So your time in halls has finally come to an end after freshers year, or you’ve just had enough of living in a student block and want to live in a house of your own, maybe with some friends. Fantastic! Renting your own student accommodation affords you a great amount of freedom and flexibility over where you’ll live for the coming year(s), and is an important step towards ‘living in the real world’ – you’ll have to get used to it once you graduate! That said, there are some common pitfalls that can snag students and make your time at university frustrating and expensive. So here’s a list of considerations to bear in mind throughout the process.
Landlords & Letting Agencies
Students have a choice on whether to communicate directly with landlords or to go via a letting agent. Letting agents come with the added security of having a middle man ensure that all the paperwork is in order to prevent any issues later on, particularly with dodgy landlords. The downside of letting agents is their own, often inflated, fees! Whilst the government is cracking down on agent fees, horror stories are still commonplace. If you do go through a letting agent, ask for all costs (credit checks, inventory assessments etc.) in advance and query any of them that seem disproportionate. Remembers also that agents cannot charge a fee for property viewings.
If your university has an accommodation service that lists local student properties, that can be a good channel to work through with students’ interests at heart.
Look for signs of damp and any infestations by pests / insects – these can be unpleasant and bad for health, especially anybody with respiratory issues. Check everywhere, from the attic to behind wardrobes to ensure that the landlord hasn’t covered anything up.
Ask the landlord whether all safety checks are up-to-date, including fire safety, gas safety, and electrical safety, which are legal requirements. Have a look at fire alarms, fire extinguishers, fire safety blankets, and utilities such as the boiler and gas meter to ensure everything is safe and functional. Test the taps and toilets to ensure that they function correctly. Also check the energy efficiency and insulation in the house – a poorly insulated property can result in sky-high energy bills, especially in the winter.
Ensure that the property has functioning locks and possibly a burglar alarm, sincestudent properties (often full of electronics and bicycles) are seen as a goldmine by burglars. Arranging contents insurance is often a good idea if you don’t have one that already covers you whilst at university.
The best judge of what it’s like to live in any property is the current tenants. Speak to them to see what problems they may have had and how responsive the landlord is to requests for repairs. Note also that while landlords do have a right to retain a set of keys to the property and to inspect it from time to time, they must give you reasonable notice before doing so (typically 24 hours) and do so in a reasonable manner. If your landlord falls short in this respect, you may have a claim for harassment, and the NUS has advice on dealing with problem landlords in general.
On the flip side, you will need to be reasonable too. Too many noisy house parties can land you in trouble with the neighbours. Your lease will contain clauses that allow the landlord to evict you for unreasonable behaviour, and neighbours can make complaints to the local council (who can impose fines or worse). Just be sensible – let your neighbours know if you’re throwing a party, and don’t play loud music long into the night.
The Rent and Contract
Once you’re happy to make an offer for a property, remember that you can always negotiate on the rent and make a lower offer than what’s advertised – the rent is not fixed and you shouldn’t take the letting agent or landlord’s word on how much the property is worth. Have a look around to see how the local market for rent compares. Be careful with any ‘deals’ you may be offered, such as the inclusion of a TV. These can be nice, but make sure you’re not overpaying on rent as a result.
After you’ve agreed on an offer, you’ll have to deal with the contract paperwork. Read the terms of your lease very carefully to be sure that you aren’t caught out by any unexpected clauses. The contract will usually be an ‘assured shorthold tenancy’, where all names included are ‘jointly and severally liable’, meaning that all tenants are responsible for fulfilling the obligations of the lease and paying rent, even if one person leaves unexpectedly. Some landlords may also require a financial guarantee from your parents. Student properties are usually subject to a 12-month lease, although you may be able to negotiate this depending on the location.
Look at the furnishings and fittings in the flat and check what is included for when you move in – existing furniture may be owned by the current tenants or moved before you arrive.
As soon as you move in, make a detailed list of all the contents of the flat, from the fridge to the bathroom sink, and take time-stamped photos to accompany it. Note down any existing damage so that you are not held responsible for it at the end of your tenancy. Sign and date this list along with the landlord so that when it comes to moving out, there are no disputes that could lead to you losing some or all of your deposit.
Landlords are required to safeguard tenants’ deposits through a government-backed scheme, and within 14 days of receiving it, must tell you where the money is stored and how to retrieve it at the end of your tenancy. To get your deposit back, you must return the property in its original condition, allowing for ‘fair wear and tear’. If you and your landlord are in dispute over how much of the deposit should be returned or over the condition of the property, the NUS offers an enforcement pack to protect your deposit.
Energy & Water: Make sure the bills are registered in every student’s name so that you are jointly responsible for paying. Having to nag your flatmates to cough up every month can get tiring if they don’t keep on top of things.
Council Tax: Properties occupied solely by full-time students are exempt from council tax. Check with your university if you need to register with your local council yourself, since many universities take care of this on behalf of students. If anybody in the property is not a full-time student, you are likely to have to pay council tax, but may be eligible for a discount.
TV Licence: The current cost of a TV licence is £150.50, which you have to pay if you watch any live TV. You can get around this if you only watch ‘catch-up’ TV on your laptop e.g. BBC iPlayer, but watching live TV without a licence can come with a hefty fine. If you have a joint tenancy, then you only need one licence to cover the property. However, if you have individual tenancies, then each person with a TV in their room must pay for a licence. Check out the TV Licensing website for further details.
The House Kitty: It’s a good idea to maintain a shared pot, into which everybody contributes, to buy shared household essentials e.g. milk, coffee, tea, and toilet paper. Agree in advance how much everybody will contribute and what it can be spent on.
Location & Transport Links
Location, location, location. That extra 10 minutes in bed before a 9am lecture makes all the difference to your morning, especially if you’ve been up late the night before… There will of course be a trade-off between rent costs and convenience in getting to university, but your daily commute will add up over the course of the year. Also think about distance to local amenities: supermarkets, pharmacies, rail / bus stations, and perhaps the pub. On the other hand, there may be some bargains to be had in areas not typically frequented by students, with lower rent and more flexible tenancy contracts potentially available. And while living right next to the party, whether house parties or nightclubs, might be appealing, remember that houses in these areas might be more run-down and noisy than elsewhere.
As an international student, getting from your home country to your second home at university will be a frequent challenge. You’ll likely be carrying some hefty luggage, especially when your first move in and finally move out. Check what rail and bus connections to the airport are available, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. National Express offers good coverage of airport transfers where rail links are inconvenient.
With any luck, you’ll soon find your dream student house to enjoy your time at university. Some final words of advice – be courteous and act professionally when dealing with letting agents and landlords so that you earn their trust. They can always turn you down as tenants if they think you’ll cause trouble. And once you’ve found your ideal property, be quick to seal the deal before anybody else jumps in front of you!
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Jamie studied at Winchester College, where he represented the school at the inaugural Winchester International Symposium. He then obtained BA and MSci degrees in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, specialising in Chemistry, where he was also a Flight Commander on Cambridge University Air Squadron in the RAF. He now works as a strategy consultant in London. With his broad range of experiences, he is able to offer interview coaching to Ampla’s students in a wide variety of contexts.
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