A new university term is just around the corner. In two short months, millions of students might be leaving the bosom of their families and heading to university. If you’re a student landlord, you are probably gearing up to accept a new clutch of eager-beaver young people, champing at the bit to study, socialise, and err… sup a lot of beer!
Experienced landlords know the drill, but if you are a student landlord newbie – or you’re thinking about investing in student housing – read on.
Letting to students has a lot of advantages, but it can be hard work for landlords. In this article, we’re going to focus on some of the problems you can expect from your student tenants. As time goes on, you’ll become more adept at dealing with issues and, hopefully, put systems in place to prevent minor problems from snowballing into major – and expensive – problems. But in the meantime, if this is your first time as a student landlord, we have some helpful advice.
Reducing Property Damage in Student Lets
Students have a bad reputation for hard-partying and living a dissolute lifestyle. It is probably fair to say a lot of students go a bit crazy during their time at university. The joys of living away from parents for the first time combined with easy access to alcohol are very seductive for some. Sometimes, properties are damaged when Freshers’ Week parties take place, but breakages and other issues can occur at any time, so it pays to put some preventative measures in place.
Vulnerable areas of a student property
Most student houses are offered furnished, which means landlords typically provide bedroom furniture, a sofa, white goods, a vacuum cleaner, and other essentials. Nothing lasts forever, so you can expect any furniture you provide to fall apart after a few years. Sofas will have drinks spilled on them, beds will be subject to a lot of wear and tear, and other items may be used for purposes not intended by the original designer. Even white goods won’t last as long as you might expect when used by people who don’t bother reading the manual.
- Older, more solid furniture is a better investment than cheap stuff from Ikea. Flatpack furniture looks modern, but it rarely lasts for more than a couple of years. Look for second-hand pieces made from solid wood rather than MDF and glue.
- Protect mattresses with covers, ditto with pillows. This might help prevent nasty stains from ruining them.
- Buy extended warranties for appliances, so you can have them repaired if they break.
Carpets are a big no-no in student houses. Students throw up, spill drinks, drop curry, and worse. That beige carpet you bought at a knockdown price won’t be beige for long. Why bother?
- Look for hard-wearing flooring like laminate or tiles. If you must fit carpet, go for mid-tone colours like grey or brown and stick with commercial-grade products that can withstand all manner of abuse. Scotchguarded carpets might help, but only against minor stains.
Windows and doors
Whilst you might assume windows and doors are safe, expect the unexpected. Drunk students sometimes kick doors in when they can’t find their key and windows may end up broken during a party or alcohol-fuelled disagreement.
- Cheap hollow interior doors look nice but are not robust. Consider fitting solid pine doors instead. These can be sanded down and repainted. They are also less likely to be kicked in.
- UPVC exterior doors have 5-point locking systems, but the cheaper ones are not terribly robust. A good-quality composite door will last a lot longer than a bargain-basement one, and be more secure, too.
If the property has a garden, don’t make the mistake of planting nice borders or installing a lovely decking area, not unless you want the former treated as an outdoor lavatory and the latter burnt to a crisp during an alcohol-fuelled BBQ.
- Consider paving the garden so it’s low maintenance – unless you are willing to pay a gardener to do the work. It’s pointless expecting students to mow the lawn once a week. It simply won’t happen.
Protecting a student property
Always have a thorough check-in procedure. Itemise the condition of everything in the property, including fixtures and fittings. Back-up your inventory with photos and video. Ask each student to check the report and sign it to show they agree with it. That way, if damage does occur, you can prove it was not pre-existing.
Include a clause in the tenancy agreement stating tenants are responsible if any damage occurs and the cost of putting the damage right will be deducted from their deposit.
Have a conversation about property destruction when tenants first move in. You don’t need to read them the riot act, but it’s helpful to make it abundantly clear that although accidents happen and normal wear and tear is expected, you won’t turn a blind eye to willful property damage.
Remind them the property must be kept secure at all times. Doors and windows should not be left open when the property is unoccupied (or occupied by comatose drunk people).
Finally, protect your investment by taking out landlord insurance that covers you against property damage. It’s wise to extend the policy to include accidental damage. That way, if your student tenants flood the place or burn it down, you are covered. Hopefully, this won’t happen, but it’s good to know you won’t lose everything if it does!
Student Rent Arrears
Missed rent payments can sometimes be an issue for student tenants. While students are usually eligible for maintenance loans, the funding is not always enough to cover the bills. Since many students don’t have time to supplement their income with a job, it can cause issues.
Credit checks are typically used to vet incoming tenants and flag anyone with poor credit, debt problems, past or present. Unfortunately, most students have zero credit history, so it’s difficult to determine whether they are likely to default on their rent.
The best way to prevent rent arrears from affecting your business is by asking each student tenant to provide a guarantor. The guarantor – usually a parent – is legally responsible if the student doesn’t pay their rent. This person can then be pursued for any unpaid rent if the student does end up defaulting.
If one of your student tenants is late with the rent, contact them immediately to find out what the problem is. In the event the issue is temporary, for example, because a student loan payment is late, be lenient. But if the student can’t or won’t pay, approach their guarantor to organise a payment plan before resorting to legal action.
Anti-social Behaviour Among Students
Put a group of students together, introduce loud music, alcohol, and recreational drugs, and you have the makings of an antisocial behaviour incident.
Universities and neighbours take a very dim view of antisocial behaviour. If incidents take place in or around your properties, you can expect to hear about it. You may even be taken to court by your local housing department if you cannot or do not control the problem.
Examples of antisocial behaviour
- Playing loud music late at night or early in the morning
- Discarding rubbish in the garden or on the street outside the property
- Holding wild parties
- Playing musical instruments – i.e. drums – at inappropriate times
- Misusing fireworks
- Dealing drugs from the property
- Standing around in the street late at night, shouting, drinking, and singing
This is not an exhaustive list; students can be highly inventive when it comes to making noise and causing distress to their neighbours. It’s also fair to say that some neighbours are less understanding than others, especially when they have small children or a very short fuse.
It’s difficult to prevent all incidents of antisocial behaviour, but there are measures you can put in place to prevent problems from escalating.
- Do not buy an investment property in a quiet residential neighbourhood and then let it to students. Most students prefer living close to campus, so look for properties already set up for student lets or in popular student areas.
- Include an anti-social behaviour clause in your tenancy agreement. Make it clear that antisocial behaviour will lead to eviction. Remind your students not to advertise parties on social media – if they do, any damage caused will come out of their pocket, or that of their guarantors.
- If you receive a complaint from a neighbour or another tenant living in the property, deal with it immediately. Talk to the alleged offender or house occupants and remind them of the consequences of their behaviour.
Vermin in Student Properties
Students are not always particular about dealing with rubbish and food waste. Discarded pizza boxes and other waste may pile up, attracting vermin. Before you know it, the local rat population has exploded, and your kitchen is teeming with cockroaches, ants, and other critters.
Dealing with vermin is time-consuming and potentially expensive if the problem has been allowed to get out of hand. You can also expect the neighbours to be up in arms if your students have neglected putting the bins out for weeks and the garden has turned into a landfill site.
- Be very clear about how rubbish must be dealt with. Provide general waste and recycling bins.
- Notify your students of the collection schedule and remind them to sort waste into appropriate bins.
- If you have any doubts about cleanliness in your student properties, it’s worth paying a cleaner to go in once a week and give the kitchen and other communal areas a thorough once-over. That way, problems will not escalate to the point where vermin treat the place like a 24-7 buffet.
Needy Student Tenants
Part of the student landlord job description involves a bit of hand-holding. It’s not quite as hands-on as being an HMO landlord whose tenants have mental health and drug/alcohol issues, but many students have no life skills and very little in the way of common sense. They may also be harbouring delusions you are a surrogate parent rather than a landlord.
Question: How many students does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: Zero because they have no clue what a lightbulb is…
Expect to deal with a lot of stupid, annoying, and time-wasting issues when you are a student landlord. You will need buckets full of patience. From late-night phone calls from students wailing about lost keys to expressions of bemusement when you explain how the washing machine works – there will be times when you feel like a substitute parent not a landlord.
- Prepare a property manual that details exactly how each appliance works – in idiot-proof steps, plus useful information such as how to turn the water off in the event of a leak.
- Don’t fall into the trap of dishing out replacement door keys like candy. Charge for replacements to deter carelessness.
- Be prepared to handle stupid questions and be willing to walk tenants through seemingly basic tasks like…changing a light bulb.
- Be nice. Most students are lovely and eager to please. Yes, it is irritating when your phone rings late at night and you have to deal with a drunk student who has lost their key but try to exercise a bit of patience. One day, that student might be your accountant or doctor!
Ending a Student Tenancy Early
There will be times when a student needs to quit their accommodation early. Some students can’t handle university life and drop out before the end of the year; others get sick or decide to transfer to a different university. Whatever the reason, at some point, one of your tenants will choose to end their tenancy early.
It’s common for student landlords to use joint tenancy agreements. If one tenant leaves early, it is up to the remaining tenants to cover the shortfall in rent and find a replacement tenant. When this situation arises, you have the option to prevent the tenant from ending their contract early if they can’t find a replacement or you deem the candidate unsuitable. However, it’s usually better to try and find a mutually agreeable compromise.
If the student is on an individual contract, they can only end the tenancy if you agree or there is a break clause written into the tenancy agreement. Otherwise, they are obliged to continue paying the rent until the end of the contract. Again, this is something you can negotiate with the tenant if they insist on leaving. It’s worth being flexible where possible, if only to avoid bad PR on social media.
Student Property Voids
Property voids should be avoided at all costs since an empty property is costing you money. It isn’t always possible to prevent students from leaving early or cancelling at the last minute – life happens, and sometimes students have to alter their plans unexpectedly. However, voids can be minimised if you run your student properties in a professional manner and treat your tenants with respect.
Try and go the extra mile. Be nice and accommodating, even if your students lack common sense at times. The nicer you are, the more likely your students are to recommend you to their friends. Remember, positive word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool!
Finding New Student Tenants
Try and plan well in advance to avoid being stuck with empty rooms at the start of the academic year. Begin marketing your properties long before your current crop of students moves out.
- Ask existing student tenants to recommend your properties to other students (it helps if you have looked after them during the tenancy!).
- Register with the university’s accommodation department.
- Advertise your property on online portals.
- Use a letting agent that specialises in student accommodation.
- Promote your properties on social media.
- Put cards in the windows of local convenience stores where students buy milk/snacks/booze.
- Be available for viewings.
Be Prepared for the New Term
Bear in mind that risk management is all part of running a business. Carry out a risk assessment to determine where problems might occur and make plans to deal with issues as and when they arise. For example, if you are concerned about property damage, make sure you have adequate landlord insurance cover.
Letting to students is a profitable business model. Remember, most problems can be avoided with careful management, a degree of foresight, and good communication skills.
Do you let to students? Have you experienced any of the problems mentioned above? Tell us more. You can reach out on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!
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