Linda Holt is a councillor of East Neuk & Landward, sitting on the Fife Council. The opinions expressed in this letter are her own, and not representative of the views of the society.
I read the outgoing editor’s column with some regret. Despite now having completed his university education, he remains astonishingly ignorant about local authorities, specifically what Fife Council can and can’t do about student housing in St Andrews.
Fife Council cannot make landlords charge cheaper rents to students or others; what they charge and to whom is entirely up to landlords. Nor can the Council force landlords guilty of “locked bedrooms”, whether in HMOs or not, to unlock these bedrooms and make them available for rent.
If these bedrooms were to be unlocked, the Council could not then force landlords to rent out these rooms – the landlord could insist the rooms remain as living rooms or store rooms for example. If a landlord did release further rooms for rental in a property, thus increasing the number of tenants, he or she would be more than likely to raise the rent correspondingly. Part of what fuels the locked bedroom myth is the fantasy that if you can get more people living in a property and paying rent, each would then pay less individually.
As for the poor standard of many rental properties in St Andrews, again the Council has very limited powers to intervene — and what powers they do have depend on students reporting defects to the Council or raising them in letters of objection when landlords apply for HMO licences. Extremely few do.
The Student Union set up a Tripadvisor-type website last year to allow students to rate their accommodation and act as a mechanism to encourage landlords to raise their standards. Unfortunately marksoutoftenancy.com only lists 10 reviews for St Andrews.
The fact is the vast majority of student accommodation in St Andrews is provided by the University, a landlord which could, if it so chose, make its accommodation more attractive to students than private landlords. It could, for example, provide more of the shared living arrangements sought by students when they rent houses and flats together. Most importantly, it could reduce its rents so students wouldn’t have to leave with crippling debt and/or be forced into cheaper, substandard accommodation in the private sector.
Perhaps if the outgoing editor-in-chief and others had devoted their energies into lobbying the University which has the power, and arguably the responsibility, to address their accommodation issues, instead of obsessing about locked bedrooms in an ignorant fantasy about Council powers, his successors might have been able to avoid repeating his miserable, debt-creating experience of accommodation in St Andrews.
Linda Holt (Cllr)