Panicked Students Warned Not to Rush into Signing Housing Contracts

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Students at the University have been warned by the Student Union’s Advice and Information Centre (SUAIC) and VP Welfare and Societies Emily Rees not be pressured into looking for housing for the next academic year too early, and avoid being rushed into signing contracts by rogue landlords.

The warning comes at the same time many students in private-rented accommodation have already been asked by landlords to decide whether they will be remaining for the next academic year – ten months before it begins.

A spokesperson from SUAIC told the Wessex Scene, ‘every year SUAIC sends the message out – don’t panic, study now, sign later. Yet, every year, with growing pressure from a certain landlords, a large number of students succumb to the hype and sign for a house far too early.’

The Union department warns that there are always more houses than students, and that if a landlord is pressuring you to take a property very early then it is usually not for a good reason – either it is not up to scratch or good value for money.

SUAIC has been actively encouraging students to wait until February after the exam period when there will be more information provided in the Union’s ‘Housing Week’, when students will be more informed.

One fourth-year Humanities student said they had learn the hard way about signing too early for a property . They told The Wessex Scene, ‘at the end of my first and second years we were under the impression from various landlords and students that if we didn’t find a house by Christmas then there would be no good ones left.

‘This meant we signed a contract with a very large and well-known company in the Southampton area who, I feel, charged significantly more than they should. They get away with it by leading students to believe that if they don’t sign soon then they won’t be able to find anywhere to live. As a result, we signed for a property that we paid about £10 a week more than others in the local area.

‘Last year we started looking around Easter and went with a private landlord who charged much less than we had been previously paying. We weren’t rushed into a decision and are really happy with our house and landlord.’

Rent prices no doubt play a significant role in landlords’ decisions to pressure students into signing contracts early; The Wessex Scene learnt of one company that charged £72 two years ago, but is asking for £85 for the next academic year.

Worse still, the company – which again is a well-known large student letting agency – asked the current occupants to decide last month if they were staying for the next year, threatening that if they didn’t receive an answer soon then the property would be put up for let for the next year straight away. The agency was unavailable to comment.

VP Welfare & Societies Emily Rees commented, ‘this year we have been working hard to ensure that our students are fully equipped with all of the information that they need on private renting. We have worked on a programme of events and information provision throughout the year that tie in with the student timetable of engaging with the housing subject.

‘We are starting the process in late November, where we will be providing a timeline of future events that will peak with our private rented information week in early February. It is important that you wait to rent a house until you have had all of the information that you need in terms of dealing with landlords, housing standards and deposit security…amongst much more.

If you’re friends are already looking and you are worried if you don’t sign up you may be left on your own, talk to them and get them to look at the links provided below. Make a decision as a group. If you can’t agree on this one then you’re going to have a tough time working out whose turn it is to wash up…’

‘Students have the power to shape the market’, the spokesperson from SUAIC said. ‘If they all rush in and sign up for the first house they see the standards will get lower and lower. You should know your rights, shop around and demand more for your money.’

If at all possible find a house that is covered by the University and Southampton City Council’s accreditation scheme. These houses won’t be up for grabs until 2011 and if they’re not up to standard you’ll have official backup. The accreditation scheme is called SASSH and it also offers lots of other information and advice including what sort of rent you can expect to pay see – www.sassh.co.uk/Accommodation-Overview.asp.

Other useful links:

www.susu.org/life/ – Students Union/University Housing Guide

www.susu.org/suaic/ – Students’ Union Advice & Information Centre

www.southampton.ac.uk/accommodation/privaterented/index.shtml – University Accommodation Service information.

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Discussion6 Comments

  1. avatar

    ‘ which again is a well-known large student letting agency’

    Surely to name and shame the letting agency would be appropriate in this situation especially as they were ‘unavailable to comment’ .

    Pete
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    appropriate or not, libel laws make it something we sadly can’t do

  2. avatar

    Really excellent article though Jess, well done. Wish there had been someone there to write this before I signed up for mouldy houses and psychotic landlords in second and third years.

  3. avatar

    As long as the statements made against the agency are true then even if damaging they cannot be said to be libellous. Surely it is in the student populations interest to be aware of these agencies or landlords and therefore being ‘fully equipped with all of the information that they need on private renting’

  4. avatar

    “As long as the statements made against the agency are true then even if damaging they cannot be said to be libellous.”

    Sadly, as a law student currently engaged in writing a dissertation on unfair libel laws, this is actually wrong. We would have to prove, to the high standards of an English court, the claims we made and any other sting the claimants read into it. Or else we’d have to rely on an arcane and complicated public interest defence.
    And we’d have to do it without legal aid or the benefit of a very expensive libel lawyer, which SUSU would be unable to afford.
    Even if its true, we still can’t actually say it. That’s the problem with libel law, and its not just us, its the whole press.

  5. avatar

    All I can say is be very careful when signing up for a house and offer a few pieces of advice to you freshers. Don’t want to preach, as it seems obvious points but i wish someone had told me this in my first year when i was clueless and put in charge of finding a new home!
    – If you can ask one of the tenants already there for the landlords number (even if an agency show you round) as more often than not the landlord will willing deal directly with you, thus allowing you to escape agency contract and administration fees, which he loses out on too.
    – Secondly ensure that you set up your standing order payment to cancel after your last rent payment i.e. enter a final payment date at your bank. A lot of people are too concerned with exams, in may and june, forget to cancel and over pay (some of my old housemates for instance).
    3) Also ensure your landlord places your deposit in the correct scheme and that you make a full inventory of the house and take photos of any damage when you move in, so you cannot be blamed.
    4). Not essential but I would move somewhere in Portswood to be near jesters/sobar, but ensure a friend moves somewhere close to uni like behind the library so you can go there for lunch and after nights at the Cube 🙂
    Good luck.

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