In the world of student renting, grim stories of exploitation abound. But when her friend moved into a flat that was still under construction, with rain pouring through its poorly fitted roof, frustrated young Londoner Hannah Chappatte embarked on a mission to drag an archaic industry into the 21st century.
“I was shocked by the constant cycle of students who absolutely hate renting,” she says. “Yes, there are spoiled teenagers who expect the world at 18-years-old, but on the flipside, there are first-time renters paying £700 a month for a property that is not safe to live in. Damp and mould might be making them ill, but many students don’t know when and how to stand up for themselves.”
It was time to turn what Chappatte saw as a traditionally landlord-centric system on its head. Now 24, she launched her student rental platform HYBR aged 22 at the start of 2020, shortly after graduating from the University of Bristol and just months before the Covid-19 pandemic sparked the mass exodus of students from cities up and down the country.
“I felt like a therapist when the first lockdown hit,” she says. “There were so many stressed-out students scrambling to escape their rental contracts, so I spent hours helping them find replacement tenants, from professionals like nurses to vulnerable people who needed to shield away from their families.
“Understandably, students didn’t want to pay rent for a flat they were no longer going to be living in, but many landlords were relying on their rental income to make ends meet.
“It proved how desperately a service like HYBR was needed to give both sides more security.”
Chapatte’s aim is to create a safe, go-to community for students – somewhere they can turn for advice during what can be a bewildering and overwhelming time.
“The name HYBR is a fresh, edgy twist on ‘hibernation’. It evokes a sense of comfort and reassurance, while appealing to young renters with its modern, colourful branding and free, first-of-its-kind features, from interactive maps and a housemate-matching service to verified landlord badges and round-the-clock support from former students.
Where does HYBR operate?
What started with Chappatte staring at a blank website with £50 in her pocket, is now a team of 11, working from their own office in Moorgate and rapidly scaling up across eight UK cities, including Exeter, Liverpool and Cardiff. The plan is to establish HYBR in 30 student hubs by the end of 2023.
Lack of supply is a key issue in Bristol, says Hannah, with some students forced to live in Wales and commute into campus every day. The situation is similar in the likes of Manchester, Nottingham and Leeds, but London offers more options, albeit in that disjointed, ‘big city’ way.
The big problem in London, however, is scammers, which is why Hannah is refraining from “going big” in the capital until spring, when HYBR will have had time to properly vet their potential listings.
“Too many London landlords are just looking to make a quick buck,” she says. “They lure students in with misleading photos and set the rent sky-high, so we’re putting a lot of effort into analysing local markets and letting dodgy landlords know if they’re charging too much.”
Chappatte appreciates that it isn’t only students suffering from an outdated rental system. During her second year, she lived in a damp 14-bedroom house. Her landlord, who owned a portfolio of rental properties in Bristol, had a string of heated arguments with a different group of student tenants.
“That relationship had been sour for a while, but the final straw came when they hosted a huge party that went on until 8am,” says Hannah. “What stuck with me about that was how starkly it reflected the huge national breakdown in communication between students and landlords.
“Both sides start off on the defensive, just waiting to get messed around by the other, and they’re often not fully aware of their obligations and rights. It’s a needlessly toxic situation.”
How does HYBR differ from letting agents?
To attract new landlords who share their values, HYBR offers affordability, flexibility and a personal touch. Prices range from 15 per cent to 25 per cent of one month’s rent, depending on how hands-on the landlord wants to be.
“Our landlords like to pick and choose from a menu based on their specific business needs,” says Hannah. “For example, they might like to be present for viewings, but not involved in check-ins.”
This is where the platform stands out – high street letting agents are more expensive and focus on full management, while ad portals offer great marketing but lack customer service, often resulting in a deluge of dead-end or inadequately vetted leads.
Clearly, it’s working – to date, HYBR has generated over £2.8m in sales for over 100 landlords, and is yet to lose a single one.
“We take a lot of pressure off their shoulders,” says Hannah. “The more we look after their tenants, the healthier their relationships and the better the reviews they get for their properties.
“We’ve had students call us up and say they’d rather wait until HYBR has a good property to offer them than go through any other platform, because of the extra security we offer. It really is a win win.”