Most students will have a story about renting from a crappy landlord. Central heating left unfixed in the darkest depths of winter, exotic coloured mould covered by a thin layer of paint or the deposit being plundered just to fund overdue redecorating.
The fact is, housing is one of the chief issues faced by younger generations and that applies to students too. We’re faced by system weighted heavily in favour of landlords.
Yard, a social enterprise for renters, is taking on this all on. Set up by students in 2017, Yard aims to give students the option to really choose the landlords they rent from.
It’s key feature is the database of trusty landlords, as reviewed by previous student tenants, so that the next wave of renters know exactly what they are getting themselves into. Landlords will be reviewed on different metrics such as responsiveness to contact from the tenant, or the efficiency at which they deal with problems with the property.
To further facilitate communication, Yard has an instant messaging function to encourage a “seamless interaction between’ landlord and tenant.
“When I was at LSE I wanted a company to ‘have my back’ in regards not just to accommodation but also daily life.”
But beyond this, Yard want to act as a information service for students going into private renting for the first time. Crucial aspects of renting such as compiling an inventory or submitting a council tax exemption are not taught anywhere at school so many get caught out.
LS sat down with Yasmin Anwar, one of the founders of Yard, and she told us about how the enterprise came about.
Having studied at LSE and lived in private rentals in London, she knew first hand the misery of coming up against an incompetent landlord. From this and other renting horror stories such as a friend of hers who was taken to court over council tax, the need for an organisation like Yard was obvious.
Yasmin made a point of not saying anything as cliched as ‘for students, by students’ but this is obviously Yard’s key advantage.
Others are tackling the student housing issues but they’re not putting students at the heart of their organisations. Yard’s team is made up of students and recent graduates and their experiences are central to the organisation’s ethos.
I asked Yasmin what inspired her: “Being a student myself. 100%. Anything we can do to help [students] we will invest into it. When I was at LSE I wanted a company to ‘have my back’ in regards not just to accommodation but also daily life.”
“I think for some universities it isn’t high up on their agenda.”
Keeping Yard sustainable is all important for the sake of helping students in the long run, so the landlords involved contribute to running costs of the website. I ask whether this will affect the core concern of helping students but Yasmin assures me it won’t. “Absolutely not,” she said. “We don’t get paid commission for putting people in houses”. The review system means that the landlords who are relied on to fund the organisation are the ones who are good to their tenants.
Despite the need to monetise the service, Yasmin wants the focus to remain on helping students. “We didn’t start up as a business, we started up as a social enterprise.”
Despite the obvious benefit that Yard provides for students and their housing woes, usually the management and student unions of the universities Yasmin approached weren’t interested in working together to improve renting conditions. “I think for some universities it isn’t high up on their agenda.”
I asked her what Yard’s biggest obstacle has been. “The inability for people to help,” Yasmin said. “I thought people would be much more willing to help, to bring ideas to the floor.” When I asked what she meant by this, Yasmin replied, “Take it how you will. People, just people.”
I asked for a name.
“We’re a positive institution, a positive project. We’re not here to slate anyway. Every meeting that I’ve gone to, its always been productive. We’ve always found the positives in everything.”
What was it apathy or incompetence? “A lack of time.”
Something I’m sure Yasmin knows a lot about. She set up Yard in the February of her last year studying at LSE, battling to get the enterprise off the ground alongside coursework and revision.
Although Yard came into being because of two students with big ideas, it is expanding. Yasmin tells me that they aim to three part-time student workers at each university in London, before eventually spreading out across all UK cities. Most crucially though, and true to the ethos of Yard, they want to be a trusted source for students taking on the rental market for the first time.
At a time when the rental market for young people in London is becoming evermore difficult, organisations like Yard are promising a better and much needed future, where tenants are not powerless. I keep coming back to something Yasmin said in passing, early in the interview: “We have a duty to keep this going”.