BY LEA FABBRINI
AYR – The lack of regulation on letting agents is leaving students without a place to live, even when the academic session has already started.
Students are left with having to commute to Ayr from as far as Dundee and Perth. Most letting agents seem to have “some predecided belief about students all being partygoers and bad investments when they are probably one of the best investments for a Town like Ayr,” according to Guy Hassell, a fourth year filmmaking student at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) who says he is perplexed “that landlords refuse to go into the student market.”
Hassell, like many others, has been struggling over the summer to get a flat. “Me and my partner had this small little place lined up.”
Everything seemed great, they passed every check in a matter of days.
“I got a call-back, pretty much when we were just waiting for confirmation, they said that they didn’t want students. Which is ridiculous because one, it’s right next to the university and two, Ayr is a University Town!”
The renting process might be harsh on students in general, but notably worse on international students.
“I definitely say that because I am a Scottish national it is easier for me to get a place.” Hassell says. “The systems seems to be designed more, especially with guarantors and such, for people who live here. It is definitely a system in favour towards people whose families live and work in this country.”
Paula Sinclair, Senior lettings adviser for Lomond Letting agents in Ayr said: “There probably is a bit of a difference between a UK student and someone from Italy, France, wherever they might come from.”
With students from the UK like anybody they view the property and they go through the application process. It is slightly different with students because they generally cannot get an employer reference, therefore if there is a previous landlord a reference is needed. Even a part-time employer becomes relevant as the agents need something that does show that there is some sort of affordability.
“In a lot of cases with students we do ask for a guarantor and that is purely down to the fact that the income is not there as it would be for somebody that is employed,” continued Paula. “If it is a foreign student we appreciate, again, they don’t have the same references as they may do here and we would also ask for a guarantor. We will do what we can to help, but usually it will be a guarantor.”
When asked if it is more difficult for a non UK student to apply and finally get a flat, Sinclair said: “I think it depends on the circumstances, it can be equally difficult for students and foreign students. We try to accommodate everybody and if they have got the information and come back we will happily take them. As a letting agent we try not to be to set in our rules, we appreciate that people are renting for different reasons so we are not going to say ‘you have to be employed’, ‘you have to be earning this amount’, otherwise there would be properties out there that we wouldn’t be able to rent. […] We do try to look at each case individually.”
Surprisingly, Sinclair said that “there is no criteria from the Government about who you put in a rental property, that would come down to very much the landlord and the letting agent who can decide with their own criteria. It is the same when it comes to pets or smokers, it is down to the landlord. If they tell us ‘we don’t want students; we have to accept that, if they don’t want pets we have to go by that as well because it is their property.”
Equally letting agents also advise landlords, for example, if there is a flat in a certain area in Ayr like the town centre and close to the university. These flats get a lot of enquiries by students but by Sinclair’s experience the landlords are pretty open.
Manal Al-Barghouthi, a fourth year broadcast production student at UWS from Germany, experienced first hand what a struggle it can be to find a flat for international students.
“I applied for a lot of flats here and I noticed two different things. First of all, it’s really a lot easier to deal with the landlords than letting agencies because you go and meet them in person for the first time and they give you a viewing and then they judge you most of the time by how you appeared at the actual meeting whereas letting agents have a stricter process and sometimes won’t even let you go to viewings.
“When I applied for flats with my ex-boyfriend, who is also a non-UK student, we noticed that it was very individual depending on who you where talking to at the phone, so you couldn’t even rule out an agency but you knew that sometimes the person answering the phone wouldn’t give you a viewing. It happened sometimes that either he called someone and didn’t get a viewing and then immediately afterwards I called because I don’t have a southern European accent, I immediately got a viewing.”
It is unclear if students, UK and non, are being left to go through this lengthy process year after year because of agencies having to cover their backs or because there is a deeper rooted problem in the unregulated system itself.