Cowboy landlords cheating students

first_imgSarah McWhinney names the winners and losers in tenancy deposit disputes… Edd Southerden was in his second year and living out along the Cowley road when he went down to his basement one night to find himself wading around in three inches of raw sewage. “We didn’t realise what it was at first,” he said. “It had filtered through the bricks so all the particles had been left outside. It wasn’t so much poo as poo-juice!” Further investigation revealed that the sewage pipe in his house had become blocked over two years previously, leaving waste accumulating until it forced its way back into the house in a flood of mouldering effluent. Amazing as it seems, stories like this are far from rare in Oxford. Our landlords were recently branded the second worst in the country and the Student Union declares itself regularly deluged with complaints relating to substandard housing and unscrupulous property practice. Most relate to the ongoing problem of reclaiming housing deposits, which are often pocketed by crooked landlords in an attempt to make quick profits. “It seems to be all tactics,” said Nigel Simkin, Vice President of Mansfield JCR, who spent the summer trying to reclaim over £400 of deposit money for each of his housemates and eventually had to resort to the threats of a solicitor. “Students are the worst hit, as we don’t have jobs and can’t afford to lose such substantial amounts. Landlords know that most students can’t afford to take legal action, which leaves them able to take advantage.” Adam Thoday of Homefinders Letting Agents was quick to refute such a claim, calling the suggestion that landlords deliberately withheld deposits “grossly unfair.” “Deposits are categorically not a profit-making part of the contract”, he emphasised. “There are a few cowboy landlords out there, but then there are anywhere.” But are landlords really to blame? Perhaps not. Kate Davenport, of University of Oxford Administration and Accommodation Services, suggested that the delay in returning deposits and the seemingly unjustified costs often seemed to stem from letting agents rather than landlords themselves. But Adam Thoday contradicted her, pointing out that as regulated bodies, letting agents are often a safer option than landlords operating on a freelance basis. “Landlords tend to be after quicker profits,” he said. “As part of the National Approved Letting Service and the National Association of Estate Agents letting agents are bound by the rules, unlike landlords.” Rosie Buckland, OUSU VP (Welfare), blamed the problem on the lack of an independent third party to regulate the exchange of money throughout tenancy deals. “Unlike many university cities, we don’t have an accreditation scheme, which leaves students vulnerable to dodgy landlords,” she told Cherwell. OUSU are attempting to free students from this situation with plans to institute a housing bank – a website where students can search the database for landlords and letting agents and read the accounts of previous tenants. “This will free tenants from the landlord spin,” said Buckland. Edd Southerton and his housemates blamed the University for their predicament. “Colleges owe a responsibility of care to their students which they utterly fail to fulfil,” said Edd. Asked whether he had found the University Accommodation Offices helpful, he replied, “Not really – most of our information was got through the Citizens Advice Bureau.” Premiere, who deal with the Cowley Road area, expressed surprise at the ranking, saying, “We do a good job and most of our tenants are happy.”ARCHIVE: 0th Week MT2003last_img read more

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