The accidental landlord: the perils and perks of letting to poor and/or pesky students

The accidental landlord acts as counsellor — and taskmaster — to keep young tenants in check.
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Right now is when the poorest, most irresponsible members of civilised society — some with questionable hygiene — look for rental accommodation. Yes folks, I’m talking about students. 

A year ago, I accepted my first undergraduates and, I must admit, we have had some ups and downs. 

Their rent payments in the first few months were erratic. It was as if they didn’t quite get the fact they needed to pay me in full, on time, or every month. Eventually, I put a rocket up their backsides by threatening to snitch to their parents. Their payments have been as regular as clockwork since. 

Halfway through the tenancy, three of the girls fell out with the fourth and expected me to deal with the situation by getting rid of her, which was awkward. I think they had confused my role with that of a university counsellor. 

They clogged up the kitchen sink and the washing machine and they still text me to replace every blown light bulb, even though I’ve given them a supply of bulbs to change themselves. 

It hasn’t been all that bad, though. I visited the property recently and it’s still standing, there wasn’t too much rubbish piled up in the kitchen, the sink was bearing up under the weight of the unwashed crockery and I noticed from the piles of cigarette butts on the balcony that they had at least respected the “no smoking indoors” rule, even though the stench had crept into the living room. 

What is great about students is that they are not fussy. They don’t mind sharing bathrooms, they don’t always need a living room — so you can turn it into an extra bedroom — and they don’t expect expensive appliances, such as tumble dryers and dishwashers. 

They will put up with tired décor and living in less-fashionable areas because, let’s be honest, they can’t afford anything else. So if you decide to let to students, here are my tips: 
  • Explain everything to them at least twice. The first time they will be on WhatsApp or Snapchat, so nothing will sink in. 
  • In London, students expect to pay for accommodation for a full calendar year, rather than the nine-month academic year, so don’t let them persuade you to give them a discount over the summer. 
  • Students often offer a guarantor in lieu of a deposit, but you should ask for both to avoid having to chase Mum or Dad for the bill to clean up their kids’ filth at the end of the tenancy. 
  • Accept students might be late paying rent while waiting for their finance to arrive in mid September, early January and April. Ask what date their loans arrive and give them a deadline. 
  • Don’t expect them to keep the place clean, but do tell them, in writing, that they must pay for a professional clean at the end of the tenancy if it was cleaned before they moved in. 
  • Don’t expect them to return your phone calls, emails or texts. Like your own kids, they will only get in touch when they need something from you. 
  • Make a point of telling them where they can and can’t smoke — because, trust me, they will smoke. 
  • Install smoke alarms (see previous tip). Putting heat detectors in kitchens might also prevent your student tenants from burning down the place. 
  • Finally, be prepared for some extra wear and tear. My lot have stuck posters all over the walls with sticky tape, and it’s going to look horrible when they leave.
Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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