The accidental landlord: students are an acquired taste… but it’s your call

Victoria Whitlock learns why having undergraduates for tenants is not something every landlord finds palatable
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A recent discovery I’ve made is that students are like Marmite. While some landlords recoil in disgust at the idea of them as tenants, others can’t understand what’s not to love about them.

I used to think that landlords would only let to students as a last resort — all those I know visibly shudder at the prospect. However, I have since discovered that some would actually rather let to students than to professionals.

A friend, who is temporarily based overseas, is looking to invest in a rental flat in the UK. She will let it for 10 months of the year and live there herself for two months every summer. She started her search for a property in Winchester, where an estate agent said she should consider student lets.

The agent’s logic was that because students only need to rent from September to June, this would sync perfectly with my friend’s plan to live in the property during July and August. Also, according to the agent, she would have a decent pool of young people to choose from.

The agent conceded that students who have never lived away from mum and dad require a bit of hand-holding — for example, you might have to explain what that white machine with a hole in the middle is used for — but on the whole she said she had no real qualms about considering student lets. However, it was a different story when my friend widened her search for a property to London.

Together we popped into one estate agency to enquire about flats, and when my friend mentioned she was considering a student let the agent raised a pencilled eyebrow.

She leant across her desk towards us and peered at my friend over the top of her black-rimmed spectacles. “Students,” she said, “are trouble.”

She listed the reasons on her fingers — they’re late payers, they pay less than professionals, they can’t always afford deposits and before you know it they’ve swapped with friends so you don’t know who’s living in your property. Worst of all, she said, was the wear and tear. She had a point. I know from my own youth how swiftly a bunch of students can trash a perfectly decent home.

In the house my brother rented while at Nottingham Uni, the shaggy carpet was so sticky I swear great clumps of it clung to my shoes, while the pile of dirty dishes was so enormous that eventually they just threw the whole lot away and restricted themselves to one plate each. My brother’s was actually a dog bowl.

“And you don’t even want to think about the paperwork students generate,” said our agent. “The paperwork is horrendous.”

I had the sneaky suspicion that the paperwork was the real reason the agent didn’t like student lets — clearly they take a lot more time to arrange, what with the need to acquire guarantors to cover the rent.

It’s not as though students are easy to please, either. Back in the good old days, they’d be happy with a skanky sofa and a rickety bed — remember the Young Ones? But nowadays landlords have to compete with private student halls that come with en suite bathrooms, new appliances and scatter cushions. Students have gone soft.

Properties have to tick a lot of boxes before colleges will put them on their register. Roehampton University turned down one of mine because the living room was too small.

I wasn’t too disappointed. I’m one of those people who hate Marmite, but I understand there’s some goodness in it and that’s pretty much how I feel about students, too. So if they pay the money, you take your choice.

* Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London

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