the socio-economic effects upon the town?

    I suspect the landlord charter has not been signed( by a small number of letting agents), because it is utterly pointless and without teeth. To what purpose does it serve letting agencies to sign a charter simply stating they will adhere to housing legislation that is already in place and being acted upon?

    Furthermore, a large majority of student accommodation is in terrible condition, not because the landlord/agent or failing in their duties, but because the students are quite frankly incapable of cleaning up after themselves and maintaining the property. One would suspect that a University in the UK’s top ten would ensure its students were at least “house trained” before offering them placements.
    The fact is properties very often have infestations of rodents because the students fail to clean up after themselves, preferring to leave food littering the kitchen floor. Any tradesmen dealing with infestations within the town could easily confirm this.
    “Damp problems” mainly occur because the students are incapable of understanding the causes of mould and adequately ventilating the property leading to a build-up mould. Most students prefer to blame the “mould” on alleged “damp problems,” rather than admit they are simply too lazy to ventilate the property and clean off the mould. Any damp specialist operating in town could confirm this.

    Then there are the students who fail to adhere to the terms of their lease with regards to not smoking in the property, or decide to hold massive parties upsetting and disturbing the locals . What is the Universities response to this? Nothing! They simply do not want to know, and do not have the backbone to take responsibility and discipline its own students.
    One need only drive around the town after Raisin weekend or in the Summer and see the mountain of waste left on the sidewalks, to see that the students are incapable of adequately disposing of their waste and the University incapable of tidying up after them. For how many years now has the University been “threatening” to ban Raisin Weekend, while every year its students run rampant throughout the town!? Toothless!

    I would suggest, as a counter-measure, the members of the University court, agree to accompany local letting agents and landlords around their visits when they are carrying out end of lease inspections, to see the dreadful conditions in which students leave their properties and speak to some of the local landlords whose properties have been trashed.
    On conclusion one suspects, that the real purpose behind this attempt to demonize the local letting agencies and landlords, is to encourage students to fall back upon University accommodation and to ensure they can fill all those lovely new flats that taking over the town.

    PS: An editor might want to take a second look at this sentence: ““The group was particularly concerned to learn that some private agents and landlords appeared slow deeply about our University and our students,” he said.”

  2. @Anon

    I lol’ed. Pretty hard actually. Yes, I agree. A lot of students, even PhDs are not very well house trained or educated to look after them. This is a valid argument but the lack of proper education is hard to achieve by a fellow housemate. Especially if the other is simply stubborn.

    However, some landlords simply have the £-sign in their eyes and do not really care that much about the living-coditions their properties offer. Furthermore, do you really thing letting agencies would have had time to comment if the saint asked? Regarding the fact they treat us student like shit I highly doubt it. So, they’re either poorly managed/understaffed or simply do not give a single f*ck!

    The supply/demand issue of St Andrews regarding housing clearly puts landlords/letting agencies on the highground and gives them the possibility to strong arm students and ask for ridiculous prices. £700 ppm excl. bills in market street for a mould infested house which you cannot simply scrub off. And then you properties at the other end of town at Morrison’s that are around £600 ppm. which is still ridiculous. At least they offer a wee bit more space.

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