Hola to the membership!
Apologies for not doing a blog post for a long time, there’s been a Fresher’s Week, a couple of conferences and generally just finding the will to write my thoughts down as this is not usually my best method of articulation…
Anyway! I’ve decided to restructure the blog again a bit; rather than telling you what I’ve done as it’ll honestly be meeting after meeting with a couple of wins, which if you come to the General Meeting next week you’ll learn all about, (how exciting!) I’m going to talk about a major topical issue and what I am doing about it within my capacity in this role. Whether that makes these updates more frequent I do not know, so we’ll have to see! I’ll try and do one bi-weekly but please don’t hold me to it!
So we’re at the beginning of the year again and the billboards from Yellow Door Lets, Student Housing Lancaster etc. have already gone up (I’m looking at you as well LUSU Living) to encourage students to rent for next year’s house already! Obviously this is not the best of situations as first years may not even like their new bezzie m’s in the next couple of weeks, so by forcing students into legally binding contracts, taking advantage of their worries by looking to make a quick buck over the actual experience of the student in your accommodation doesn’t sit well with me and is overall a little slimy.
Talking about local letting agencies (and please bear with, for legal purposes I have to be careful with what I say):
You may remember last year there was a Watchdog documentary on dodgy landlords, one of the lovely people featured on the programme was a man called John Sanderson. He owned a letting agency called LPNM which then liquidated its assets, which left some students and landlords out of pocket as the former did not get their deposits back and the latter did not get paid their rent. If you think this is a one off then please let me give you a list of the companies he has been involved with, these are: Cable Street Investments Ltd, Lancaster Property Acquisitions Ltd and Lancaster Property Investments to name but a few. In fact there have been around 22 different relations in total and have all ended in similar situations. SCAN even did a whole story on it: http://scan.lusu.co.uk/index.php/2015/10/12/lpnm-scan-investigates/
More importantly his new-fangled company is called One Stop Student Rentals; it is again based in Lancaster, so take with that what you will when you actually start looking for houses and be aware…
Here is a convenient link to such an episode of the BBC’s Rogue Traders, please enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU8l6HSQnV4
Apart from the people like John Sanderson there are other issues in the housing market regarding: rent prices, oversaturation and students not knowing their housing rights. For the first issue rent prices have been slowly increasing in Lancaster over the past couple of years and an average all in one room will now cost you around £140 per week, how scandalous. The thing is landlords can do this because they know students will pay; you have to be in Lancaster to study your degree so you’re in a bit of a pickle. We need to start fighting back against this and complaining to various stakeholders such as the council and landlords generally.
This is coupled with the fact that there is an oversaturation of housing in Lancaster so whilst there is a finite supply of students there seems to be an infinite supply of housing. For some reason Lancaster seems to be an exception to the common marketplace rule that more competition means lower prices and better quality. But either way this stress put on by landlords to rent early and expensively catches a lot of students off guard, leading to our third and final problem:
That students do not actually know their rights and responsibilities as tenants. As students are uneducated in their rights they are often taken advantage of by landlords as they do not ask the right questions, ensure they are even ready to start renting or know when legal obligations are being broken leading to the unsuspecting student having a non-wholesome time at University.
BUT DO NOT WORRY HELP IS AT HAND!!
At Lancaster University Students’ Union we have decided to run a campaign called #RentSmart; for the students who were here last year you may remember ‘Don’t Rent Yet’. We found that to be a bit negative though as this should be an opportunity to get students to take control of the renting agenda again and make these landlords backtrack on things they may have gotten away with in the past rather than being scared to take part.
We will be putting out information throughout the academic year on your rights and responsibilities as tenants, questions to ask your potential landlord and most importantly only get students to enter the rental market when they are ready (which in my personal opinion is second term). We will be pushing heavily the LU Home Accreditation scheme and are also planning on doing mini-college workshops where information will be given out on what the campaign is looking to do and educate students further. The campaign will run with the housing cycle annually so as at the beginning of the year we handed out moving in guides, at the end there will be moving out guides.
There may also be a cheeky day of action in the square, keep your eyes peeled!
But yes there are loads of opportunities to get yourselves as students educated and comfortable enough to enter the rental market to ensure you do it on your own terms and not the pressuring nature that has existed historically. If the cycle can be broken then landlords will have to adhere to our demands rather than the other way round.
So in conclusion: The current rental market and renting early: bad.
Learning about renting and taking your time: good.
Hope you enjoyed that blog, and I’ll give you another topical issue next time. I think I have an idea about what it will be already.
See you round,