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Opinion | Students are their own worst enemy when it comes to housing conditions

Over the past month or so, second year students all over Bristol have been moving into the accommodation we arranged as freshers.

By Lowri Lewis, Opinion Columnist

Over the past month or so, second year students all over Bristol have been moving into the accommodation we arranged as freshers.

For many, this has been accompanied by a realisation that letting agencies and landlords have a tendency to let us down. However, there’s few who are willing to admit that we are at least somewhat to blame for this.

Of course, students rent houses with serious damp problems, collapsing ceilings, and other issues which potentially endanger our health because of the rush during house-hunting season more than anything else. It’s not our fault that we’re pressured into blindly accepting a contract, for fear of not having a house at all.

Not all housemates will have had the chance to even see the property before they sign the contract to live there - it’s usually the case that you’re only given one viewing, which not all may have the chance to go to.

But when it comes to actually living in the property we’ve blindly agreed to renting, landlords and agencies can break all sorts of rules, laws even, without us even knowing that they have.

Whether they do take advantage of our lack of knowledge or not largely depends on the letting agency you end up with. But we shouldn’t put ourselves in a position where we are able to be taken advantage of in this way.

Thousands of pounds and your safety are at stake

Year after year, students move into houses without knowing the first thing about their rights as renters.

Just because schools aren’t yet aware that the rights you’re granted in a tenancy agreement are almost as important to learn as English or Maths, that doesn’t mean that we are absolved of the responsibility to teach ourselves these rights.

The information is not hard to find-  Bristol University has provided free factsheets online. Admittedly, there are far more interesting things that you can be doing on your return to campus rather than reading about your right to an electrical safety report. But I feel like it’s worth it, when thousands of pounds and your safety are at stake.

It’s unfortunate that such important information is so incredibly dry, but that’s not the only reason that students neglect to learn it. Most of the time, there’s only one or two people in a group of student renters who are left with the responsibility of organising the entire thing.

They set up the viewing of the house in first year, arranged the payment of council tax and utility bills when we moved in, and did basically anything else which required some level of responsibility.

These people are essentially treated as the parents of the group, and we assume they have all the knowledge of people twice our age too.

Agencies take months to do repairs that should’ve been made before we moved in

But they don’t - they also went to schools which didn’t teach them their rights as tenants. And they’re too busy finding out what we need to do, to find out what the letting agency should be doing for us.

It’s natural to assume that the agency will be fulfilling their obligations, because they’re the ones that know what it is they should be doing in the first place.

It’s this assumption though, which results in the students of Bristol being subject to malpractice. Agencies take months to do repairs that should’ve been made before we moved in, because they know we’ve never been taught that we have a ‘right to live in a property that’s safe and in a good state of repair’.

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We might know a couple of things that we need to do when we move in, like to check the house has smoke alarms, or to take pictures of damage that was there before we arrived. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what we need to know about.

Landlords and letting agencies will feel less and less able to take advantage of us if increasing numbers of students educate ourselves fully on our rights as renters.

As we return to Bristol, we need to do this if we’re ever going to convince the city’s renters that they cannot cheat us out of what we are legally entitled to.

Featured Image: Epigram / Tom Taylor

How has your experience been with private accommodation in Bristol?