'Students must learn to say 'No!' to sub-standard accommodation'
In my first year as a Queen’s student I had my eyes opened as to just how unscrupulous some landlords can be. One particular house with mattresses on the floor of a large room, which also had a cooker and microwave in it, was described as a ‘convenient’ and ‘cosy’ setup. Perhaps I was asking too much but a makeshift bedroom-cum-kitchen wasn’t really what I had envisaged as my first experience of Uni life. Stories of rat infestations are not unheard of either; some landlords seem to see students simply as pound signs, caring very little for the state of the accommodation they rent to them.
The annual mad rush for accommodation for the next academic year begins in January, with many people having signed up to leases by St Patrick’s Day. The common misconception is that there aren’t enough houses for the multitude of students – this results in people taking the first thing they see in the fear there won’t be anything left if they leave as late as, oh I don’t know, April?! Viewing just two or three houses and signing a lease in a rush is a complete recipe for disaster. Many of the landlords out there simply don’t care what students are living in; £180 rent per month has been quoted to me personally as an excuse for a house full of damp. “You get what you pay for love” were the filthy rich businessman’s exact words as I recall.
At present, the average rent for a refurbished house in the Holyland area of Belfast is £200 per month. These prices are similar in Stranmillis and on the Lisburn Road. If we are going to be handing over £2400 a year to these private landlords then the least we can expect is a property fit for the purposes of multiple occupation. HMO standard dwellings will adhere to all the legal health and safety requirements, and they certainly won’t have damp.
Vice President of Welfare in the Student’s Union, Ciárnan Helferty has called for people to take their time and be aware of their rights when choosing rental accommodation. “People have to learn to say No and the Union has a responsibility to equip people with the skills necessary to be able to say No.” In an effort to raise awareness of the issue the Union will be providing first year Elms Village students with information packs in January. These will set out the main rights of tenants and the things to look out for when viewing houses.
The key is to look at as many properties as possible and ensure you are happy with everything before signing a lease, which may see you bound to a sub-standard property for the next year. If enough students refuse to accept these second-rate properties then landlords will be forced to sit up and take notice. Remember, there are more houses out there than tenants and the standard is improving with each rejection those unscrupulous landlords get.