St Andrews is, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful University towns in the world. With the best fish and chips; West Sands stretching out before you; absurdly wonderful traditions such as foam fights and May dips, and, of course, the slightly less joyous tradition of camping out overnight on the street in the hopes of landing yourself with an over-priced and under-furnished student flat.
My first year room was perfect. A small rectangle of newly-found freedom, a comfy bed and large desk, which, admittedly, wasn’t used as much as it probably should have been. About a fortnight into the first term, I lost my key card. Without said key card, the door wouldn’t open. Being a stingy (aka business-minded and money-savvy) Scot, I decided I wouldn’t be needing a new one for 10 pounds. No no. I would simply leave my window closed, but off the hatch, enabling me to pull it open from the outside and climb through. Genius. The plan was working well until November rolled around and the St Andrean tradition of Raisin Weekend arrived in a flurry of snow, 7am shots of whisky, a caterpillar costume and copious amounts of shaving foam.Leaving the foamy quad behind on Monday morning, coated in various minty scents of man, the first years all trudged back to their halls of residence to shower. There was no risk of me losing my key card in the foam fight -I had already checked that off the list. I threw open the window and began to climb into my room. Obviously I slipped through, shaving foam went flying and a Catriona-shaped foamy outline set into my carpet. Luckily, the carpet was pretty shoddy to begin with so after some scrubbing it became a pretty nondescript stain, but I caved after that and bought a new key card. Lesson learnt.
There was no end to the excitement at the beginning of second year. The first flat with friends. Photos littered the walls, dinner parties were planned, sticky notes to ‘The best flatmates ever’ consumed the fridge door, midnight chats and gossip sessions in the kitchen were a regular occurrence. It was also a lovely flat, one which we were fortunate to snatch-up, as students camped out overnight in attempts to get a foot in the door of their chosen properties. It was an amazing flat, though, which makes for a dull blog post, so we’ll move on to third year.From the outside ‘The Hobo House’, as it had been coined, appeared to be a rather beautiful old Victorian building. It invited you inside, only to chill you to your bones. Your breath was visible throughout the property, as was the damp. A non-sealed off outside door in my bedroom allowed the wind and gales to blow nicely inside, just in case I was beginning to feel too cosy. We were all permanently wrapped up in at least 8 layers of clothing and spent our time huddled in our small kitchen, with the oven turned up to 200 degrees, just to heat up the room. It was the one year, however, that I wasn’t infected with freshers’ flu, coughs or colds. It must have been too cold for the germs, too. That year, there were a couple of spats with the landlords, but nothing compared to the court battle which was to ensue the following year.
OK, so admittedly, “court battle” was a slight exaggeration. But still, you think, ‘What can go wrong?’ You move in, documenting the condition of the property accurately on the inventory, as well as taking the extra step to document the rooms and nitty-gritty details in photos and perhaps a video. When all the paperwork is signed, you can start making your scruffy, mouldy, damp and dining table-less flat your home for the next year.
Although only a 10 minute walk into the heart of St Andrews, anywhere past the river was known as the ‘Badlands’. However, the only thing notably dodgy about our flat, damp aside, was the ‘ice cream van’, which would frequently call in our neighbourhood around 11pm, during the winter months. I’ll let you do the maths.Our problem wasn’t the flat, or the location, it was being landed with landlords who are the worst kind of human beings you could be landed with: the wimp (him) and the controlling keyboard warrior (her).
Asking for a dining room table resulted in around 12 pages of angry email replies from the infamous duo. Begrudgingly, we got one, after 4 months or so of indoor picnics for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The window cleaner “didn’t work during the winter”, or apparently at any time throughout the year, as the windows were never cleaned…etc etc. You get the picture. The end of the lease, not surprisingly, also marked the start of the deposit dispute. The landlords conveniently couldn’t make it to the final inspection, allowing them to damage whatever they fancied after we had already vacated the property, charging us for their damage.
A government body holds the deposit money, so in the case of a dispute, both parties (tenants and owners), must put forward their case to the official body. I transformed into Harvey Specter (if you don’t know who he is, you haven’t been watching the right TV series), and compiled a 22 appendix document fighting our case, that, among other things, 215 pounds seemed slightly over-priced for a cleaning company to dust the lampshades.
We didn’t get the full deposit back, but almost all of it. Compared to what the landlords claimed they should keep, we won that battle. To quote Mr Specter, “It’s not bragging if it’s true.”
Life lessons learnt: Renting can be risky business, but if you’re going to be dumped with a near court battle, I can’t think of a more beautiful place in the world for it to happen than St Andrews.