The Unique Shitness of University Landlords

There is a special place in hell for landlords who exploit students who have yet to learn about tenancy rights.
Daisy Jones
London, GB
A pile of trash in someone's kitchen, photo by Chris Bethell
Photo: Chris Bethell

Let us imagine hell for a second. A bunch of former landlords are in there – we know that already. You can't rent out a damp box in Ealing Broadway for £950 and expect to not be going straight underground when you finally cork it. But look, lean in a little closer, and you might see another burning circle of hell within the circle that the regular landlords are in. That's where the British uni landlords go, because they are often even worse than regular landlords, and they subject students to hell while still on earth. 


The British uni landlord loves fees. They shag fees. The Tenancy Fee Ban may have come into effect in 2019 – meaning that estate agents can no longer charge random admin fees, leaving landlords to cover the costs – but that hasn't stopped landlords from getting their mitts on the cash in stealthier ways. Especially uni landlords, who love to charge students for weird shit like leaving one cigarette butt outside or having a small stain on a paper lampshade that you forgot to take photos of, as if that lampshade didn't cost £5 from Argos. 

Uni landlords also love to cram their flats with the most cursed furniture possibly imaginable to cut costs: squeaky pleather sofas, a laminate flat-pack wardrobe that is always two jackets away from completely collapsing and curtains that are bright red and too short for some reason, like a headache made physical. This is because uni landlords know that you, as a student, are not going to complain because you need somewhere to live right now, because time is running out and all the flats are getting taken by rich kids who have two month's deposit gathering dust in their bank accounts. So, disgusting cheap and broken furniture it is then! 


When I asked around for people’s experiences with uni landlords, it didn’t take long for my inbox to fill up with hideous tales from across the country. Natalie Wall, 26, who studied at Durham University from 2017, tells me how her flat had “insane mould – my clothes, books, uni notes went mouldy – mushrooms growing in the bathroom, a broken window not fixed for over a month and black goo coming through a crack in my bedroom ceiling.”

“[The landlord] still persisted in trying to take hundreds of pounds off our deposit, despite the house actually being in better condition because of our constant efforts to clean and fix things,” she says.

Wall thinks uni landlords are often worse than regular landlords because it's easier to get away with exploiting students who can't afford to search for something better. “They have a constantly changing captive market of students who will always be in need of housing,” she explains.

“They also benefit from the naivety of young people who may be renting for the first time and are unaware of the signs of common student housing problems like damp or mould and unaware of their own rights as tenants. There is definitely a feeling that uni landlords can get away with not maintaining their properties easier, so they do.”

It’s true: A lot of undergrads won't have had years of getting wise to landlords taking the piss, meaning that uni landlords can try their luck in increasingly imaginative and evil ways. Charlie Gardener, 24, remembers how his uni landlord in York tried to charge them £90 for rubbish left in the rubbish bin outside when they moved out. “I was confused as to why, because we hadn't left anything in the house,” he recalls. “They came back and said it was £10 per bag and there were nine bags in our wheelie bin?”


Chloe Traynor, 24, says she rented out a flat in southeast London during her third year of uni in 2019 and was shocked by the state of it. “On move-in day, we discovered two fridges growing an ecosystem of mouldy food, a bathroom bin full of rancid old sanitary products and a kitchen bin teeming with maggots,” she says.

“The landlord blanked our calls and emails for a week, forcing us to do the deep clean [ourselves]. When he finally replied, it was an email to say that we’d be charged £500 for a hazard cleaner, as we 'must have brought the infestation with us'.”

Rachel is the communications officer at the Greater Manchester Tenants Union – a democratically run union who fight for safe, secure and affordable housing in Greater Manchester. (She also asked us to change her name, fearing that her role could hinder her from securing a flat.) “Uni students get unfair deals because landlords know that we are desperate for housing,” she says.

“Many students are unaware of their rights as tenants and may be too nervous to speak up for themselves or negotiate with their landlord. This was the case for me until I joined the tenants union!”

But what can be done about this? Are students destined to remain captive to their landlords, dropping entire loans on flats with ceilings dripping in black mould which they are told is their fault for “not having the heating on 24/7” during a cost of living crisis?

Al Mcclenahan, founder of non-profit Justice For Tenants, says that students are a notoriously hard demographic to reach – so they might not know how to complain to the council about substandard living conditions, for example. “It could be helpful for information to be displayed in common parts of the university, like bars or canteens,” he says, adding: “Considering how many students will be renting for most or all of their lives, renters rights should be part of the PSHE national curriculum, and taught in schools.”

“I think that areas with lots of students should have licensing schemes run by the local council to combat poor standards,” he suggests. “Though there is currently a lot of red tape involved in this process.”

Until then, here’s to another year of students fighting it out for some crumbling six-bedroom flat which hasn’t had any actual maintenance since 1997. Such is life on hell island, I guess?