The first instalment in our new series to inform students about various living crises and how to deal with them.
At the end of July, the ceiling in the hallway of my top floor flat collapsed. It had been raining all day and the roof had flooded, tripping all the fire alarms and destroying a light fitting. Then, at about 5am, a 15 foot stretch of ceiling came down, pulling down chunks of insulation, miscellaneous rafters and small pipes, and about 100 years worth of dirt and sludge. We had been experiencing persistent leaks for a month or two, but on four separate occasions roofers and handymen sent by the letting agency had gone up into the roof to inspect the damage and promptly announced that there was nothing wrong; that our building was “not a priority”.
Fortunately, we were all in the living room at the time, so nobody was hurt, and nothing valuable was kept in the hallway anyway so nothing of ours was damaged, but it took over a month for the repairs to be made. The flat was just about liveable, as the kitchen, bathroom, three out of four bedrooms and the living room were unaffected, but even with a dehumidifier working constantly, the smell and the damp was still a problem. As is our right in Scotland, we refused to pay rent since the collapse, and the letting agency responded by apologising for the delay and giving us a timeline for the fixing of the roof – which has thankfully now been done. They also agreed to replace the hallway carpet and get a professional carpet cleaner to service all the rooms affected by dust without this affecting our deposit. The main takeaway we got from the experience was how important it is to communicate with the letting agency and be firm in reminding them of our rights, as they seemed to be a lot more proactive about fixing the flat after we refused to pay rent.
By Scottish law, all rental contracts must have a clause by which the tenant is exempt from paying rent if the property is not “wind and weather-proof”. The advice from the renting charity Shelter states:
“Your landlord has to keep the property wind and watertight, and in a condition that is safe to live in. The landlord is also responsible for making sure that the property repairing standard is met. This is a basic level of repair that is required by law. Your landlord must give you information on the repairing standard and what you can do if the property does not meet it.”
A large hole in the ceiling through which water pours every time it rains is probably about as perfect a definition of not wind and weather-proof as I will hopefully ever experience. It was a simple matter to have my flatmate draft an email (in a “polite-but-mildly-threatening” tone that works so beautifully in these situations), and send it to the letting agency explaining that as long as the hole existed, they would not be receiving any payments from us for rent or anything else. If you ever find yourself in this kind of situation, do be aware that your contract will contain a section that details the circumstances under which you can legally withhold rent without it affecting your deposit or leading to eviction. Shelter has lots of advice on their website and will step in to help if you need them to. If the rental agreement does not include this information, or if it does not cover everything you believe it should then, again, contact Shelter for advice and they may be able to help out.
Last year, some friends of ours rented a property from the agency K Letting in the private student accommodation block the company owns on Sauchiehall Street. Shortly after they moved into the property, one of the ancient single-glazed windows on the front of the property came out of its rotted frame, leaving a large hole in the bedroom facing onto the street opposite Garage and the Genting Casino. K Letting was contacted by email and informed of the damage, and a new window was requested, to which the letting agency replied claiming that the window must have broken due to vandalism and demanding that the tenants foot the bill for the repairs. This, obviously, wasn’t the case.
With the letting agency being unhelpful and the landlord out of the picture (a common feature of agency-run properties being that you never meet or hear from the actual landlord but still require their consent for any work to be done), they contacted the city council to make a complaint about K Letting and the landlord, as well as to ask for help in dealing with the issue.
The council advised that they go on rent strike, again citing that the building was not wind or
waterproof, and after a summer of not receiving rent payments the letting agency capitulated and agreed to repair the window without taking the cost from the tenant’s deposit. By this time, the entire block had a rampant rodent problem; one of the bedrooms had been unlivable due to the cold, rain and noise from the street below, and any faith in K Letting’s willingness to fulfil their responsibilities as letting agents had evaporated.
Especially when dealing with students – who are more likely to only be letting for a short period of time, and less likely to have experience dealing with bad or negligent landlords – the temptation on the part of the property owner or letting agency to be negligent or exploitative is increased when they think they can get away with it. With that in mind, the best way to avoid situations like the above is to read and learn the terms of your contract or tenancy agreement and do research into your rights as a tenant in Glasgow. The email in which we informed the landlord that we would not be paying rent until the repairs were complete quoted both Shelter’s website and the tenancy agreement heavily.
Do not sit and wait for something to go wrong if you don’t trust your landlord or letting agent. Contact Shelter, the council, or a tenants’ union for help and advice on how to get out ahead of any potential problems, and how to force a negligent landlord to sort them out. Tenants’ unions offer legal support to their members in appealing cases where the tenant has been mistreated, and some will offer financial aid to help safeguard you from eviction if it comes to that. As a tenant in Scotland you have different rights and protections than in other parts of the UK, so make sure you are aware of these and how they differ from the rules in England especially, if only for a bit of perspective on how terrible a completely unregulated rental market can be for tenants struggling with negligent and abusive landlords.
Remember: a tenant is not obliged to do anything beyond what is formally agreed when they sign a tenancy agreement. You shouldn’t ever have to do the landlord’s job for them, even if they threaten to take money from your deposit if you do not. If this happens the landlord is behaving illegally, and you should contact the council about taking action against the landlord. Anyone letting property for profit and advertising to students is preying on our need to live near campus for our education, so our best interests are not their priority. When letting to students, the aim is to make their relatively short tenancy as profitable as possible. Any attempt to build rapport and loyalty is – when seen through the lens of profit-making – irrelevant, as next year there will be new tenants to replace us anyway. Landlords and letting agencies are parasites. Know your rights and treat them as such.
Some useful links:
Glasgow City Council – A page detailing your rights as a tenant
Living Rent – Scotland’s biggest tenants union, which can be found easily on Facebook and Twitter as well