By Elly Savva-Coyle
Housing is really a fundamental right. Having a safe and comfortable home makes a big difference to your well-being and allows you to live to your full potential, which is something that is especially important whilst you’re studying. You will hear many horror stories about student houses- from damp and mold to unwanted pet rats and mysterious objects left behind from previous tenants, there are many unpleasant experiences that you’d really rather avoid.
When people talk about moving to University, the conversation is usually focused around Freshers’ week and what it’s like living somewhere new for the first time. What’s spoken about a lot less is the jump from being in university halls to living in privately rented accommodation, which usually happens in your second year of study. In halls you are sheltered and protected by your university- with security, maintenance and well-being teams employed to help you at all times. However, when you leave this bubble and move out into privately rented housing, it’s pretty likely that you won’t receive the same level of care from your landlord.
Quite often in Cardiff landlords appear faceless, as many choose to go through lettings agents who deal with the whole renting process. The only time I have met my landlord in Cardiff was when I had to call his emergency out-of-hours line after accidentally locking myself out. Being the last one left in the house after my friends had gone home for Christmas, I had decided to order myself a takeaway. Unfortunately, I forgot about the self-locking door and ran outside into the pouring rain to collect my food, with the door slamming shut behind me… He arrived to the sight of me sat drenched on the front step, complete with a cold bowl of untouched noodles, wet pyjamas and a tear-smudged face. Fortunately, he laughed with me (or at me), took pity and didn’t charge the call-out fee.
Just the word ‘landlord’ is enough to evoke fear and dread in many people. However, landlords aren’t an unkown evil – they’re people like your friends’ parents, your wealthier neighbours, and the regulars that you see at the pub. They are just normal people who happen to own property and make a living from having you stay there. What makes this relationship feel difficult and unequal is the fact that they are providing something to you that is essential for your well-being, whilst their main priority will always be about turning over a profit. Learning about the rights and responsibilities your landlord has, as well as the things you should look out for when choosing a home, can really help to improve the whole experience of renting your first home
THE SMART MOVES PROJECT
In order to help students navigate the rental market, TPAS Cymru and the RLA (https://www.rla.wales/) have compiled ‘Smart Moves’ information for students. This guide has been set out to remove some of the stress from the equation, aiding students to see the full picture and helping them to choose suitable accommodation that will allow you to live safely and comfortably. To understand more about the project I spoke to David Rhys Wilton from TPAS Cymru about the Smart Moves project and the realities of student housing.
David explained that he felt there was a gap in the market in student literature about housing, as the existing information was about signing contracts and paying deposits, with little focus on how to actually select properties in the first place. In Cardiff, students often start looking at houses within the first term of arriving – at which point you are fresh from home and usually have no clue about safety measures like EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) and Gas Safety Certificates!
“We felt we needed a guide for people to know what to look for in a house. This isn’t just about bills – it’s about fundamental safety… We feel that it’s important that people are armed with the right things in order to make the smart choice.” (David Rhys Wilton-TPAS Cymru)
Over the last few years there have been lots of developments in Welsh legislation that have been set out to improve standards for lettings. The worry is that many tenants aren’t aware of this, and some landlords either aren’t aware or pretend not to be. David mentioned current issues in Cardiff around fire safety equipment and low energy efficiency ratings. He explained that the laws around there to protect students and keep them safe, but he worries that they aren’t always being enforced by landlords and lettings agents.
THE GUIDE & CHECKLIST
The Smart Moves Guide has been set out to help students know exactly what to look out for and consider before choosing a property. It talks you through all the important information like safety details and your responsibilities as a tenant, so you have the tools to make a smart choice. The accompanying checklist is designed for students to print out and take with them when looking at properties, so you can compare all the essential details alongside your own personal preferences.
It’s easy to feel pressurised into quickly putting down a deposit when looking at properties, however taking your time and asking for all the information that you’re legally entitled to can really help you in the long-term. Lettings agents do try and push you into making quick decisions, but it’s much better to wait things out and find a home that is safe and right for you.
TPAS Cymru can be found at http://www.facebook.com/tpas.cymru/
- Guide: http://www.tpas.cymru/ckfinder/userfiles/files/smartmovesstudentguide%20-%20english%20(1).pdf
- Checklist: http://www.tpas.cymru/ckfinder/userfiles/files/studentrentalchecklist%20-%20english.pdf