Student housing is one of the most heavily debated subjects in the St Andrews student community today. With ongoing arguments around the possible restrictions on HMO licences, and the ever-growing student population, the St Andrews housing dilemma is only going to get worse. The pitfalls of privately renting in this small university town can arise from the simplest conversation with almost any student, past their first year of course. It seems everyone has a story to tell, and since it’s edging towards that time of year, when most first year students are considering their options for next year’s housing; I decided to look at the current state of the private housing market in our beloved sea-side town.
Having spent the entirety of my four years at university living in halls, the uncertain and exhausting experience of finding, obtaining, and living in privately rented accommodation, is one I have luckily avoided. I have always understood the appeal of having a place to call entirely your own, but having heard some true horror stories about the process of finding a suitable, and affordable choice, I must admit I am glad I chose to remain in university owned and run accommodation. Considering my obvious bias in this subject I decided to turn to my friends, who had ventured into the unruly world of private letting, to gain a better understanding of how students themselves find the process. Their stories nearly gave me nightmares.
Firstly, we discussed the process of looking at properties. My friend Olivia explained she was advised to run around the Badlands “first thing in the morning, putting our email addresses through people’s doors”, in hope that they would email back offering a viewing. She went on to proclaim, “it was so frustrating because many wouldn’t even contact you afterwards” it was “way too stressful”. My friend Joséphine had a similarly disorganised experience with letting agencies. “I remember having to queue outside one of the letting agency offices very early in the morning… to get the list of flats available…only to be told that they had no 3-bedroom flats… It was so ridiculous!”. She went on to explain that she and her roommates ended up “literally running around the Badlands trying to visit as many 3-bedroom flats as possible and then running back to Rollo’s because they rented on a first-come-first-serve basis”. “We had to skip classes to do all of that, which is so bad in my opinion…The whole system is incredibly stressful and disorganised” Josephine explained. It became clear through these conversations that the system created to rent properties to students is entirely unorganised and unfair. The letting agencies often offer little support and guidance to students who are only just taking their first step in the renting market. Their refusal to work around student schedules and their system of letting and showing properties is ill-advised at best. While my friend Zoe explained that finding a house suitable for her and her four other roommates was easy, the state of rented properties being offered was anything but satisfactory.
Mould, broken heating, missing furniture, and insect infestations were only a few of the complaints I received when asking about the general state of the rented properties friends had lived in. Zoe explained that her rented house was missing some of the essentials needed for student accommodation. There were no desks, kitchen table or chairs, and the bathroom had uncovered and untreated wooden floors. She described how the new owner had “installed a cheap electric shower that was fine in the spring/summer months but redundant in the winter”. Having expressed their concerns to the letting agency she explained that “they promised to send someone out, but I think they just forgot”. The inadequate service given by the letting agencies, when dealing with issues within their rented properties was becoming a common complaint among close friends. Joséphine described how her rented house had had an infestation of slugs. “The letting agency was so useless” she explained, “they didn’t care at all…the student housing situation in St Andrews is so ridiculous”.
It is clear to see that the renting market in St Andrews is working for the privileged few and not the many. Letting agencies are taking advantage of desperate and naïve students and the quality of accommodation is unsatisfactory for the prices being demanded. In such a small town like St Andrews, and with an ever-increasing student population; these issues are only going to increase, and unless long-term solutions are found that benefit both permeant residents and the student population, the university is going to face growing concerns over the sustainability of the dissatisfactory private renting system currently in place.