Dan Cookson: Tenants bill risks wrecking student sector

Most first-year students take places in university-owned halls of residence. Picture: Jon Savage

Most first-year students take places in university-owned halls of residence. Picture: Jon Savage

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FOR thousands studying at Scottish universities each year, the vital task of safely securing a place to live for the next academic term treads a well-worn path; one that’s about to be an unintended casualty of new legislation that’s current going through the Scottish Parliament.

Most first-year students take places in university-owned halls of residence or privately-run Purpose Built Student accommodation on nine or ten-month leases, before securing a house or flat in the private rented sector (PRS) for the following September. Those PRS properties are marketed by landlords early in the year so that students can secure a lease well in advance of the summer exams period and the subsequent holidays.

Unfortunately, the new Private Housing (Tenancies) Scotland Bill, threatens to break the system altogether. It will require landlords to offer all tenants a single, open-ended Private Residential Tenancy, which means, at a stroke, they’ll no longer be able to offer a fixed term nine or ten month lease. Neither could landlords require students to vacate a property in the summer.

Independent market research agency Why Research surveyed more than 1,500 current tenants in December.

Over half (54 per cent) of students who responded would prefer to keep the current fixed term tenancies, while 89 per cent agree that there should be an option for a flexible or short-term tenancy agreed between landlord and tenant at the outset.

The Scottish Government suggests the market will simply “adjust”.

There’s still time to improve the legislation, which will come before MSPs again in February. They must now consider proposals for a “student tenancy” that gives students what they want: all of the same rights as other PRS tenants under the bill while retaining the flexibility needed to make the student housing market work.

• Dan Cookson is spokesman for PRS 4 Scotland (Private Rented Sector in Scotland).

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