International students living in Airbnbs and hotels due to loophole in rental process

Some students are asked to pay the full year’s rental costs up front

Some international students in Cardiff are living in Airbnbs and hotels because private landlords ask them to pay a full year’s rental costs up front.

There are currently more than 7,000 international students at Cardiff University and many more at University of South Wales and Cardiff Metropolitan University.

All students need a ‘guarantor’ to rent a property – a person who will foot the bill should the student not be able to pay their rent.

However, it is customary for a guarantor to be a UK citizen because in the UK the guarantor has a legal responsibility to pay the landlord.

International students often struggle to find a UK-based guarantor because their families and friends all live abroad. Landlords are often unwilling to use guarantors living abroad because there is no legal guarantee they will be able to retrieve money owed in the event of a problem.

That’s why students without UK guarantors are sometimes asked to pay an entire year’s rental costs up front, which they understandably struggle to do.

Essien Attah, a former International Officer at University South Wales, is self-employed but also helps people in his home country of Nigeria, for free, to attend UK universities.

He says a lot of the students that he’s in touch with are struggling with their mental health due to their living situations.

What’s the landlord’s view?

Neil Parish is a landlord in Cardiff who lets houses to students. He says he doesn’t always look for guarantors from prospective renters.

“It’s really a question of, you know, seeing exactly what the situation is of the applicants,” he said.

“Very often they’ve got their funding that may be governmental or it may be money that they’ve saved up themselves.

“But as long as they can show that they have the ability to rent the property that’s on offer, then, you know, as far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough to go.”

However, this is often not a widespread view and the issue was raised by MS Rhys ab Owen during First Minister’s Questions at The Senedd yesterday. He asked specifically about African students but the issue applies equally to all international students.

What is the solution?

Cardiff University has a guarantor scheme in place.

This scheme ensures that if a student doesn’t have a guarantor, the university can act as one on their behalf.

The scheme is open to all students and covers unpaid rent of up to £5,000. In order to be eligible for the scheme you must have proof of sound finances and a good academic record.

However, some international students feel like this scheme wasn’t advertised to them.

Omkar Kalkutki, a postgraduate student at Cardiff University, is living in university-owned accommodation. Because of this, he was able to pay his rent in separate payments despite not having a guarantor.

He did not know about the University scheme, nor did some friends who he says paid up to £6,000 in advance for the full year’s living costs.

“I’m lucky that I am able to pay my rent in instalments, but I know that a lot of people aren’t able to do this easily,” he said.

“If I knew about [the scheme] earlier then I would have been able to pay a lot less in private accommodation instead of being at a university hall.

“Sadly, I don’t think I’m the only one who didn’t know about this which I think is very disappointing.”

A spokesperson from Cardiff University said: “I’m afraid we are unable to comment on individual cases. However, we can confirm that we regularly discuss and raise housing issues with the other Cardiff-based universities and Cardiff Council through our partnership.”

However, other universities in Cardiff do not all have such schemes.

Mr Parish, the landlord, said another solution is to increase the amount of private rental accommodation available.

“If the accommodation isn’t there then it doesn’t matter what incentives are available to people.

“The students who can offer two months’ rent in advance […] [landlords] may accept that person [instead of someone who can’t].