The Glasgow Guardian speaks to students and letting agents to investigate the current rent crisis endemic in Glasgow.
Following reports of an ongoing crisis in the city, and after the announcement that The City of Glasgow Council will launch a tenant-led commission to investigate the situation, The Glasgow Guardian spoke to a number of students affected by the current living situation. Whilst The City of Glasgow Council's investigation will look into the rising cost of renting, living conditions, and how to meet demand, we have spoken to students about the real-life impact of the problem.
The crisis has noticeably hit students hard this summer as the search for a flat has become even more challenging than before. Kyle, a University of Glasgow student, said one letting agency he spoke to received 450 applications for a flat within a day of it being listed on Rightmove.
Emma, another Glasgow student, told The Glasgow Guardian that she and flatmates were struggling to rent a four-bed, and had resorted to looking at non-HMO properties as they were easier to find. When they did manage to secure a flat viewing, they were quickly disappointed when, ten minutes before the viewing was due to take place, the letting agent phoned up to cancel as "the landlord had decided to rent the flat to a friend".
Another landlord had a "very rigid schedule" in place, where potential tenants could not put a deposit down on a flat until they had first booked a physical viewing, to then be put through a vetting process. "We phoned up to say to the letting agent that we were serious about the flat and wanted to put the deposit down without seeing it, but the letting agent told us we had to book a viewing first of all," Emma said. After about 20 minutes of discussion about this, the letting agent was said to have then revealed that the landlord had, in fact, already taken a deposit from candidates and was in the process of "vetting" them. "They're giving away viewings for flats that essentially aren't available."
"They're giving away viewings for flats that essentially aren't available."
Third-year student Tess told The Glasgow Guardian she has gone to viewings and expressed interest in proceeding with the flat on the same day, only to be told someone else has just signed for it. She has even shown up to viewings only to find out the flat is no longer available, without being advised in advance. The closer it gets to the semester starting, the fewer new flats are advertised every day and any new ones added are snapped up extremely quickly. For now, Tess and her flatmate are sleeping on a friend’s sofa, a situation she originally “laughed off as classic student living”, but she has become more worried recently, as the start of the semester edges closer.
"For now, Tess and her flatmate are sleeping on a friend’s sofa, a situation she originally 'laughed off as classic student living'"
Magda, a third-year student, says the search has proven so tough this year that she and her flatmates are considering renting a flat further away and commuting to the West End daily. Even with a more open-minded approach to price and location, the flatmates concluded that the main issue stems down to a sheer shortage of flats this year. Magda's friends are even considering taking an unfurnished property because there is simply nothing else available. Colin, a history student, is stuck at home in the Highlands in the third month of an unsuccessful flat hunt. If he still has not found anything by the time classes start, he hopes the University will be flexible with allowing remote studying.
The sentiment of this year being abnormal, shared by so many students, was confirmed to The Glasgow Guardian by Liz Houston at Kohli Properties. She says in her nine years of doing the job, she has never seen anything like this. “We have students on both the phone and email every day, asking us about flats and telling us how desperate they are, but we're unable to help them and it can be quite upsetting,” she says. Kohli owns 104 properties, 67 of which are HMO licenced and have had nothing available for weeks.
Kohli believes the flat shortage stems from the coronavirus pandemic. Since the drop in student numbers in Glasgow last year due to online study left many flats lying empty, many landlords decided it was more economical for them to sell their flats, especially given the sales boom the property market experienced. Although banks offered repayment holidays, "these were not free months", says Liz; payments were just split up over the remaining months of the mortgage, increasing repayments and interest overall.
Catherine Bruce, manager of D.J. Alexander property, told The Glasgow Guardian that the situation of other groups of society over the course of the pandemic has also in turn shifted students’ position. Workers are returning to offices and now need a place to stay in the city, many employers are recruiting new staff who require accommodation and others want a change of scenery after being cooped up in one home for the best part of the last 18 months. The unfolding of all these factors at once mean that "demand is outstripping available properties on the market".
An email was sent out to all University of Glasgow students on 27 August from the Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary, David Duncan, recognising the students are finding themselves in this year. The email stated that the University is in contact with private accommodation providers and will post updates on private accommodation available on the Students’ Representative Council Advice Centre. Duncan also stated that: "Any student concerned that the availability of accommodation may impact on arrival in Glasgow and their studies is encouraged to please speak to their School/Programme convenor as soon as possible."
The struggle for students to find accommodation comes as a Freedom of Information request by insurance company Admiral found that Glasgow has the third-highest number of homes lying empty, compared against all of the local authorities in Scotland. 19 in every 1000 homes in Glasgow are vacant, making this the highest level, proportionately, in Britain.
As well as attempts to address the problem at a council level, following the working agreement between the Scottish National Party and the Green Party, a rented sector strategy is set to be published by the end of the year promising a new regulator, greater rights and rent controls. In an article in the iPaper on 25 August, Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens MSP for Glasgow said that the rent control system could be based on affordability, in terms of average income, or on a proportion of market value.
Harvie said that paying attention to the "poor rental system" in Glasgow will be central to the working agreement. According to Harvie, his party will "lead the way" on tenants' issues including the decarbonisation of homes.
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