Opinion: Students should dig the flats these days

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Times have changed since I lived in student accommodation. Back in the 1980s Glasgow, six of us were holed up in an insalubrious four-bedroomed top floor tenement, with one grotty bathroom and a very basic kitchen.

There was no sitting room, but a sofa parked in the hall sufficed for the first two home from classes. The rest of us sat on the floor.

Heating was minimal and hot water temperamental. There were no desks so what little revising we managed had to be carried out sitting on the beds which had surely been sourced from some particularly brutal Victorian prison.

The only thing that could be relied on was the weekly visits from the landlord to collect the rent. He was our sole visitor, because the door entry system was broken, but he had his own key which he used to let himself in at suspiciously unexpected hours.

I don’t recall many safety features – we certainly didn’t have a smoke alarm because it would have been constantly set off by our haphazard cooking.

These days, legislation has thankfully made sure our offspring are safer in their student digs.

In fact, I’m told that landlords who want to charge the highest rents should think about providing ensuites, superfast broadband and a kitchen equipped with coffee makers and juicers.

I’m not entirely sure that this is accurate. My student daughter is about to go into her second year, meaning she is leaving halls for rented accommodation, but the priority for her and her flatmates seems to be all about location.

February is the time when students should try and pin down somewhere to live for the following year, if they want their choice of flat. Although not all HMO flats available from September are advertised at once, if you don’t want to end up in Outer Mongolia – which is apparently anywhere that is a bus ride away from Bristo Square in Edinburgh University’s case – now is the time to get organised.

Thinking back, our Glasgow tenement was chosen because it was the only one still available at the beginning of term, so to avoid our fate, both students, and parents if necessary, should be primed and ready now.

Having found a flat, you are likely to have to provide photo ID for both applicant and guarantor, landlord references, credit checks, proof of guarantor’s employment and salary slips, application forms and a guarantor agreement, for each flatmate.

Letting agents these days are admirably keen to protect client’s property – as well they should be.

Last year a friend let his city flat to students and found that instead of the full amount to cover the mortgage that he had calculated on, each month’s remittance came with a big proportion taken off for repairs.

Perhaps his letting agent hadn’t been diligent and tenanted the flat with the hardest partying frat boys in the city.

But mostly, the owner believes, it was just young people being utterly unaware – that it was a good idea, for instance, to turn off the water if they were away for December leaving the flat unheated.

They didn’t, and multiple leaks were that month’s expense.

Having to hand over the deposit for my daughter’s tenancy this week means that such things will be drummed into her and her flatmates.

If landlords have had to up their game, perhaps students should learn how to be a responsible householder too.