And now for the finer legal points of university life – are we all sitting comfortably?

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After reading this, I defy any one of you to not regret having spent a little more time filling in that mind-numbingly boring ‘Inventory Checklist’ every first year is given to complete – you know, the tedious form requiring you to detail every single scratch, stain, rip, mark, dent and who knows what other memento the previous occupant of your room kindly left behind. But that’s just the start of your university legal issues…

By the time fresher’s week’s ended, chances are you’ve come into contact with the law far more times than you’d have ever liked or even realised. Ever wondered where that deposit you placed on your room ends up when it (inevitably) gets deducted at the end of the year after a few too many parties? Or perhaps you never considered your liability as a Fresher’s Rep when you utter the all-too-familiar phrase ‘Down it fresher’? And then of course there’s the age old disagreement many second and third years experience upon getting a house off-campus, only to be told by their landlords that they can’t fit a lock on their door ‘for safety reasons’ – ‘safety reasons’? Or simply a disguised tactic so the landlord can avoid incurring further duties?

Photograph by J3net

Let’s start with something nice and familiar. I don’t know about you, but many students find the end of the first year can hold some nasty surprises. Take for instance the dreaded email stating how, no matter how much you worked your fingers to the bone cleaning, signs of dirt/damage have been found in your room, and the decision has been made to deduct the necessary amounts from your deposit. Sounds straight forward right? It’s only fair seeing as chances are it was you who did it (even if you don’t remember it, courtesy of Mr Alcohol). Sounds fair then? Think again. Whilst the University is more than entitled to deduct the appropriate amount, the tenancy agreement between you, the tenant and them, the landlord, imposes on them no contractual obligation to ensure the money does in fact go towards repairing the damage in question. Whilst it’s obviously in the University’s interest to ensure accommodation up to scratch – which it more than does, all too often stories surface about it being the minor damage that never seems to get fixed. Effectively, what this means is, strictly speaking, the University can charge you for ‘small’ damage you never noticed, then charge the next occupant after you, and then the occupant after them, and then the occupant after them…(a concept law students would liken to ‘The Full Repairing and Insuring Lease’). The justification? “A deposit deduction relates to the damage caused by the tenant, not how the landlord may decide to spend the money once recouped” (LUSU). The only safeguard then to prevent you becoming the next casualty in what seems a continuous cycle, is to minimise your liability as far as possible by taking note of all the damage already present in your room. That Inventory Checklist is looking a little more appealing now isn’t it?

Another tenancy-related issue to bear in mind is door locks. Don’t give up after being told the ‘safety reasons’ argument against having them. Whilst they undoubtedly play some part, should you ever decide to take a gander through the Housing Act 2004 (if you’re as bored or as sad as I am), it may interest you to know that fitting a lock can result in the house being classed as a ‘House in Multiple Occupation’. This consequently imposes further responsibilities on your landlord that they had previously avoided when you didn’t have a lock. Of course I’m not suggesting you install a lock for the sake of it, just it’s worth asking your landlord if it’s ok to go ahead and fit one. Personally I don’t care if the University or LUSU doesn’t uphold these extended obligations, I just don’t want my flatmates walking in on me halfway through getting changed! However should you succeed in persuading your landlord to allow you to fit a lock, exercise caution. Having a lock may seem to grant you the privacy you seek, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself having to pay for your own TV licence given that you’re now legally classed as separate from the rest of the flat.

And finally the serious stuff. Whilst this may only be some trivial article in a student newspaper, to those of you planning to become Fresher’s Reps next year, listen up. Needless to say, shepherding the anxious freshers is an important responsibility – one that could end badly if you abuse your new found authority. Some of you may have heard about the unfortunate Exeter fresher who choked on his own vomit after downing “a pint of spirits”, allegedly after being pressured to do so by his Reps. Indeed our University has gone as far as banning Reps from ordering those under their charge to “Down it fresher”. It may seem fun at the time, but the difference between having fun and breaking the law is often a thin line; something worth bearing in mind. A lesson Sheffield Hallam University student Philip Laing forgot, when he urinated on a War memorial during Carnage – something that lead Judge Anthony Browne to suggest the organisers should have been in the dock with him.

On the whole though chances are your encounters with the law won’t be negative, but if you are a law student or have a friend that is, between you and me, it might be worth asking them for a few pointers on what to do upon being stopped by the Police when a night out gets a bit out of hand (and if you still end up in the cells, sue them for negligent advice!).

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1 Comment

  1. “Whilst this may only be some trivial article in a student newspaper…”

    Not at all – it is of great importance that students are aware of this stuff. I did an investigation into this whole deposit crookery at the start of the year, and it’s not surprising how few students seize the chance to grab the residence offices by the balls with their inventory. After all, the last thing you’re going to pay the most attention to is something presented to you by the department as a superfluous afterthought. It’s so glaringly obvious that the University is deliberately leaving damage unfixed, to extract more money at the end of the year, that it’s grotesque.

    Well done for emphasising this.

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