By Georgia Taylor, Second Year Politics and Spanish
As the student housing market opens for the next academic year, I spoke to Unirent founder and Bristol graduate Zach about the website he founded with two fellow students, Gus and Fraser; what inspired them to create it; and how it hopes to improve the situation for students in private housing.
That time of year has rolled around once again - the start of the house hunting season. The hours spent scrolling endlessly through Rightmove, the scramble to find housemates, and of course the house viewings. After interrupting someone’s lie-in to look around their bedroom, or seeing stacks of unwashed dishes and empty bottles in the kitchen, the reality of student living really starts to set in. That’s even before you’ve moved into your new house.
From move-in day, the cracks begin to show. Just about everything has broken at some point, your landlord seems to be ignoring their emails and, to top it off, they refuse to return your deposit at the end of the year on some minor charge with no evidence.
If this story sounds familiar, you are definitely not alone: an SU report from 2015 suggests that a staggering 90 percent of Bristol students reported having problems with their accommodation, and that ‘a third of students had such a poor housing experience that they would not recommend the University of Bristol to their friends’.
This story was also familiar for Bristol graduates Zach, Gus, and Fraser, when they moved into their second-year houses. ‘When we started our second year, Gus arrived at his new house to find that the landlord had decided to put in a new heating system leaving him and his housemates without hot water.’ says Zach. ‘This started off as an understandable inconvenience but as the months rolled on without any sign of a plumber it turned into a complete nightmare that only ended with the threat of legal action.’
The three of them soon learnt that many of their friends were also experiencing horrifying situations in their student houses. ‘It was whilst despairing over these tales at the pub that one of us floated the idea of a Tripadvisor for student homes. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment.’ And the concept of Unirent was born.
Unirent is a website where students can search for and post reviews of their houses based on a range of useful features, including the utility of bedrooms and living space, quality of communication with the landlord and the relationship with the neighbours.
There’s even a feature which tells you where the nearest pub is. Additionally, students can also find properties on the website; Unirent only work with exceptional landlords and agencies who have been reviewed and approved by students, which alleviates the worry of being duped into signing on a substandard property.
A good relationship between students and landlords can often be hard to maintain. It could be said that most people expect students to be less demanding tenants, prioritising affordable short-term contracts over the quality of the housing itself. Unfortunately, some landlords see students’ low expectations and inexperience in the housing market as an opportunity to take advantage.
For Zac, Gus and Fraser, the idea of a reviews system for student houses can help to make landlords more accountable for unacceptable treatment of student tenants, therefore incentivising them to provide a better and more transparent service.
90 per cent of Bristol students reported having problems with their accommodation.
‘There is around £10,000,000,000 being paid in rent a year by students and there is NO accountability to the people getting this money. Landlords and agents can consistently treat tenants badly because there are no consequences for them doing so. We believe that reviews can change this. You wouldn’t book a restaurant on Tripadvisor with 1 star so why would you rent a house with a 1-star review unless you had to?’
In addition to giving students a platform to share their renting experiences, Unirent is also reaching out to landlords and agencies to help improve their reputation and build relationships with the student community. Trusted landlords can use the site to advertise their properties, respond to reviews from students, and build a portfolio by obtaining outstanding ratings.
Going to sign for house I've never stepped foot in. Is this rash? No just the lengths bristol student housing makes us go to @MartinSLewis— Tom Mowbray (@TMowbs) December 10, 2012
Recognising and rewarding decent landlords for their work has proved to be a really unique and effective system that benefits both them and the students who rent from them. From his experience, Zach believes that the reviews are the key to highlighting decent landlords and agencies as well as warning students about bad ones.
‘After 3 years of collecting reviews, some landlords and agents do act in shocking ways that often cross the line between legal and illegal. Obviously, that is going to strain relationships. But there are a sizable number of agents and landlords who are doing a great job. Without reviews though, it’s difficult to separate the two groups which is why they are such a powerful tool for anyone looking for a house.’
So, should you be using Unirent to look for your new house? Absolutely. This website is made by students, for students, and its fresh approach to changing the student housing market is already having positive impacts. Less stress, more transparency, and certainly no need to spend hours on Rightmove anymore.
Featured Image: Unirent / Zach Dunnett
Check out Unirent's website here!