Student digs - the first taste of the industry

Students view a flat in Edinburgh's Thirlestane Road. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Students view a flat in Edinburgh's Thirlestane Road. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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This month most of Scotland’s 20 universities and colleges have opened up for another academic year, and it struck me just how important students are to the present and future health of the private rented sector.

Over 200,000 fresh-faced students will report in for their first, second, third or fourth year of further education with a large chunk of them leaving behind the family nest to move in to privately rented student accommodation. Around 20 per cent of them will come from outwith the UK so will most definitely be a guest of the private rented sector for the next few years.

Many of us may chuckle at the thought of our own student days and the somewhat ‘modest’ conditions of the accommodation, some of that parties that took place in them, upset landlords and the disputes over deposits at the end of the year.

As the years have gone by and the private rented sector has evolved – now accounting for around 13 per cent of Scotland’s housing market – standards in student accommodation have thankfully improved and continue to do so. And so they should.

Students fill a significant portion of Scotland’s rental properties and, importantly, for most of them this is their first experience of the private rented sector.

They may well be the business leaders, politicians, inventors, and workforce of the future, but they’re also the future of the private rented sector whether as tenants or landlords.

This means as our many universities and colleges open for the new academic year, we in the private rented sector owe it to the students to make sure their first experience of the rental market is a good one and one that will benefit our sector in the long run.

The first stage of that is making sure their deposits are properly registered, protected and they’re afforded the same independent adjudication and rights as someone who rents a five-bed country house or plush city centre penthouse.

Last week at SafeDeposits Scotland we were delighted to receive over £300,000 from The Student Housing Company, safeguarding over 1,200 deposits of students moving in to three purpose-built new accommodations in Edinburgh and one in St Andrews.

The Student Housing Company has properties throughout the UK as well as Spain, and is a great example of an organisation which has done a lot for the advancement of our sector.

Of course we’re grateful they chose SafeDeposits but the point is that student accommodation, in line with the Tenancy Deposits (Scotland) Regulations, has to be treated the same as the rest of the country’s rental properties and deposits must be protected.

Of course, students must play their part in the deal and respect the terms, otherwise deposits will be lost. The key is building a good relationship between landlord and tenant.

I doubt there will be many landlords invited to the freshers’ week parties, but getting the relationship off on the right foot at the outset by protecting their deposit and abiding by the regulations is a good place to start.

Thanks to our arrangement with the Student Housing Company, students from Edinburgh University, Napier University, Queen Margaret University and Heriot Watt, as well as those in the new 241-room Ayton House in St Andrews will have the peace of mind that their deposit is held by a Scottish Government approved scheme and any decision on its reissue will be decided by an independent party.

Incidentally, it also means our client doesn’t have the hassle of processing, holding and refunding 1,200 deposits – which is not an insignificant administrative burden, believe me.

The student accommodation market is hugely important not just to Scotland’s private rented sector but to the economy in general, so it’s crucial that students are treated fairly as they embark on the academic year.

n Jennifer Paice is the CEO of SafeDeposits Scotland.