One of the biggest changes that comes with university is where you live - for many first years that will be student halls. Your living space is all very routine in the first year; a few may jump straight into renting their own place, but for most of us first year accommodation is pretty straightforward and simple. As much as I’d often complain about halls, they were a strange, simple heaven compared to the stress of finding and renting a flat or house in Glasgow.
It’s hell, and I don’t mean in the whiny teenager sense of actually having to do things for yourself for once. No, what I mean is that Glasgow’s student housing situation in particular is pretty dire. Earlier this year, The Glasgow Guardian conducted an investigation into the housing situation for the University's students and it painted a rather disappointing but unsurprising picture: friends sleeping on sofas due to being unable to find a home of their own; terrible living conditions for flats that were costing way over £400 per person a month; incompetent and negligent landlords left right and centre.
It’s not hard to work out how this has happened: the University has been accepting more and more students over the past few years, so flats suitable for students are becoming scarce in availability. On top of that, Hillhead seems to be decreasing its number of HMO properties actually available in the first place. It's pretty ridiculous that first year students should be expected to know the intricacies of Glasgow's housing laws for students by their second semester at latest if they hope to find a decent place to rent for their second year. Under the comfort of halls, most students likely won’t know about the fun little world of flat-hunting they're about to enter as they go into their second year, and there is one group that just loves to exploit this ignorance: landlords.
Scotland actually has some pretty decent protection laws in place for tenants, but this doesn't stop letting agencies and certain landlords seem all too eager to try and cheat their way into more money from us. Of course, thanks to such protection laws, landlords can be challenged on some of their dirtier tricks. But the idea that to simply enter second year with a half-decent home you also must enter a series of legal battles is horrid. Thanks to the shortage of homes available to students, landlords tend to be sceptical about taking you the moment you seem like you might be a problem for them anyway, and they have the power since we need them way more than they need us.
This isn’t something that can be solved by protection laws alone as landlords are still depended on by tenants for basic services. At this point I feel I should mention the alternative to renting a flat is private halls. Private halls are exactly as they sound, with the exception that they cater to all years of university students. They are more on the expensive side, but you do have your cheaper options such as Firhill (which is actually cheaper than any of major halls at the University). They tend to be reliable, safe and cost-effective: their business is entirely aimed at getting as many students as possible to choose to live there. Because they need us more than we need them, the relationship between private halls and students is a much healthier one.
But private halls offer next to no independence compared to the experience of renting a flat. One of the key appeals of university is gaining that independence - an experience you really need in order to function after university as an independent adult. Most of us want to live in our own flats, but you’ll find that going into second year is an uphill battle when it comes to finding your own.
Because of the HMO laws, one thing I’d actually recommend is going into two-person flats; they’re often the same price if not cheaper than larger flats but deliver a much higher quality of living. I know it's always tempting to want to share with three or four pals in your second year, but if you do that, you'll likely have to settle for a HMO property, which means you'll almost definitely be paying more than you would for a two bed flat and you almost definitely won't get a living room. Your best bet at getting a liveable, reasonable and genuinely homey flat would be to avoid HMO licensing laws and only share with one other person.
If you want to avoid the trap of getting tricked into a horrible flat by a dodgy landlord in your second year, I really recommend you get on this now.