What’s next for student housing?


While students left the town, North East Fife Area Council took a long-postponed vote and introduced a ban on HMO licensing in St Andrews. During the heated town and gown discussions preceding the vote, students were identified to be dominating the town and turning it into an ‘enclave’. The councillors’ decision was however not unhinged after all lobbying and collecting signatures; despite all recommendations, they voted in favour.

Such an outcome has left many students disillusioned and worried about the future. Since House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) licenses are needed for flats occupied by three or more unrelated people, typically students or migrant workers, the new plan is bound to affect these groups above all other St Andrews citizens.

Under the new plan, no more new HMO licences will be issued for properties for rent in the central conservation area, stretching from the Scores up to the Kinnessburn. However, properties that currently hold a license will not be put at risk; existing licenses will be extended in the future and a property sold with a license will be entitled to retain it.

A spokesperson for letting agency Bradburne & Co. expressed the view that this policy should not immediately affect the availability of student properties. However, she was more worried about its effect on sales in the town.
“We currently have a 3-bedroomed property for sale in the centre,” she explained, “so we need to warn potential buyers that they will not be able to get an HMO for it,” said the spokesperson.

At Inchdairnie Letting, a similar opinion was communicated by a spokesperson, who said that “the main problem is at the point of sale; besides people being reluctant to purchase, it is also likely that it will become harder to sell properties.”

“I think if people cannot sell, they will divide a property up”, she commented. However, this solution may not be viable for many landlords due to the high cost of such an investment.

According to Eve Brown Ltd, the new HMO policy is already taking its toll on student letting.

“We’ve already had two students who were looking into renting a particular property and their HMO has been turned down”, said a spokesman.

He considered that the long-term effects might be more difficult to predict.

“I believe that the ban is likely to be challenged,” he said “but if it does hold, then we could see an artificial distortion of the market.”

The letting agents identified possible implications of the new policy including an increase in rents in the central area, a stagnant market for buy-to-let properties as well as a rise in unregistered landlords renting properties to students. The pressure on renewing HMO licenses could result in toughening the rules and creating obstacles for landlords to retain it.

But the future might not be as bleak as these predictions suggest. As the number of new HMO licenses granted each year is typically less than a dozen, this implies a potential future loss of around 30 beds per year. Additionally, the ban will be due for review in two years; after such a period of time its effects will have become clear.


  1. Interesting comments from the locals; an ‘enclave’. Is it a problem having a distinct cultural or social unit in St Andrews? As long as they bring revenue to businesses that are probably struggling. I think the article is well written but a viewpoint from a student who is qualified to talk on the subject matter would have been good.


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