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Rent Freedom Day – The artificial tax on tenants

Wednesday 04-02-2015 - 11:58

On Rent Freedom Day in conjunction with Generation Rent, Will Atkinson, Welfare Officer at Aberystwyth Students’ Union talks about how less students in the area resulted in rents dramatically dropping and how it shows tenants are at the mercy of market forces – often to extreme detriment.

The year I started uni at Aberystwyth the town joined the majority of the UK in a club we’d rather not be part of. An average year’s rent in a private house exceeded the maximum maintenance loan. Unlike the rest of the UK though there is hope, albeit coming from an unwelcome phenomenon.

In 2011 Aberystwyth University took in so many students that bunk beds were installed in some halls rooms. In 2015 we have over 1000 less students and are in the process of opening a new 1000 bed state-of-the-art student village. We don’t like having less students but the effect this has had on the private housing market is very welcome indeed. Our rural isolated location combined with over 1000 excess rooms in the market has led to typical rents dropping from £90 to £65 per week and they’re still dropping. I’ve recently seen a house on the market for £35PW. We are yet to see any rise in the quality of housing as a result of this change though.

What this proves in hard, undisputable figures is that student rents in much of the country are artificially inflated. In many areas this amounts to nothing less than a tax on tenants. But the money isn’t going to councils or government; it’s going into the pockets of landlords and agents. I am yet to hear an answer to why the rental price of a house rises so significantly when it moves from the ‘professional’ to the student market.

It would be easy for AberSU officers to think that everything is fine and the market has done their job for them. If only it was that easy. As soon as student numbers increase so the profiteering by landlords will return. Something has to be done to protect students from extortionate rents and that means legislation. In Wales we are lucky enough to have a devolved government, giving us good access to those who can make change a reality. NUS Wales representatives sit on the groups that shape the Renting Homes Bill which will give Welsh tenants more rights than their English counterparts. This doesn’t go far enough though. This year Aberystwyth will be supporting NUS Wales in pushing for the banning of administration fees and investigating the viability of rent controls in student areas.

Locally we are working towards implementing an accreditation scheme for landlords and agents to encourage landlords to up the standard of their houses. We’re lucky in that landlords are struggling to rent and welcome anything that will put their property at the top of the pile but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying if your area has a less beds than students. Good landlords are always on the lookout for recognition.

Housing affects everyone and it’s not just a student issue. Make it your priority for GE2015.

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