Rate Your Landlord Report 2012â€”2013
Independent data analysis undertaken by: Paola Cagna Additional data analysis undertaken by: Duncan Stokes Report compiled by: Indi Hicks, former University of Sussex Studentsâ€™ Union Welfare Officer
Foreword Sophie van der Ham, University of Sussex Student’s Union Welfare Officer (2013-2014) Many students at the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton opt for the private sector and often experience problems with their properties, landlords or letting agents. Finding affordable and high quality housing for students in Brighton and Hove isn’t easy. The south-east of England is one of the most expensive areas in the country, and with the introduction of higher tuition fees, students now have to a lot less to spend. In addition, there is a limited stock of properties available for students. This report shows that students are a particularly vulnerable group of users renting in the private rented sector. Often students are living independently of their parents for the first time, and don’t have the experience and information needed to make informed decisions about properties. Students need specific, accessible and clear information available to them about landlords, letting agents, properties, and their rights. There are also inequalities and specific issues within the student population, with non-UK students at a particular disadvantage when they are required to provide a UKbased guarantor to letting agents. Students have also indicated that the quality of properties, the availability of green iniatives and sustainability, and the level of service and maintenance that is provided to them, is inadequate. This report makes several recommendations to alleviate these problems. As incoming Welfare Officer (2013 – 2014) for the University of Sussex Students’ Union, I am committed to helping students find properties that suit their needs, are affordable, clean, and well-maintained. I look forward to working with students, landlords, letting agents, and Brighton and Hove Council to implement these recommendations as well as rewarding best practice.
Foreword by Fliss Newton, University of Brighton Students’ Union Wellbeing Vice-President (2013-2014) Brighton Students’ Union believes that safe, good quality, and low cost housing should be available for all of our students. The results of this survey will allow us to work with the Council in order to increase expectations of landlords through greater regulation of standards. This way we can move towards achieving quality housing throughout our whole community. We also aim to use these findings to engage with our students and educate them on their rights, as well as the behaviour that is expected of them, as tenants.
Contents Executive summary
Survey findings PART 1:
Finding property in the private rented sector
1.1 When do students start looking for property?
1.2 How do students find properties?
1.3 How many properties do students view before they choose one? And why do students reject properties?
1.4 What do students do before signing a tenancy?
1.5 Securing a property: pressure, guarantors and fees
1.6 The deposit
1.7 â€œRenting is a cruel jokeâ€?: finding and securing property in a competitive and expensive market
PART 2: During the tenancy
2.1 Where do students live?
2.2 Who manages student properties?
2.3 How much rent do students pay?
2.4 Property conditions
2.5 Go greener!
2.6 Are students finding properties that provide a suitable environment in which to study?
2.7 Good practice amongst landlords and letting agents
2.8 Letting agents: scores and ratings
PART 3: After the tenancy 3.1 What happens when a tenancy ends?
3.2 The return of the deposit
3.3 Leaving the property: more experiences
Appendix 1: Table showing scores allocated to letting agents based on respondentsâ€™ rating of their performance
Appendix 2: Table showing scoring system, weighted scores and key ratings allocated to letting agents and landlords based on their scores
Table of Figures Figure 1: When do students start looking for property? (Filtered by level of study)
Figure 2: When do students start looking for property? (Filtered by fee status)
Figure 3: How do students find their property (All respondents)
Figure 4: How do students find their property (Filtered by fee status)
Figure 5: How do students find their property (Filtered by level of study)
Figure 6: Reasons for rejecting a property (All respondents)
Figure 7: Were students asked to provide a UK-based guarantor (All respondents)
Figure 8: The fees students were charged in order to secure their property (All respondents)
Figure 9: The amount of deposit charged (All respondents)
Figure 10: Who manages the property? (All respondents)
Figure 11: How much rent do students pay? (All respondents)
Figure 12: How much rent do students pay? (Comparison between 2011-12 and 2012-13)
Figure 13: Table showing scores allocated to letting agents based on respondentsâ€™ rating of their performance
Figure 14: Table showing key ratings allocated to letting agents based on their scores
Figure 15: Did students move out at the end of their tenancy? (All respondents)
Figure 16: Where students stayed, did their rent increase? (Filtered by respondents who remained in the property at the end of their tenancy)
Figure 17: Did students have their deposit returned to them? (Filtered by respondents who moved out at the end of their tenancy)
Figure 18: If the deposit was partially or fully withheld, did students feel that the explanation given was reasonable? (Filtered by respondents whose deposit was either partially or fully withheld)
Executive Summary This report looks into the experience of students living in private rented property based on the results of the Rate Your Landlord survey 2012–13. It details students’ experiences before, during and after a tenancy and identifies both good practice and a range of problems in the sector. The findings include: ●● Students feel that the private rented sector, particularly in Brighton and Hove, has a high demand for an insufficient number of properties and that these properties are generally in poor condition. The amount charged for properties is often considered by students to be too expensive for the quality provided ●● A third of students felt pressure from landlords or letting agents to secure a property they were viewing and felt that unless they paid the fees immediately they would lose the property and be unable to find anything else suitable ●● The practice of asking for a UK-based guarantor is more widespread than last year with three quarters of students asked to provide one. Non-UK students and students whose parents are not property owners and/or have a low income are particularly disadvantaged by this practice. ●● Students greatly appreciate property managers who are polite, respectful, helpful and professional and offer prompt and effective responses to reported problems, especially in respect of repairs. The provision of good quality, clean and well-maintained properties, a willingness to make changes to the property in order to improve the experience of those students living in it and a flexible approach to the individual circumstances of students are also examples of good practice appreciated by students that were reported by some in this year’s survey Overall the experience of students in the private rented sector who responded to the survey demonstrated that there is still a need for wide-ranging improvements. As a result this report makes a number of recommendations on both a national and local level, such as: ●● Greater regulation of the private rented sector, increased use of local accreditation schemes and the adoption of voluntary codes of standards. ●● Better information, advice and services for students before, during and after a tenancy. ●● Lobbying landlords, letting agents and the University to reduce the financial burden of students living in private rented property. ●● Lobbying landlords and letting agents to improve property standards and introduce better procedures that will improve the experience of students living in the private rented properties.
Introduction Rate Your Landlord is an annual online survey1 conducted by the University of Sussex Students’ Union in collaboration with the University of Brighton Students’ Union. First launched in 2009, the survey looks at the experience of students living in private rented property in and around Brighton and Hove and the surrounding areas and is used to create a better understanding of the issues facing students who rent privately. This includes identifying problems where they exist, recognising good practice when it occurs and informing recommendations that seek to drive up standards in the sector and improve the experience of students. This years’ survey collected responses between 13th December 2012 and 26th April 2013 and was promoted both online, in print and via email and social media. This year there were a record number of respondents, with a total participation level of 1901 students. Since all students registered at the University of Sussex, the University of Brighton, Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), Brighton Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) and University of Brighton partner colleges had an opportunity to take part in the survey the sample should be considered as a random sample. The data gathered from the survey was analysed by an independent data analyst. The use of an independent data analyst ensures that the findings are both accurate and objective thus also ensuring that there is no error or bias on the part of the report writers. The analysis was mainly conducted through Excel and partially through SPSS and employed descriptive statistics (frequency, mean, correlation). The first step was a process for validating data. There were 1901 responses to this years’ survey. However incomplete, duplicated and unverifiable responses have been discounted leaving 1586 verified responses analysed for the purpose of this report. The analysis of this data followed the same structure as the 2011-12 report: finding a property, during a tenancy and after a tenancy. The questionnaire also contained openended questions that produced high-standard qualitative data. The latter were analysed through NVivo 9 in order to extrapolate further information on the experience of students. All quotes included in this report are the original comments written by the respondents. In order to guarantee confidentiality, all documents related to this survey are stored under password and all quotes are fully anonymised. The survey received responses from students at the University of Sussex and BIMM (53%), the University of Brighton and partner colleges (45%) and BSMS (2%). 76% of respondents were UK students, 13% EU students and 11% international (non-EU) students. 18% of respondents were postgraduate students (8% postgraduate taught students and 3% postgraduate research students out of the total sample) whilst the remaining 83% were undergraduates, primarily in their 2nd or 3rd year of study (40% and 27% respectively). Respondents were mostly female (65%) and between the ages of 18 and 24 (86%). UK respondents mainly selfidentified as being either ‘White – British’ (82%), ‘White – Other’ (3%) or ‘Asian – Asian British – Indian’ (3%); EU respondents mainly self-identified as being ‘White – Other’ (80%); whilst international respondents mainly self-identified as being either ‘Chinese’ (36%), ‘White – Other’ (17%) or ‘Asian – Asian British – Other’ (16%). Small percentages of respondents disclosed that they either had a disability (4%) or any dependents (3%). Finally, based on the findings of the verified responses this report makes a number of recommendations that aim to bring about positive change in the sector and improve the experience of students living in private rented properties. If you’d like any further details about the survey or its findings, please contact the lead elected officer from either Sussex or Brighton Students’ Union: Welfare Officer University of Sussex Students’ Union
Vice President Wellbeing University of Brighton Students’ Union
01273 873354 firstname.lastname@example.org
01273 643196 BSUVPW@brighton.ac.uk
Survey Findings Part 1: Finding property in the private rented sector This section considers studentsâ€™ experiences when seeking and securing property in the private rented sector. This includes when and how students seek a property, the factors that influence their decision about whether to accept or reject a particular property, the costs and difficulties involved and their experiences and opinions of finding and securing property in a competitive and expensive market. 1.1
When do students start looking for property?
The majority of survey respondents reported that they started to look for a property between January and March (54%), however differences become apparent when the data is filtered by level of study2 and by fee status3. Amongst undergraduate respondents, the pattern follows the same general trend without any relevant distinction by fee status, with 54% of undergraduate students reporting that they started to look for a property between January and March and 20% between July and September. Amongst postgraduates however the scenario is different, with the majority of respondents in this group reporting that they started to look for a property between July and September (55%), with the next most popular time being between April and June (37%).
Figure 1 â€“ When do students start looking for property? (Filtered by level of study) UK respondents mainly reported that they started to look for a property between January and March (60%) with the next most popular time being between July and September (19%). Similarly, the majority of EU respondents reported that they started to look between January and March (41%) with the next most popular time being between July and
By level of study we are referring to undergraduate, postgraduate taught or postgraduate research students By fee status we are referring to UK, EU or international students
September (28%). However it should be noted that proportionally more EU respondents (28%) than UK respondents (19%) reported that they started to look for a property between July and September than between January and March. Amongst international respondents, the scenario is different with most respondents reporting that they started to look for a property between July and September (35%), followed by January to March (31%). The popularity of the January to March period is explained further when looking at the qualitative comments. Many undergraduates reported that they started searching for a property well in advance, usually during the latter half of the previous academic year. In contrast, most postgraduate students, whose courses start in September and who are mainly non-UK students, reported that they started searching for a property just before the beginning of the academic year.
Figure 2 â€“ When do students start looking for property? (Filtered by fee status) 1.2 How do students find properties? In line with last yearsâ€™ findings, letting agents remain the most popular method of finding a property with almost 50% of respondents reporting that they found their property through a letting agency.
Figure 3 – How do students find their property? (All respondents.) Respondents who reported finding their property through a letting agency tended to be undergraduate UK students and there is a direct correlation between a decrease between the use of agencies and the increase in age and year of study. The next most common method of finding a property reported by respondents was StudentPad (20%), the online property finding service used by and widely publicised to students by both Universities and the Students’ Unions4. Similarly to last year, other websites such as Gumtree, Rightmove and Easyshare were a popular resource for finding property (21% of all respondents), particularly amongst EU and international respondents (23% and 29% respectively). This is likely to be partly explained by the fact that many non-UK students are not in the area when they start looking for a property, and therefore are more likely to use internet-based search methods. Also in line with last year’s results was the use of informal networks such as a friend or via Facebook to find property (16% and 3% respectively), with this figure again higher amongst non-UK students where informal networks were employed by 24% of EU respondents and 20% of international students. Finally, a number of respondents reported finding their property via information and facilities provided by their University such as housing fairs and the housing/accommodation office. This method was particularly favoured by international students, 5% of whom reported using these methods against only 1.25% and 1.49% amongst UK and
Both Sussex and Brighton Universities and Students’ Unions advocate StudentPad as one of the most advisable ways of seeking accommodation as all properties listed are subject to a comprehensive code of standards – see www.studentpad.co.uk/UserFiles/File/Brighton/ LandlordsCodeOfStandards2012-13.pdfLandlordsCodeOfStandards2012-13.pdf 4
Figure 4 â€“ How do students find their property? (Filtered by fee status) EU respondents. When analysing the data by level of study other trends become apparent. Postgraduates reported a clear preference for finding a property through StudentPad and other websites (23.2% and 26.8% respectively) and although 28.9% of postgraduate respondents still reported using a letting agency, this percentage is significantly less than the figure for undergraduates (46%), where letting agencies remained the most popular method employed. Undergraduates also slightly favoured using Facebook more than postgraduates (2.65% vs. 2.06%), whereas postgraduates favoured websites (26.8% vs. 18.23%) and information and facilities provided by their University (5.67% v.s 1.03%). This last factor may be strongly influenced by the high presence of international and EU students among postgraduate respondents.
Figure 5 – How do students find their property? (Filtered by level of study) 1.3 How many properties do students view before they choose one? And why do students reject properties? 22% of respondents reported that they viewed one or less than one property before finding the one they chose; 15% reported viewing two properties; 18% three; 14% four; 8% five; and 23% more than five. This means that the majority of respondents (78%) viewed two or more properties before finding the one they chose and a significant proportion of respondents (31%) viewed five or more before finding the property they chose. The main reason given for rejecting a property was the ‘poor condition of property’ (63.9%). Other reasons included: ‘not suitable (size, furnishings etc)’ (51.6%), ‘poor location’ (44.5%), and ‘rent too expensive’ (39.9%). Interestingly, 11.6% of respondents reported that they rejected properties because the property was ‘found not to be as advertised’. However, in line with the results from previous surveys, the reasons reported differed according to fee status and level of study. EU and international students were more likely to cite ‘rent too expensive’ as the reason for rejecting a property than UK students (16.5%, 17.5%, and 13.22% respectively). Similarly, 43.8% of postgraduates cited ‘rent too expensive’ as the second reason for rejecting a property after ‘poor condition’ (51.7%). Postgraduate students were also proportionally more likely to reject a property on the grounds that it was ‘not suitable (size, furnishings etc)’ than other students (38.6%). It is interesting to note the increase in the percentage of all respondents who cited the ‘poor condition of property’ as the reason for rejecting a property from last years’ survey from 56.8% in 2011/12 to 63.9% in 2012/13.
Figure 6 – Reasons cited for rejecting a property. (All respondents) Qualitative comments given by respondents reinforced the reasons mentioned above for rejecting a property although the majority of comments focused on the poor condition of properties. Examples included: “So much mould and damp and squalid conditions that still cost an arm and a leg in Brighton!” “Damp, mould, leaks, rotting carpets were a recurring issue” “Mould on walls and ceilings was a big factor in many of the properties we viewed.” “When visiting the houses, they were not up to standard. Though this is not the letting agents fault, it does not make you want to live in that house.” Other respondents pointed out that the requirement to provide a UK-based guarantor (an issue discussed more in section 1.5) prevented them from choosing a property, whilst others cited the unwillingness of landlords or letting agents to consider tenants who are in receipt of welfare benefits. Examples included: “A UK-based guarantor was required which we did not have (since we were all international students)” “They wouldn’t accept me on housing benefit”
1.4 What do students do before signing a tenancy agreement? 90.2% of respondents reported that they had viewed the property in person before signing a tenancy agreement. Proportionally, more EU and international students did not view the property in person (18.4% and 14.9%). However, amongst these groups, more than 70% reported that they had viewed photos of the property. Again, this is likely to be partly explained by the fact that many non-UK students are not in the area when they start looking for property and are therefore unable to view properties in person.
Around 80% of respondents reported that they had met their flatmates before signing their tenancy agreement; 83.5% had read the tenancy agreement; 41.3% had their tenancy agreement checked by a third person; and only 35.7% had met their landlord. The most relevant differences between undergraduate and postgraduate respondents are found in the number of those who got the chance to view the property in person (respectively 92% and 76.9%) and those who meet their potential future flatmates (84.1% and 47.3%). Similarly, postgraduate students were less likely to read the tenancy agreement and get it checked than undergraduate students (91.1% vs. 84.3% and 48.2% vs. 38%). Again, this difference might be related to the high presence of non-UK students among postgraduate respondents but also to the fact that many UK postgraduate students are not in the area before they start their course. 1.5 Securing a property: pressure, guarantors and fees 31.0% of respondents reported that they experienced pressure from either landlords or letting agents to secure a property. Many respondents reported that they were strongly encouraged to sign or to pay fees immediately after seeing the property. Respondents felt a general fear that they would not find other suitable properties and this pushed many respondents into paying straight away in order to secure the property. Amongst the qualitative comments, example included: “The letting agency said that it was one of the last. We were really scared that we would miss our induction at the university if we didn’t pay the deposit to secure the property” “I was worried about not finding a place to live. The letting agent said ‘this is all they had left on the market’”. “We had to race back to the office in order to be the first to pay and secure the house. Very annoying as not all members were there and we had to pay for other people even though they said a house of all girls was ideal and we were willing to pay later that afternoon” “Constantly saying during our viewing that we had 24 hours to put a deposit down” “Constant phone calls from the letting agency pressurising us to make a quick decision and sign the contract. Also got told we had an hour to make a decision before the house would go to other people, which made the process stressful” The qualitative comments also point to this being a particular problem in Brighton and Hove, with some respondents pointing out that they felt they experienced more pressure here than in other cities. Examples included: “Every letting agent/landlord I have ever dealt with in this area has put pressure on me to make a quick decision and pay a deposit the same day. I had assumed this was normal as the rental market does move very quickly here but, having spoken to other students in other areas of the country, it would appear that the landlords here are more forceful in their assertions that this must be done. They are never willing to hold a property, no matter how interested you are. I have also been in situations where I have not been given a copy of the tenancy agreement so I can have this looked over.” Another issue related to the process of securing a property is the question of guarantors. 75% of respondents reported that they were asked to provide a UK-based guarantor, an increase from 68.70% in 2011/12.
Figure 7 – Were students asked to provide a UK-based guarantor? (All respondents) Of those who were asked to provide a guarantor, 89.4% reported that they were able to provide one. Amongst those respondents who reported that they were unable to provide a UK-based guarantor, 46% were EU students and 31.3% international students. Many respondents reported that their suggested guarantors were found to be unsuitable, often on the grounds that they were retired, had a low level of salary5, were not British nationals or did not own their own home. Indeed, in relation to this last point, 67.5% of respondents reported that their UK-based guarantor was also required to be a home owner and amongst these respondents only 70% reported that they were able to provide one. It is evident from the qualitative comments that it is challenging for students with families who earn a lower level of salary or do not own their own homes to provide a guarantor who meets the requirements of landlords or letting agents and the situation is even worse for non-UK students who do not have anyone living in the UK who can act as a guarantor. Comments included: “Guarantor had to earn over a certain wage, which was awkward at first as I selected my dad who is better off than my mum, but because he now has ‘retired’ to work as a painter and decorater they would not accept him as my guarantor as his wage is too low (below £20,000)” “Home owner and be earning over £18,000 a year, of which my immediate family wasnt” “This was a problem for me as my mother is not a home owner and therefore could not be my guarantor - I had to use my nan, the closest relative to me who was a home owner” “Guarantors needed to be UK- based and a home owner. Refused parents as guarantors if of non-British nationality”
Respondents reported that their guarantor was required to have a minimum salary of between £17,000 and £30,000 per year.
Those respondents who were unable to provide a guarantor were usually required to pay more rent or a larger deposit in advance, (an average of 4-6 months) forcing some students and their families to seek out specific loans or to increase their financial instability. Examples included: “My partner and I made a deal to pay 6 months rent in advance so we didn’t have to find a guarantor” “I was told I had to do this only a week before move-in day, my parents had to take out a loan in order to pay this. I am still in the process of paying them back” “I was initially required to pay 12 months rent in advance, but I managed to convince them to pay 6 months instead because I am living with my sister, so that would have meant that my parents had to pay 24 months in one go...” Again this was a particular problem for international students. Typical comments included: “Being international students means that we don’t have a guarantor in the UK, so we had to pay quite a big amount of deposit to secure the property to the agent” “I am not from the UK, so I could not find a guarantor. Therefore, the agency required that I paid the last 6 months of rent and the first month of rent all at once, along with the deposit. This has really put me in an unstable financial situation throughout the year” Finally, when asked about the fees (not including the deposit – see section 1.6) charged by landlords and letting agents, more than 50% of respondents reported that they were charged either a holding fee and/or an administration fee at an average of £163 and £178 respectively. Other fees charged (including reference and credit check fees and inventory fees) were considerably cheaper (£30-£50 on average) and were charged only to a small portion of the survey sample (around 15% of respondents). It is interesting to note the very large difference in the fees charged between those respondents who found their property through a letting agent and those who found their property through a landlord. Of those respondents who found their property through a letting agency, almost the whole sample reported that they were charged fees with the main fees being holding fees (61.4% with an average fee of £110) and administration fees (83.9% with an average fee of £150). In contrast, 60% of respondents who found their property through a landlord reported that they were not charged any holding fee with the remaining 40% paying on average between £100 and £149. Similarly, only 23% of respondents who found their property through a landlord reported that they were charged any administration fees and those who were charged were mostly charged less than £100.
Figure 8 – The fees students were charged in order to secure their property. (All respondents) Some respondents also reported being charged additional fees for things such as cleaning, for making payments from a non-UK bank account, for additional copies of the tenancy agreement, for “late key collection”, and for “late entrance”, whilst some respondents reported being encouraged to sign only a six month tenancy without being made aware of the fees they would be charged to renew the agreement after this period. 1.6 The deposit In line with last years’ survey, 76.2% of respondents reported that they were required to pay a deposit in order to secure their property, with 49.3% reporting that the deposit amount they were required to pay was an amount equivalent to 4-6 weeks rent. The majority of respondents who were required to pay a deposit reported that the deposit charged was more than £300 per person (80.7%) whilst 33% of respondents reported that the deposit charged was more than £500 per person.
Figure 9 – The amount of deposit charged. (All respondents) More than 50% of respondents who were charged a deposit reported that they were aware of the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme (TDPS)6 and that their deposit had been registered with one. Almost 60% of respondents reported that they had received a receipt after paying their deposit. However, similarly to the last year’s survey, EU students and international students were slightly less aware about the scheme (40.5% and 50.7%) and about whether their deposit had been registered (41% and 47.2%). This, together with the high number of respondents regardless of demographics who answered ‘don’t know’ to all questions regarding the TDPS, whether their deposit had been registered with one and whether they had received a receipt for their deposit suggests that many students are still unaware of the law in place to protect tenant deposits. 1.7 “Renting is a cruel joke”: finding and securing a property in a competitive and expensive market The qualitative comments included many from respondents who wrote about their experiences and opinions concerning finding and securing a property. Amongst these comments, the prevalent theme was that the private rented sector in Brighton and Hove is very competitive and often lacking in transparency resulting in a stressful and expensive process; whilst many respondents also pointed out that university-managed accommodation does not offer a viable alternative. The private rented sector is largely dominated by letting agents. Respondents’ attitudes to them are very ambiguous and varied. On the one hand, some students believe that renting through letting agents offers the easiest and safest method of securing accommodation and many respondents reported that they found the agents they had encountered to be professional, helpful and more approachable, especially in dealing with the property owners. Comments included: “Really nice guy [from letting agency] showed us round. He called later saying someone else wanted the properly but as we viewed first it was ours, we asked for another viewing which he allowed and we took the house”
By law tenancy deposits must be protected in a government-authorised TDPS. It applies to all landlords and agents in England and Wales who have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) with their tenants. Where disputes arise about the return of deposits and/or deductions made from a deposit the TDPS offers a free dispute resolution service. 6
“[the letting agency] have been a good agency and we have had a much better experience and standard of living” I have personally experienced letting agents managed property, privately managed property (without a letting agent) and introduction only letting agents. Introductory agents with private landlords offered the best combination by far” “Very easy-to-work with agency, located 10 seconds from the flat” “[The letting agency] have been brilliant and very helpful!” “Letting agents were extremely helpful and explained parts of the contract to us” “Living in a private rented house is a lot more expensive as a whole, but it is a nice experience. Our agency deal with every query we have and they are really good and efficient if anything goes wrong” “[The letting agency] is really helpful and supportive and landlord is amazing. They made my experience so much more secure than I had expected” “[The letting agency] were very good, friendly and professional” Many other respondents however commented that letting agencies are often expensive as they “scam you for every penny”. Respondents appreciated those agencies that provided clear and transparent information about the terms of tenancy agreement, the fees, and the process involved in securing a property. Where these conditions existed, respondents commented that relations with their letting agents are “very easy-going” and “friendly and honest”. However many respondents expressed a preference for dealing directly with a landlord when securing a property without any involvement from letting agencies. Comments included: “Our land lady is the BEST. I would advise future students to take the time to look for properties where you deal directly with the land lord/lady and skip letting agency fees and dealings - check uni websites / ask housing office for their contacts” Dealing directly with landlords is reported as generally being less expensive, more transparent, and often faster. Consequently, many respondents requested more help with how to find property owners without the intervention of letting agents. Websites such as StudentPad are highly appreciated, as demonstrated by this respondent: “Student Pad is an excellent site that helped me in many ways. My landlords are extremely nice, always approachable if there’s anything wrong with the house. I’ve been very happy with the service they have provided over the past 3 years” Respondents also commented on the need for more guidance from the Universities on how to find accommodation, on tenancy agreements, fees, disputes, etc. Comments included: “little information about where to look/who to trust/student renting rights” “Not enough guidance or advice about how to not get screwed over, or how to broach negotiations and entitlements as tenants” “I felt let down by the university for not providing accommodation to vulnerable international students beyond their first year” “It was really pressured and I don’t feel as though there was enough help provided by the university. I found out that I wasn’t in halls in August and I didn’t really know what to do. Everything seemed to be managed by Facebook which was handy but it meant that my mum didn’t really have a clue what was going on. It felt to me as though I was left in the deep end and that because meeting people was all down to arranging things over facebook that it was something that all students did and it didn’t really occur to me to ask my mum or another adult for help. I felt really inundated and that I had to make sense of everything myself. I didn’t really understand what an agency fee was or why I was paying it. I would have found it useful if the uni gave advice about just how much students looking in the private sector are expected to pay upfront. Before moving into my house I had
already paid out around £1000!!! I was worried that I was being ripped off. I didn’t really know my housemates at all but I was expected to be put in charge of the rent, all the rent (Around £2000 a month) comes out of my account. I find this absolutely ludicrous, I haven’t received a reasonable answer as to why it has to all come out of the same account. Surely it should come out of individual accounts. I was lucky that all my housemates are respectable, considerate people and pay their rent on time every month but it is not nice worrying every month and checking that everyone has paid in just in case. I was pressured into volunteering for it to come out of my account because of the pressure of securing a property, even though I am probably the most financially worst off because I am the only person in the house with a single parent. I feel that the university definitely could have done more in the way of preparing us for what to expect and could have done some jargon busting with regards to things like ‘agency fees’. And I believe that there should be more properties on student pad. I would feel more at peace if I knew the uni had checked and given its approval over our property” Brighton and Hove in particular appears to suffer from there being too much demand for too few good quality properties and yet those properties still have prohibitively high rent levels for many students. Comments included: “ridiculously expensive property” “taking expensive properties which are not worth the money” “They are all extremely expensive and the majority of them are such poor quality they do not justify such amount of monies or some to even be occupied” Unfortunately, University-managed accommodation does not appear to be offering a viable alternative. Respondents commented that University halls are usually more expensive, are located too far away from the city, and have only a limited number of places so are unable to respond to the high demand. Comments included: “Of course I prefer staying in University managed halls but the place is really limited” “University halls are either in bad locations or too few, and all are too expensive” “Halls are either not available or incredibly expensive” “Brighton rent is too expensive for students, both Uni accomadation and private. This really needs to change because students are struggling” In conclusion, students are using a variety of methods to find property in the private rented sector to good effect, but particularly in Brighton and Hove, they find the properties available are often expensive and in poor condition. Pressure to secure a property in a climate where there is high demand, the inability of some students to provide a suitable UKbased guarantor and the fees and costs associated with securing a property place many students at a disadvantage with little information about alternative options available to them.
Part 2: During the tenancy This section considers the experience of students during a tenancy and explores where students live, the relationship students have with whoever manages the property (i.e. landlord or letting agent), the amount of rent charged and the condition of the property. This section also looks at good practice amongst property managers and gives the scores and ratings assigned to the most commonly used letting agents based on the information provided by respondents. 2.1 Where do students live? Properties lived in by students who responded to the survey are concentrated in three main areas of Brighton and Hove, most probably due to their easy access to the main campuses of the Universities of Brighton and Sussex: Moulsecoombe and Bevendean (22.3%), Hanover and Elm Grove (20.8%), and East Brighton (15.3%). Some respondents however live outside Brighton and Hove with the most common areas being Eastbourne (8.4%); Lewes (2.2%); and Hastings (1.5%). The highest proportion of respondents (86%) reported that they moved in to their properties during summer time, before the start of the academic year. Properties were usually shared with other students (80%), mostly with a total of four tenants (30%) and with four bedrooms on average. 67% of properties were reportedly fully furnished when students moved in.
Figure 10 â€“ Who manages the property? (All respondents)
2.2 Who manages student properties? Almost half (48%) of the properties found through a letting agent are subsequently managed by a landlord, demonstrating that many agents provide a tenant finding service for landlords rather than a fully managed service. However 46% of properties were reportedly managed by agencies. 3% of respondents reported that they lived in University-managed accommodation and around 3% of respondents did not know who managed their property. Amongst those respondents who did not know, the confusion often arises as a result of neither the landlord nor the agency being willing to intervene in case of repairs. Comments included: “not sure if it is the letting agent or landlord as none want to take responsibility for the repairs” Respondents reported that their experience was improved when it was clear who was responsible for the day-to-day management of their property whereas the lack of clarity and transparency resulted in delays and often resulted in a far more negative experience. Many also commented on their preference for dealing directly with landlords, without any intermediation with letting agents. Comments included: “Agency deal with administration and from then on we deal with landlady directly” “Having a private landlord I find much better. Direct contact if anything goes wrong” More details on specific issues about property management and examples of good practices are described in the following sections.
2.3 How much rent do students pay? In line with last year’s survey, the mode average rent was reported by respondents as being between £90 and £94.99 per week (£390 - £411 per month) with 20.9% of respondents reporting that they paid rent in this range. Interestingly 80% of respondents reported paying rent below £100 per week whilst only 20% reported paying rent of £100 or more per week.
Figure 11 – How much rent do students pay? (All respondents) Again, in line with last year’s survey, respondents reported paying a wide range of rents. When analysing the amount of rent by who manages the property on a day-to-day basis, it is evident that those properties managed by letting agents had a slightly higher rent than those properties managed by landlords: the former had an average weekly rent of between £95 and £99.99 (23%), whilst the latter had a mode average weekly rent of between £90 and £94.99 per week (21%). Moreover, 80% of respondents whose properties were managed by letting agents reported paying rent of under £100 per week compared to 85% of respondants whose properties were managed by landlords. On average the rent reportedly paid by postgraduate and undergraduate students was the same (£90-£94.99 per week. However, the percentage of postgraduate students who reported paying more than £100 per week is double that of undergraduate students (34.4% vs 18%). It is also interesting to note the high proportion of postgraduate students who reported paying rent of £130 and over per week (10.2%) against the small proportion of undergraduate students who reported paying this amount (2.7%). Looking at fee status, the average rent reportedly paid by international students was slightly higher than the overall average (£95-£99.99 vs £90-£94.99). It is also worth noting the high proportion of EU and international students who reported paying over £100 per week: (respectively 25% and 42%) against the small proportion of UK students paying rent of this amount (16%). These differences are likely to be partly explained by the high proportion of nonUK respondents who are postgraduate students but also by the lack of knowledge and experience of the UK rental market amongst EU and international students and the difficulties inherent in finding a property in a different country. Moreover, among these student groups there was a higher portion of students who reported living in universitymanaged accommodation with 19% of students in these properties reporting that they paid rent of between £100 and £104.99 per week.
Figure 12 – How much rent do students pay? (Comparison between 2011-12 and 2012-13) It is also interesting to look at rent differences according to geographical area. Respondents living in Eastbourne and Lewes reported the average weekly rent as being between £80 and £84.99 per week, which is less than the overall average (£90-£94.99 per week). Respondents living in Hastings however reported the average weekly rent as being £100-£104.99 which is higher than the overall average (£90-£94.99 per week). In addition to rent, many tenants also have to pay household bills. Although the survey did not directly investigate bill payments, some respondents commented on this issue in the qualitative comments. In particular, respondents commented about instances where there was a misunderstanding regarding who was responsible for the payment of particular bills. Comments included: “When we signed the contract, the landlord promised also stated in the agreement that he will pay for our water bills during our staying. But when we got all the water bills came in, he refused to pay for them by completely avoiding us by ignoring our texts, calls and any other contacts.” “The end of my tenancy last year we were charged for a gas bill out of our deposits that we had already paid, however we did get this money back in the end”
2.4 Property conditions 60% of respondents reported that they found their property in the condition they expected to find it when they moved in, without any significant difference by level of study or fee status. Differences appear however when the data is analysed by who manages the property with only 47% of respondents whose property was managed by letting agents reporting that they were satisfied with the condition of the property when they moved in compared to 72% of respondents in properties managed by landlords. Many respondents described moving in to properties that were clean and in good repair with any necessary improvements made either prior to the tenants moving in or shortly thereafter. Comments included: “Prior to us moving in, the roof of the building had leaked, primarily affecting the flat above, although some damage was done to our flat. All the repairs were made before we moved in. When viewing the property they did ask us if there were any changes or repairs done to the flat before we moved in (I’ve never been asked that before). Once we moved in, there were a few things needed to be fixed again following the water damage, but on calling the land lord, it was all resolved quickly and efficiently” “When we first moved in there needed to be some improvements done to the flat. The landlords had only just taken the property on as their own, so I understand that they were trying to do it as soon as they possibly could. It was only small things such as the shower head that needed replacing and the fridge/freezer had not been set up etc.” However, it is of concern the number of respondents who reported that their property was not in the condition they had expected when they moved in. Comments included: “So many problems that we were told were going to be fixed when we signed the contracts but when we moved in nothing had been done, including carpets, damp, broken furniture” “Various walls needed repainting, this hasn’t been done. Damp problems on hallway door, this was corrected quite quickly with retiling. Bathroom had been repainted, mould grew very easily. Mould was in my bedroom behind furnishings. My window has 2 golf ball sized impacts, this has never been corrected. Broken oven door was fixed after 6 months” In many instances, the main problem seemed to be that respondents found the property dirty or “not professionally cleaned” as promised. In other cases, properties were left dirty by painters and builders. Comments included: “Hadn’t been professionally cleaned, left in the state the previous tennants had left it in, none of the kitchen appliances worked, back window smashed in” “The whole flat was covered in dust from painters, counter tops were greasy” Even where the property appeared to be in the condition expected when they moved in, many respondents reported problems arising within only a few days that required intervention. Comments included: “The things inside were too old which need repair all the times, no hot water like once a week, or even no water at all before reparation” 84.2% of respondents reported that their properties had working electrical appliances when they moved in and 85.4% that their property had smoke alarms with no significant differences by level of study, fee status or property manager. Conversely, only 36.2% of respondents reported having seen a gas safety certificate for their property, with most of those who reported having seen one living in properties that were managed by landlords (43%). Mould was one of the most common problems reported by respondents when commenting on the condition of properties. Many properties were rejected because of the high presence of mould in all rooms. Indeed, only 10% of respondents reported that there were no mould problems in their properties whilst almost 90% of respondents in properties managed by landlords reported that at least one room had been affected. Many respondents pointed out that whilst mould was often painted over when they moved into the property, the
problem was not solved by covering it and the mould simply re-appeared in time. The majority of respondents (68.6%) reported informing their landlord or letting agent about mould problems, particularly amongst those respondents living in properties managed by letting agents (72% vs. 62%). However, respondents reported that only 26.7% of property managers took any effective action to solve the problem (the provision of a de-humidifier and/or mould remover), whilst around 30% reportedly only gave advice. Of particular concern is that 26% of respondents reported that they did not receive any response from their landlord or letting agent upon reporting a mould problem. Of those property managers who did respond to a reported problem with mould, landlords were most likely to provide either advice (36%) or practical solutions (42%) with 22% failing to respond at all whilst amongst letting agents 36% gave advice but only 24% provided solutions and a shocking 40% did not respond at all. When respondents were asked to openly comment about mould, comments and experiences varied considerably. Some respondents reported positive experiences of letting agents and landlords who made every effort to solve the problem. Comments included: “We repainted and removed mould. They gave us discount (£70) on September’s rent” “Landlord removed it himself, quickly and efficiently” “Competely redecorated most of the 7 rooms. One had insulation fitted and 2 new radiators fitted after dangerous excessive mould. Only done after one year in the property!!” “There was only one issue with mould in an upstairs bathroom where the landlord sent someone round to remove the mould and then repaint the area with special stuff. This has not been an issue since” Other respondents reported far more negative experiences and in many cases, particularly amongst UK students, only the intervention of guarantors and/or parents forced landlords and letting agents to take action to solve mould and damp problems. Comments included: “Told us that mould was our responsibility - even though it was fairly extensive when we arrived and had all but removed the wallpaper in one bedroom” “At first, we were told to turn on the heating and open the windows, which we did with no results. After numerous complaints we were given dehumidifiers which need to be left on constantly to have an affect so will greatly affect our electricity bill. We found the agency very unhelpful in the number of times they tried to fob us off.” “They were very slow to respond, it took several email exchanges between them and our parents and us threatening to involve Environmental Health” “Came round to look at it, and then painted over it, it came back within 3 weeks, and they haven’t done anything since, keep telling us it’s ALL condensation. Only thing is that we had GREEN mould in the hallway massively fast-growing at the beginning of the year, and after nagging them LOTS of times and so on, they finally did something about it after FOUR months, and repaired something on the roof, remains to be seen if it actually solved the problem”
Overall, respondents’ opinions on the condition of their properties varied considerably with 28.4% of students reporting that they considered their property condition to be ‘fairly good’, 22% reporting that the condition of their property was ‘very good’, 22% ‘average’, 17.7% ‘fairly poor’ and 8.8% ‘very poor’. However, differences become apparent when you look at the amount of rent paid and who manages the property. Amongst respondents who reported paying over £100 per week rent, the overall opinion on property condition was ‘fairly good’ although there was a slightly higher level of discontent in the £115-£125 range, in which respondents considered their properties to be only ‘average’. What is particularly interesting to note however is the higher degrees of satisfaction with the condition of property in the lower rent range. Indeed, 43% of respondents who reported paying rent under £70 per week considered their property to be in ‘fairly good’ condition; similarly, 43% of respondents who reported paying rent between £70 and £75 per week selected ‘very good’. Respondents were more likely to be satisfied with the condition of their property where it was managed by a landlord, with 32% of respondents in this group reporting that their property was in ‘fairly good’ condition and 78% selecting between ‘very good’ and ‘average’. In contrast, only 11% of respondents whose property was managed by a letting agent rated the condition of their property as being ‘very good’ and 76% rated it between ‘fairly good’ to ‘fairly poor’ (27% fairly good; 24% average; 25% fairly poor).
2.5 Go greener! The Students’ Union is committed to protecting the environment and is involved a variety of projects and activities to raise awareness about environmental issues and support sustainable initiatives. We also recognise that being environmentally friendly can substantially reduce household bills. The survey therefore asked a range of questions designed to find out more about how environmentally friendly properties and property providers are. 46.4% of respondents reported that their property was double glazed throughout, a 5% increase from last year. Despite this however, and in line with last year’s survey, a significant proportion of respondents (57%) also reported that their properties were not well insulated or draught proof, with expensive and problematic consequences for tenants. Comments included: “Insulation was incredibly poor, meaning not only were we freezing most of the time, but had to have the heating on a lot” “I live in a poorly insulated property so the bills are massive as you could imagine” “The house is not well insulated at all so when heating is used it takes a while to warm up the house and even then it can be quite cold (winter) .... heat is lost very rapidly meaning our bills for heating do add up quite a lot” “The house is an energy consuming black hole. It is draughty, we have oil heaters to keep the house warm which use a lot of energy, one tenant has developed asthma whilst living here. When he disposes of broken items he simply puts them in the bin instead of recycling it (leading to one of us rescuing said item from the bin), an overall frustrating landlord” Properties managed by landlords were generally reported as being better insulated and draught-proof than properties managed by letting agents (48% vs. 24%) as well as having a higher percentage of respondents who reported that their properties were double glazed (53% vs .42%). Although most respondents (52%) did not know what the energy efficiency ratings were for any white goods that were provided with their properties, only a small proportion of those who did reported that their white goods didn’t have high energy efficiency ratings when compared to last year’s survey (17.5% vs. 39.5%). Again properties managed by landlords appeared to have white goods with higher energy efficiency ratings than those managed by letting agents (26% vs 12%). 85.3% of respondents reported that their property had a garden or outside space but only 53.7% of those respondents reported that it was in a tidy and reasonable condition when they moved in, although this percentage rises to 74% among those properties managed directly by landlords. The maintenance of gardens and outside spaces appears to be mainly the responsibility of tenants (52%), especially amongst properties managed by letting agents (58%). However 74.5% of those respondents who reported that it was their responsibility to maintain the garden or outside space reported that they were not provided with any tools with which to do so with those properties managed by letting agents being the least likely to have the necessary tools (26% vs. 11%).
The majority of respondents (56%) who reported that they had a garden or outside space reported that they had not sought permission to use it for any ‘green activities’ (growing food, composting food waste) with only 12% reporting that they had asked but were not allowed to use the garden for such activities. Only 37% of respondents reported that they were informed by their landlord or letting agent about rubbish and recycling days. Whilst the qualitative comments revealed that there is some best practice to be found amongst property providers in terms of green initiatives, many respondents reported far less positive experiences. Comments included: “Landlady recommended full recycling all the time as well as giving advice on saving energy, when to use the boiler etc.” “Would have liked to have information provided about recycling - which bins, what days etc. Had to look it up ourselves” “I don’t think they understand the term “being green” AT ALL” “I have found numorous free green initiatives but the landlord never allows it - e.g free insulation from British Gas and the Green Deal Pioneer Places scheme. I’ve also been improving the garden a great deal - and have created a small pond for the 50+ toads and frogs in our garden! I’ve also set up a compost bin and have added compost to improve the soil. I’ve also started growing flowers and slowly disposing of the load of waste in the garden. The landlord won’t reply to emails about this - and isn’t interested in it at all. Even though I’m making a huge effort to find ways to improve the properties energy efficiency, the landlord is not interested”
2.6 Are students finding properties that provide a suitable environment in which to study? It is reasonable to assume that when students rent a property they expect it to provide a good study space as well as a suitable environment in which to live. Respondents were therefore asked whether their property provided a suitable environment in which to study. Answers and experiences varied considerably. On the one hand some respondents reported that their properties were well furnished and large enough to provide a suitable space in which to study (58%) with no significant difference by age or level of study. However, the remaining 42% did not agree that their property provided a suitable environment in which to study. The main issues to affect respondents’ opinions as to whether or not a property provided a suitable environment in which to study were poor insulation (creating a cold and draughty environment) and the presence of mould and damp. Comments included: “It was freezing the whole winter as all the heat escaped through the hole in the roof” “I have a desk, so that’s good. Sadly the desk is surrounded by mould and the extreme cold of the house even when the heating is full blast makes it difficult to concentrate” “Only because the house has no insulation. Too frozen to study” “Property is cold, draughty and poorly lit. Much more likely to study on campus” Other issues that affected respondents’ rating of their property in this respect related to the lack of suitable furniture, noisy flatmates/neighbours and poor internet connection. In many cases, tenants reported that they had refurbished the room themselves in order to provide a suitable study space. Comments included: “I refurnished my room and brought my own desk, chair, and some shelves. My room is really tiny and because I refurnished it, I now have at least a spacious desk. (Before that there was just a very tiny desk in my room with and old uncomfortable chair)” “The house was full of clunky old left-over furniture (ie huge wardrobes in small rooms) we had to disassemble all this in order to get desks in and store it ourselves”
2.7 Good practice amongst landlords and letting agents Although this report has highlighted many negative experiences encountered by students living in the private rented sector, it is important to recognise the many examples of good practice amongst landlords and letting agents were also reported by respondents. The qualitative comments reveal that many students have experienced polite, approachable, respectful, helpful and professional attitudes from property managers and that where this occurs it is greatly appreciated. Comments included: “My experience with our current landlady […] has been very pleasant, she’s very nice, kind, responsive and easily-approachable. Whenever we have an issue with something, we can email her and expect to receive a response within a day’s time”. “[The agents] are approachable and always respond quickly to any problems we have contacted them with The letting agents have a special branch which deals with any issues in the property and they are always very helpful and polite” “[The letting agency] have treated both myself and my flatmates with respect. This is not something that we have experienced in any of our houses before and we feel this is solely due to leaving the student rental market. I am pleased that [the letting agency] accepted us as tenants as many letting agents here do not accept any students, meaning that there are no options other than those who are rude, disrespectful and essentially inhumane in their treatment of students who are struggling to find adequate living conditions” “Extremely informative, friendly and approachable. professional and responsible as well as supportive and understanding” “[Our landlord] has always acted in very professional, approachable, and pleasant manner. All issues and problems were clearly addressed, communicated, and resolved quickly”
“She ensures all the required checks are carried out and is the only landlord I have ever had who gave me a proper introduction to the house and included fire safety and smoke alarms as well as more mundane things” Where these attitudes are combined with a property that offers a healthy, clean and pleasant living space this is also immensely appreciated by students and helps to establish a good relationship between tenants and the property owner and/or manager. Comments included: “[The agents] have been fantastic - nothing is too big of a challenge or problem. It’s a beautiful house and it’s really well kept. We were with [another agency] last year and thought their service was brilliant, but [the new one] is much much more committed to their properties” “The letting agent was very friendly, did not pressure us, was extremely helpful in helping us find a house at a late time and even helped us find a roommate. Also, the properties shown were in very good condition and wellmaintained, and not unreasonably expensive. All the house viewings were interesting” “Provided a clean and safe environment with white goods. Although I feel this is good it is only in comparison to the previous unhealthy environments I have had to live in previously” “The living environment is extremely pleasant and an ideal location to work within, so I would just like to thank my landlord for making it such a nice place to be!” “The house was immaculate when we moved in, despite it being filthy when the last housemates lived there” There were also many examples provided of property managers who offered regular and clear communication, who were informative, easily reachable in cases of emergency concerning the property and who provided alternative contact details. Comments included: “My landlord is extremely considerate, approachable and we communicate regularly and also we have an alternative contact if we can’t get hold of them or tell us they are away for the weekend” “no unclear/ ambiguous points” “Letting agent always keeps us informed if anything happens” “She came in in the beginning of the year to meet all of us living here, and she showed all of the things we had to be aware of. She record everything - we all have receipts for our payments, she sends us the bills as promised, she has a folder with all the instructions for the machines and she always answers our e-mails and calls” “Good communication with his tenants, very efficient in terms o contract, safety inspection etc.” “In person he has always been friendly, helpful and concise in what he says” This kind of relationship is particularly appreciated among non-UK students. Some also reported that their property manager had made a real effort to help them to understand the procedures involved in renting a property and to support them in their experience of the UK. Comments included: “[My landlord] became almost like a friend to us that we can talk to about anything related to the life in the UK” “She picked me up from the train station when I arrived in Eastbourne, and showed me around the area for the first couple of weeks.” “The agent helped with a bit of cleaning and deliver us by their car on the day of arrival, with 6 luggages in total”
Where landlords do not maintain properties well, students greatly appreciate the intervention of letting agents who promptly mediate in order to solve any maintenance problems. Comments included: “The landlord has done #§&%$&$%#, if it wasn’t for [our agency] this house would have fallen apart” “They always answered my emails and calls, were really polite and friendly and always seemed to empathise when our house was falling to bits around us and appeared to “try their best” to help us. I suspect it was the landlord to blame, but we never met him so it’s hard to say” Indeed, prompt and effective intervention by property owners and managers when problems occur is one of the most frequently commented on examples of good practice. Comments included: “Our bath/shower broke on Valentine’s Day, and started leaking into the room downstairs. Although it was late in the day, one of the letting agents came to our house to observe what was happening, and a plumber was called for as early as possible (the next morning - the leak had stopped as soon as the shower was off)” “Letting agent and landlord are very cooperative, always come round straight away if there are any problems. Recently needed a new boiler fitted and we were offered compensation for the time with no hot water or heating without having to ask as well as lending us electric heaters. Very caring agency” “[The agency] always send someone round quickly”. “My door had never been able to shut properly. I explained to the agents I’d like someone to come round to fix it so that I would be able to shut it. Within 2 hours someone had come and done exactly what I’d asked.” “Our private landlord is always there for us if there is any problem in the flat. When our fridge broke, he brought a new one for us in a day” “Whenever we have a problem with anything in the flat, as soon as we let them know they come and fix it or send someone to fix it which is very good for us since we are students and need a good working space in the flat where things are working properly” “If we have a problem our landlord makes sure he comes round the next day to solve it!” “The boiler packed up at about half eleven in the evening and the landlady arrived about ten minutes after I text her!” “Every time something has been broken, we have been able to contact them straight away and they arrived to fix it themselves very quickly. When a truck crashed into our front fence in the evening they were there first thing the next morning to fix it” “When we found mice in the house, it was taken seriously: large traps with capacity for ten mice each were provided and the landlord boarded up all holes, as well as removing the mice we did catch. This problem has fortunately not persisted, probably because it was dealt with so swiftly” A willingness to make changes to the property in order to improve the experience of those students living in it, was something commented on by many respondents and can also therefore be seen as a best practice approach. Comments included: “A whole new kitchen was installed with agency’s expenses” “Exchanged a fairly old window in my room with a new one, immediately brought in a new cooker when the former one seemed to be out of order, brought in a second fridge after I asked for one since one fridge for 5 people is not enough” “On the first week two of us felt that our mattresses were a little hard. […] [The landlady] brought two over within the space of three days” “The drawers in my room were mouldy and rotting which made my bedroom smell awful. I emailed the landlord directly and she replaced them for me very quickly” “She provided new furniture and painted our rooms to colours of our choice!”
“They bought me a new desk, chair and sofa bed” “He replaced our fridge because it was slightly old, has brought round drain unblocker a few times, and tells us we should always let him know of problems because he wants to provide a nice environment for us to live in” “[The landlord] even hired builders to fix an issue with the roof” “[The landlord] built a driveway on the front lawn, so I could park my car as parking is awful” “During the Christmas holidays they insulated the ceiling above my room without me even asking” Another example of good practice can be found in the flexible approach that some property managers take to the payment of rent, especially amongst students whose income does not always match the standard monthly rent schedule or who are experiencing financial difficulties. Some respondents also reported a similarly flexible and sometimes generous approach to the payment of bills. Comments included: “Few tenants had money troubles during the year, agent was very understanding and helpful” “Due to the timing of the student loans, I am sometimes late in paying rent or can only pay a certain amount which is good” “[The landlord] has been nice to some of my flatmates, who need to renegotiate the payment of the rent due to lack of money” “[The landlord] is not that strict and he doesn’t causes any trouble if the rent is paid few days later than the day that we have initially agreed. This is really good for us since we’re not from the UK and so there are some delays while money are being transferred from our country of origin to the UK” “Rent includes bills, and at the end of billing period we are refunded any over payments to bills” “They also covered our heating bill over the xmas period when the house was empty to stop the pipes freezing” “Included internet in the price of the rent” “Our landlord is paying our gas bill after we had continual problems with mould, and through doing this the problem has been solved” Further examples of a flexible approach to individual circumstances that were appreciated by students were also reported, particularly where students were absent for long periods or wished to change or bring to an end a tenancy agreement. Comments included: “Only pay half rent for July and August” “I signed my tenancy agreement and moved in later than my housemates and the landlord reduced my rent for that month, as I hadn’t been living in the property” “Our tenancy agreement is a fixed term one, but we all want to leave, so he’s allowed us to sublet our rooms” “When we originally signed the contract it was for 2 names. My partner now wishes to move in too so I spoke with the landlord to check that was ok with them, They agreed and said all they’d want would be for him to sign something. I was expecting them to charge us an admin fee, or ask us all to sign a new contract but there was none of that. It was simple and easy, and is happy for the deposit to remain as it is (as myself and other housemate were happy for that)” “[The landlord] let us leave our belongings in the house over the summer ( after this tenancy agreement finishes and before the next on starts in September) when we’re not paying for the house”
Perhaps the most appreciated example of good practice regarding rent, fees, bills and other costs however is when students feel that these costs are fair and that they are not being exploited. Comments included: “A friendly and fair approach to costings has been really appreciated” “kept the rent WAY lower than surrounding properties because she doesn’t believe in ripping off students” “Allowed us to negotiate with the price increase” Others good practices that respondents reported concerned tenant privacy, the free use of outdoor spaces, responding to specific needs (for example for students with children or with pets) and giving priority to students who are already customers. Comments included: “The letting agent always lets us know if they will be visiting the property or if someone else will be visiting the property (for maintenance, etc.)” “Always keeps us informed about plans for the building/visits to the property” “[The landlord] has allowed us to transform the garden as we please, and we can now grow veg and have a small sitting area” “[The landlord] is dog-friendly which is extremely important to us, as we are pet owners” “[The landlord] built a new playground near our house” “We were with them last year so they allowed us to have first choice on any of their houses”
In order to recognise good practice where it occurs and to encourage other property owners and managers to follow suit we have this year established a range of ‘best practice’ awards that respondents were able to nominate their landlord or letting agent for if they felt that they had offered outstanding service in a particular area. All nominations are being considered by an independent panel and the final recipients will be announced in due course.
2.8 Letting agents: scores and ratings Of those respondents who reported that their properties were managed by letting agents, half have their properties managed by ten agencies: MTM (10.98%); G4 Lets (10.16%); Brighton Accommodation Agency (5.83%); Kendrick Property Services (5.28%); Homelets (5.15%); Pavillion Properties (4.88%); Hove Lets (3.66%); Home Leasing (3.39%); Grosvenor Properties (3.12%); and GK Whites (2.98%). Similarly to last year, the most commonly-used letting agents were ranked using a scoring system which allocated points for each of the possible responses under the following criteria: •
Provision of a good level of customer service (i.e. helpful, polite, easy to get hold of, etc)
Low upfront fees (e.g. administration fees)
Provision of clear information about costs and the terms of the tenancy agreement
Acting in a reasonable and timely way to resolve any reported problem (e.g. repairs, complaints, etc)
Provision of a safe and comfortable property (e.g. free from mould and damp, well insulated and draugh proof, etc)
Provision of a property that provides a suitable environment for studying
Overall opinion about experience
If an agent was rated ‘very good’ by the majority of respondents on a measure, they were awarded +2 points; ‘fairly good’ +1 points; ‘average’ 0 points, ‘fairly poor’ –1 points; and ‘very poor’ –2 points. The mean average across each criteria was then calculated in order to obtain a final score on a scale of +14 to –14. Figure 13 outlines the final scores for each letting agent. Rank
1 2 3 4 5
Sussex Student Lettings Q Lets GK Whites Barrie Alderton
Total Points 13 11 6 2
Brighton Accommodation Agency
11 11 12 13 13 14
Kendrick Property Services Hove Lets G4 Lets Homelets Pavillion Properties Choices
-9 -9 -10 -11 -11 -12
Figure 13 – Table showing scores allocated to letting agents based on respondents’ rating of their performance As can be seen from the table, only five letting agencies have positive final scores: Sussex Student Lettings, Q Lets, GK Whites, Barrie Alderton, and Roost. Sussex Student Lettings achieved the highest score (+13), while Choices scored the lowest (-12). See appendix 1 for details.
Whilst the above table reflecting the mean provides an interesting indicator of how respondents scored agents across the criteria, this year we have also used these scores to create a ratings system for letting agents based on a five key system. In order to give a more accurate and easily understood reflection of the performance of the most commonly used letting agents. This ‘key’ system ranged from a possible ‘0 keys’ for those who were rated ‘very poor’ by respondents on almost all measures to a maximum of ‘5 keys’ for agents who were rated ‘very good’ on almost all measures. The rating system accounted for half keys so any given letting agent could be rated as one of eleven possible key scores (e.g. 0, 0.5, 1, 1.5 etc). Appendix 2 outlines the scores and the ranges for each score. The key ratings are based on respondents answers to the same seven criteria, all of which were rated on five-point scales. Six of these criteria were rated on five-point scales running from strongly disagree to strongly agree, with the final criteria running from very poor to very good. The answers were weighted from -2 (strongly disagree/ very poor) to +2 (strongly agree/ very good). This weighting emphasised the good practice of agents whilst also making sure letting agents that were rated poorly across a majority of measures but highly for one or two did not overachieve. To calculate the rating for each agent, it was deemed appropriate to weight the mean (average) score for each of the seven questions. This was done by dividing the total of the individual scores by the number of respondents for each agent. For example, if 32 respondents answered questions for agent A then the sum of the answers for each question was divided by 32. The advantage of doing this was that it enabled agents who had a larger number of respondents to be fairly compared with those who had fewer respondents. Once the weighted mean score for each question was calculated for an agent, these were then combined to achieve the final mean score for the agent. This final mean score was between -2 and +2 and so could be placed within our key rating range (see appendix 2) allowing us to assign a final key rating. The results (Figure 14) show that the highest key ratings achieved any agent this year was Four Keys (two agents) with the lowest (four agents) being one key. Appendix 2 details the scores achieved by each agent and a full breakdown of scores for each scored agent is available on request. The average key rating awarded this year was 2 keys meaning that Property Moves, Roost, Barrie Alderton, GK Whites, Sussex Student Lettings and QLets all performed above average while Homelets, Just Lets, MTM, G4 Lets, Hove Lets, Pavillion Properties, Kendrick Property Services and Choices were all rated as below average by students who responded to this year’s survey. Letting Agent
Q Lets Sussex Student Lettings GK Whites Barrie Alderton Roost Property Moves Home Leasing John Hilton Parks Letting Grosvenor Properties Harringtons Brighton Accomodation Agency Homelets Just Lets MTM G4 Lets Hove Lets Pavillion Properties Kendrick Property Services Choices
Four Four Three and a half Two and a half Two and a half Two and a half Two Two Two Two Two Two One and a half One and a half One and a half One and a half One One One One
Figure 14 - Table showing key ratings allocated to letting agents based on their weighted scores
In addition to this, all respondents who advised that a landlord managed their property were put together to provide an indicative score. Due to the great number of different landlords who provided housing to respondents, and the variation in experience that this entails, this should only be used as an indicator and cannot be placed in our key rating scale. That being said the landlords compared very well, coming out above average with three and a half keys. In conclusion, it is possible to find many examples of good practice during a tenancy amongst both landlords and letting agents who manage student properties. As one respondent said: â€œThey were brilliant, they came and removed the mould, tiled our bathroom to prevent damp coming in, removed all the mould ridden woodchip from the upstairs toilet and several other rooms and painted all the affected rooms with anti-mould paint. They also installed loft insulation to help and gave us advise on opening windows and all that. Not a trace of mould since the work was done. REALLY REALLY PLEASED WITH THE SERVICE THEY PROVIDED!â€? However there is a need for substantial improvements, particularly amongst letting agents, if the experience of students during their tenancy is to be improved. Many students found that the property they moved into was not in the condition they had expected. Some found that that their property was poorly maintained with poor insulation and draughts making it cold and resulting in higher energy bills, creating an unsuitable environment in which to study, and that any problems they reported were ignored or not dealt with promptly and effectively (with mould a particular problem). Where properties had a garden or outside space that student tenants were responsible for maintaining, they were rarely provided with the necessary tools to do so. Information about rubbish and recycling days was often not provided and green initiatives received very little support from property owners.
Part 3: After the tenancy This section considers student’s experiences after a tenancy has ended and looks at both those who chose to remain in the same property for a further period and those who left when the tenancy came to an end. 3.1 What happens when a tenancy ends? Once a tenancy agreement ended, most respondents (64%) reported that they left their current property and moved somewhere else.
Figure 15 – Did students move out at the end of their tenancy? (All respondents) Perhaps unsurprisingly, higher percentages of respondents who left the property at the end of their tenancy were found amongst undergraduate students in their 2nd and 3rd year (both around 56%) with 2nd year students the most active in changing property: they represent 43% of those who moved out. Only 8% of those who changed property were postgraduates; however when looking at postgraduate students only, 42% of postgraduate taught students moved out at the end of their tenancy. UK students changed their tenancy more than other students: 81% against 11% of EU students and 8% of international students. Therefore, it seems that undergraduate and home students are those who mostly move out at the end of the tenancy in order to find different accommodation. Among the qualitative comments, respondents who left their property at the end of their tenancy reported being charged a variety of different fees including ‘check out’ fees that often included an amount to cover professional cleaning. Of the 36% of respondents who reported that they remained in the property at the end of a tenancy, 72% reported that they signed a new tenancy agreement whilst only a small proportion (27%) reported that they stayed in the same property without signing a new agreement, with postgraduate students making up the largest proportion of this group: 12% of postgraduate taught students and 14% of postgraduate research students. Similarly, 12% of EU students and 13% of international students reported that they stayed in the property without signing a new agreement.
Amongst those who stayed in the same property at the end of their tenancy, 33% reported that they were charged additional fees in order to remain. 83% of these respondents were charged for signing a new tenancy agreement. Analysis of the qualitative comments shows that additional fees charged in order to remain in a property at the end of a tenancy were often justified as administration fees, reference check fees (in spite of being the same tenants with the same guarantors) and inventory fees. Respondents reported the cost of renewing the same tenancy agreement for the same property as being anywhere between £30 and £200 per person, a practice particularly prevalent amongst letting agents that received much criticism from students who felt that these represented unreasonable costs. Furthermore, some respondents reported that they had not been made aware of the costs involved in renewing when initially signing a tenancy. In contrast however others reported that at the end of the tenancy they were able to negotiate with their landlords to leave the letting agent and make a private agreement, thus avoiding potentially expensive additional fees. Only 28% of respondents who remained in the property at the end of their tenancy reported that their rent increased.
Figure 16 – Where students stayed, did their rent increase? (Filtered by respondents who remained in the property at the end of a tenancy) Nevertheless, the rent increase affected 90% of students who signed a new tenancy agreement, without any significant difference between properties managed by letting agents (47%) or by landlord (51%). Where rent was increased, this was reported as being between £10 and £50 per month. Again, some respondents reported that they were not made aware beforehand that the rent would increase if they chose to remain in the property whilst others reported that the lack of transparency resulted in a worsening of relations with their property manager. In contrast however some respondents reported that they were able to negotiate over the amount of rent increase with often advantageous results. Reasons given to justify rent increases were reported as including inflation, an increase in the cost of bills and the market rent for similar properties.
3.2 The return of the deposit Where respondents moved out at the end of a tenancy, one of the most pressing issues is often the return of the deposit, particularly as this usually represents a large amount of money that many students need in order to secure an alternative property. Amongst respondents who had paid a deposit, 41% reported that they received it back fully, 32% only partially, and 27% that they did not receive it back at all.
Figure 17 – Did students have their deposit returned to them? (Filtered by respondents who moved out at the end of their tenancy) Overall, more respondents received their deposit back in full when compared to last years’ survey (29% in 2011-12 vs. 41% in 2012-13). In line with last years’ results, postgraduate students (52%) and international students (45%) were the mostly likely groups to receive their deposit back in full whilst respondents living in properties that were managed by landlords were significantly more likely to receive their deposit back in full than those living in properties managed by letting agents (51% and 24% respectively). Of those respondents whose deposit was partially or fully withheld, only 26% felt that they had received a reasonable explanation for this, although it should be noted that this is just over 2% more than in last year’s survey.
Figure 18 – If the deposit was partially or fully withheld, did students feel that the explanation was reasonable? (Filtered by respondents whose deposit was either partially or fully withheld) This was an issue that many respondents provided further information about in the qualitative comments. Comments included: “A lot of our deposit was taken for no good reason, nothing was kept with the agreed timescale. We contested the elevated amount through the deposit protection scheme and recieved some back. The landlord through the agency was charging us extortionate prices for painting walls and the like with no proof that this would be the cost” “Deposit was withheld for very flimsy reasons. Eg. for cleaning although the property had been cleaned thoroughly. Landlady withheld a substantial amount from our deposit, but could not provide evidence or receipts for cost of cleaning.” Concerning this last issue, it should be noted that there were no significant differences by level of study, fee status or whether the property was managed by a landlord or letting agent. Only 32% of respondents whose deposits were withheld either partially or fully reported that they used a deposit dispute resolution service, with the majority of those who did reporting that they did not find it helpful (63%). Whilst the use of a deposit dispute resolution service has increased compared to last years’ survey (10% in 2011-12 vs 32% in 2012-13), the opinion of the helpfulness of that service has dropped considerably (56% in 2011-12 vs. 37% in 2012-13). Finally, among those respondents who received their deposit back, 63% reported that they received it promptly. This percentage is very interesting when compared to previous surveys (only 19% in 2010-11 and only 28% in 2011-12), and is an encouraging sign that students are increasingly getting their money back far more quickerly than in previous years.
3.3 Leaving the property: more experiences As already noted, many respondents provided information about deductions made from their deposit. Indeed, this was by far the most commonly reported problem at the end of a tenancy and often led to disputes between students and property managers. Comments included: “pay to have the mould cleaned and repainted and pay for ‘damages to the property’ which we did not cause” “The letting agents gave no good examples of why they were taking so much money from our deposits. They sent pictures to illustrate the ‘general condition’ of the property, but after several emails they still refused to supply pictures of the ‘damages’ they were claiming for. If I had caused damage to the property I would accept that, had I been provided with evidence to support their claim. For one month I had a circular email argument with one of their staff, who refused to explain in detail why so much money was being taken or produce specific photographs. She then decided that she’d had enough of the conversation and sent our remaining deposits by cheque to one of my flatmates parents (without checking whether we were still in touch etc first)! Nothing i had to say mattered as they’d decided they wanted the money and we were powerless.” “They tried to make us pay £350 out of the £1560 total deposit for things such as a broken garden bench which was already broken and removal of furniture which was there when we moved in. We battled with them after showing them photos from when we first moved in and got it down to £90 which I was still not very happy with!” Some of these disputes ended up involving formal court processes resulting in additional expenditure for students and their families. Comments included: “We had a legal battle with them - and had to get advice from lawyers and the University housing team - and got out of our tenancy before Christmas”
Conclusion Despite the many negative experiences recounted in this report, it is again worth reiterating that there were also many examples of good practice amongst landlords and letting agents reported by respondents. As mentioned in section 2.7 respondents greatly appreciated it when their property managers were polite, respectful, helpful and professional and offered prompt and effective responses to reported problems, especially when repairs were needed. The provision of good quality, clean and well-maintained properties, a willingness to make changes to the property in order to improve the experience of those students living in it and a flexible approach to the individual circumstances of students are all examples of good practice that were reported by respondents in this year’s survey that we hope to see increasingly more of in future years. However there is a need for substantial improvements, particularly amongst letting agents, if the experience of students living in private rented property is to be improved. Students do not feel that they are being offered well-maintained properties in good condition, feel pressured to make quick decisions and pay costly fees in order to secure a property, are financially penalised for not being able to provide a suitable UK-based guarantor, have difficulty getting any problems resolved promptly and effectively, and are often not given the basic information or necessary equipment that will enable them to maintain their properties well whilst they are living there. As a result this report goes on to make a number of key recommendations that seek to improve information, drive up standards in the sector and improve the experience of students living in private rented properties.
Key findings •
Most students start looking for property between January and March. Postgraduate and international students however mostly start looking for property between July and September. The most common time for students to move into properties is between July and September.
Almost half of students find their property through a letting agency. An increasing number of students however, especially non-UK and postgraduate students, prefer to use websites such as StudentPad in order to find a property.
Although high numbers of non-UK students do not view properties in person, over two thirds view photos.
Most students view two or more properties before choosing one. The main reason for rejecting a property is the ‘poor condition’ of the property. Amongst non-UK and postgraduate students however, the main reason for rejecting a property is that the rent is ‘too expensive’.
Almost all students do read the tenancy agreement but less than a half get it checked by a third person before signing it.
A third of students felt pressure from landlords or letting agents to secure a property they were viewing and felt that unless they paid the fees immediately they would lose the property and be unable to find anything else suitable.
The practice of asking for a UK-based guarantor is more widespread than last year with three quarters of students asked to provide one. Non-UK students and students whose parents are not property owners and/or have a low income are particularly disadvantaged by this practice and are charged an average of 4-6 months rent in advance and/or deposit as a result of not being able to provide a suitable UK-based guarantor.
More than half of students are charged holding fees and administration fees at an average cost of £163 and £178 respectively with many also being charged fees for a variety of other costs, not all of which are always made clear beforehand.
Landlords generally charge lower fees than letting agents.
Three quarters of students are required to pay a deposit with the average amount being equivalent to 4-6 weeks rent. This is significantly higher for students who are unable to provide a suitable UK-based guarantor.
Generally speaking, there is still a wide lack of awareness amongst students about the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme, with non-UK students slightly less aware than other student groups.
Students feel that the private rented sector, particularly in Brighton and Hove, has a high demand for an insufficient number of properties and that those properties are generally in poor condition. The amount charged for properties is often considered by students to be too expensive for the quality provided.
The private rented sector is dominated by letting agents and yet many students would prefer to deal directly with landlords, often finding that landlords offer a less expensive, often friendly and more transparent service.
University-managed accommodation does not appear to be offering a viable alternative to private rented properties as many students find them too expensive, badly located and in high demand.
Moulsecoombe and Bevendean, Hanover and Elm Grove and East Brighton are the areas with the highest concentration of student properties.
Just under half of properties rented by students who responded to the survey are managed by letting agencies with a similar number managed by landlords and only a small percentage managed by their University.
In properties managed by letting agents, there is often a lack of clarity about who is responsible for dealing with reported problems such as repairs.
The average rent remains the same as in last year’s report, at between £90 and £94.99 per week (£390 - £411 per month). The average rent paid by international students however is slightly higher than the overall average (£95£99.99 per week, £412-£433 per month).
More than half of students found their property in the condition they expected to find it when they moved in.
Mould is one of the most common problems faced by students in relation to the condition of properties with only a small proportion of property managers reportedly taking any effective action to solve the problem.
There are higher degrees of satisfaction about the condition of properties amongst students who pay rent in the lower range. Significantly higher levels of satisfaction are also found amongst students whose properties are managed by landlords rather than letting agents.
Landlords appear to be more supportive than letting agents of green initiatives (including providing information about recycling days) but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Students greatly appreciate property managers who are polite, respectful, helpful and professional and offer prompt and effective responses to reported problems, especially in respect of repairs. The provision of good quality, clean and well-maintained properties, a willingness to make changes to the property in order to improve the experience of those students living in it, and a flexible approach to the individual circumstances of students are also examples of good practice that students greatly appreciate.
Students’ opinions of letting agents are mainly negative and there is a clear preference for renting directly from property owners where possible.
Of the letting agents who were scored using a scoring system that rated their performance across a range of areas only 4 received positive final scores. Similarly, only 3 received more than 3 keys out of a possible 5 under the key rating system based on these scores.
Renewing the same tenancy agreement at the same property costs students between £30 and £200 per person. Only small numbers of students who renew their tenancy have their rent increased, at an average of between £10 to £50 per month.
Almost half of students receive their deposit back in full. Amongst those whose deposit is partially or fully withheld, only a small percentage feel that the deductions are reasonable. However, many more students received their deposit back promptly this year than in previous surveys.
Recommendations The findings of this report clearly demonstrate that whilst there are examples of good practice there is also a need for substantial improvements in many areas in order to drive up standards and improve the experience of students living in the private rented sector. We would like to see a situation where landlords and letting agents provide a consistently high level of service, where students have access to the information they need to make informed choices, are aware of their rights and responsibilities as tenants, and have realistic expectations about what their experience living in the private sector will be. The following recommendations, together with ongoing work on the recommendations made in previous reports, seek to offer ways that this could be achieved. Recommendation 1: Lobby for greater regulation of the private rented sector We recommend that there be greater regulation of the private rented sector in order to raise standards and ensure consistency of service to student tenants. 1A We remain committed to the principle of national regulation involving a compulsory set of standards that all property providers have to abide by and which includes the regulation of fees, agreed timescales for problem resolution and minimum property standards. Without compulsory regulation, and whilst demand exceeds supply, we believe that it will be difficult to ensure improved standards for private sector tenants across the board. This was a recommendation made in last year’s report and there has been some progress with the Department for Communities and Local Government conducting an inquiry into the private rented sector that the University of Sussex Students’ Union and many other organisations (including the NUS, Shelter and Citizens’ Advice) responded to. We will continue working towards implementing this recommendation. 1B As an interim measure before full, national implementation of a compulsory set of standards, we recommend that landlords and letting agents be encouraged to take up local council accreditation schemes such as Brighton and Hove City Council’s Landlord Accreditation Scheme and Letting Agents Accreditation Scheme. 1C We also recommend that landlords and letting agents be encouraged to embrace more vigorous self-regulation and consider signing up to a code of standards at least equal to those adopted by the Universities of Sussex and Brighton for landlords advertising on StudentPad7. This code provides a best practice model of a set of standards that outlines in a clear and transparent way what tenants can expect from property providers before, during and after a tenancy. Adopting such a comprehensive code, and ensuring that student tenants are provided with a copy, would help to reduce disputes whilst also offering students the reassurance of a robust set of standards. Any code adopted should include details about how students can make a complaint if they are unhappy with the service they have received and what they can do if they feel this complaint has not been resolved satisfactorily. Recommendation 2: Improve the information, advice and services available to students when looking for somewhere to live, pre-tenancy and during a tenancy Whilst there is already a wealth of information available to both current and prospective students on private sector housing, and this information has been increased and improved over the last 12 months in response to one of the recommendations made in last year’s report, this year’s findings demonstrate that there is still a need to make further improvements in this area. We recommend that there be comprehensive, clear and transparent information, independent advice and student-focused services available to students when they are looking for somewhere to live as well as both pre-tenancy (i.e. once they have identified a potential property but have not yet paid any fees or signed a tenancy agreement) and during their tenancy. This would ensure that students have all the information they need to make an informed choice about where to look for somewhere to live, whether or not to go ahead with a tenancy and what to expect during a tenancy.
2A Following last year’s report, the University of Sussex Students’ Union developed a key housing messages document in conjunction with the University of Sussex Housing Office and the University of Sussex Students’ Union’s Advice and Representation Centre that identified the key information that needed to be communicated to specific groups of students at particular times of the year and how this should be achieved. We recommend that this document be updated to also include more timely and targeted information in the following areas: •
Reassurance that properties become available throughout the year and that there is no need to feel pressured into accepting a property that is unsuitable
Information on how to find landlords (for example through StudentPad)
Information on how to avoid rogue landlords, fake sites and rent scams etc (particularly for students who are not in the area and are reliant on internet-based methods for finding properties)
Information on alternative housing options (for example student housing co-ops)
2B Whilst both Universities and the University of Sussex Students’ Union already offer information, advice and services that seek to ensure students are informed about the process of finding, securing, living in and leaving a property in the private rented sector, this year’s findings demonstrate that there is still much more that can be done to ensure these are available to all students. We therefore recommend the following: •
Better promotion of existing information resources (for example the University of Sussex Students’ Union’s ‘Moving On’ guide, the University of Sussex Students’ Union Advice and Representation Centre’s housing advice webpages and the University of Sussex Housing Office’s online information on private sector housing)
Better promotion of the University of Sussex Students’ Union’s Advice and Representation Centre, which offers specialist advice and representation on issues including housing
Better promotion of the tenancy agreement checking service offered by both the University of Sussex Students’ Union Advice and Representation Centre and the University of Sussex Housing Office, including more information about why this free service is so useful for students and how and where to access it
The publication and promotion of a new guide aimed at students living in the private rented sector that provides more in-depth information on tenant rights and responsibilities during a tenancy, tips on how to look after your property and avoid common problems and ways to encourage better relationships with other tenants and neighbours
2C Following last years’ report we developed a rating system for letting agents based on a five-key scale that allocates the most commonly-used letting agents with a key rating from 0-5 based on their scores across a range of categories in the survey as reported by survey respondents. We have also produced information sheets for students providing a more detailed breakdown of the performance of each of the same letting agents in this year’s survey. We recommend that both the key ratings and information sheets be promoted as a valuable resource that will help to inform students about the different levels of service they can expect to receive based on information that has been provided by their peers, and thus enable them to make more informed choices when considering using a letting agency.
2D Landlords and letting agents have an important role to play in ensuring that tenants are properly informed and aware of their rights and responsibilities. We recommend that landlords and letting agents review any information they currently provide and ensure that it includes the following: •
Pre-contract information on the fees, costs and processes involved in securing a property and about any fees/costs that will be charged once a tenancy has begun/when it comes to an end (e.g. inventory fees, check out fees, renewal fees etc) so that students are clear beforehand and are not subjected to any unexpected charges.
Clear information from the start about what the deposit is for, what will happen to it, the circumstances under which it will be returned or under which deductions will be made, an undertaking to provide a clear explanation and breakdown of costs for any deductions and the redress available to tenants if they experience any problems in the return of their deposit.
Information specific to the property and tenancy (for example a signed tenancy agreement, a deposit receipt, an accurate inventory, a copy of the gas safety certificate, information about the rubbish/recycling collection days for that property, information about who is responsible for bill payments, details of current utility suppliers, meter readings, details of who to contact about repairs and maintenance issues, emergency contacts, etc).
Information and advice on how to avoid common problems such as mould (where this arises as a result of humidity, condensation or poor ventilation). It should be noted however that landlords and letting agents need to treat any report of mould seriously and investigate to see whether it might be caused by problems in the property itself (damp, leaks, etc).
Recommendation 3: Lobby to reduce the financial burden of students living in private rented property Living in the private rented sector is expensive. Rents in the south-east are higher than in any other region in the UK outside of London and Greater London8. Fees and costs are prohibitively high for many students and are sometimes unexpected. We therefore recommend that the Students’ Union lobbies to reduce the financial burden placed upon students wherever possible. This could include: •
Supporting Shelter’s campaign to end upfront letting fees9.
Lobbying landlords and letting agents to restrict fees to a level that reflects the actual value of the work undertaken and to ensure that clear and transparent pre-contract information is provided to students on all the fees and costs that may arise before, during or after a tenancy.
Lobbying landlords and letting agents to limit any advance rent/additional deposit charged to students who are unable to provide a UK-based guarantor to no more than is necessary to cover any actual financial risk to the property owner.
Lobbying the University of Sussex to adopt the guarantor proposal that we submitted following last year’s recommendations that would allow students who do not have access to a suitable UK-based guarantor an opportunity to apply to the University of Sussex to act as guarantor
Lobbying the Universities to provide more low-cost University and University-managed accommodation, offering rent at below private sector market rent.
Recommendation 4: Promote improved property standards and the introduction of better procedures amongst property providers This year’s findings demonstrate that students do not feel that they are being offered well-maintained properties in good condition, have difficulty getting any problems resolved promptly and effectively, and are often not given the basic information or necessary equipment that will enable them to maintain their properties well whilst they are living there. Landlords and letting agents should be encouraged to offer improved property standards and introduce better procedures to improve the experience of students living in the private rented property. We therefore recommend that the Students’ Union lobbies landlords and letting agents on the following: •
To sign up to local accreditation schemes and a comprehensive code of standards as detailed in Recommendation 1. This should include minimum standards for property condition, maintenance, repairs and safety
To support green initiatives (for example ensuring properties have at least one recycling box, are adequately insulated and draught-free etc).
To provide tenants with the tools and equipment necessary to maintain their property (for example vacuum cleaner, gardening tools etc).
To place greater emphasis on providing good customer service to student tenants (for example being friendly, polite, professional, answering calls and emails, offering prompt and effective responses to reported problems etc) and to adopt a more flexible approach to the individual circumstances of students.
We also recommend that the Students’ Union works with local letting agents to improve communication about issues facing both property providers and students in the private sector, to formulate agreed common principles to ensure consistency of service standards, and to find other ways to work together to improve the experience of students. We have already started work in this area by establishing contact with many of the local letting agents and will continue to make efforts to develop these relationships in order to benefit students. Finally, we recommend that in order to encourage higher standards amongst property providers and highlight good practice where it occurs in the sector the Universities and both Students’ Unions should promote the newly-established letting agents key rating awards and landlord/letting agents best practice awards so that these offer an easily-recognised visual indicator to students of the service they can expect from property providers based on information provided by their peers. These recommendations should be initiated by both of the students’ unions and their progress measured through research such as the annual Rate Your Landlord survey. Information about the work already undertaken and ongoing progress can be found at www.sussexstudent.com/privatesectorhousing
Appendix 1 Table showing scores allocated to letting agents based on respondentsâ€™ rating of their performance
Appendix 2 Table showing scoring system, weighted scores and key ratings allocated to letting agents and landlords based on their scores
Our Rate Your Landlord report comes from our annual research project into students' experience of living in the private rented sector.