Halls or private housing?

Until recently most first year students would stay in university provided halls for the first year. In the following years they would then move into private housing, off campus. Students are now choosing to rent a more varied range of accommodation types. This is due to the arrival of privately owned and run purpose-built student accommodation. Private accommodation is often chosen by second and third year undergraduates, offering students the opportunity to continue the experience of living in student halls. Students can choose to live with a group or with their own space in studio living.

So which one is right for you and what are the differences between all three?

Type of contract

The contracts offered for university provided accommodation are normally either licences or excluded tenancies. Private sector housing and purpose-built accommodation will usually use shorthold tenancies.

University provided accommodation provides you with less protection as an occupier. Having a licence and /or being an excluded occupier simply gives you permission to be in the property. An assured shorthold tenancy conveys a right to live in the accommodation.

This makes a huge difference when it comes to eviction, damage deposit protection and quiet enjoyment


Licence / excluded tenancy

A licence / excluded tenancy is simply contractual permission to be in the property. A tenancy is the absolute right under housing law to live in a property with specific rights over that land.

A landlord simply needs to write a letter to the licensee to end a licence / excluded tenancy. This letter should give a reason for ending the agreement, notice for the licence end and move out date. However this is not specified under law so any format of letter is acceptable.

The notice period, reason and process must be the same as described in the contract or there would be an argument for breach of contract. The contract should also be fair. If the eviction is based on an unfair term, there will be an argument against this. However if the contract has been abided by, there is no defence against the ending of the agreement.

If you don’t leave after receiving a letter ending your tenancy, your landlord will need to go to court to evict you.  Your landlord will not need to ask the court to end the agreement or for their judgement as to whether the agreement should be ended. It will already been ended by the letter revoking the permission for you to be there.

Shorthold tenancy

When ending a shorthold tenancy, a landlord must ask a court to end the agreement and evict you. You should first receive a notice to quit, an informal letter setting out the reasons the tenancy is being ended. If you do not leave at the end of the notice period, a court must decide whether the tenancy is indeed at an end and then order you to leave. Depending on the alleged grounds of eviction, the court does not have to agree with the landlord.

Damage deposit

Only damage deposits that are paid in connection with an assured shorthold tenancy must be protected under deposit protection laws. Housing law only requires that damage deposits paid in connection with an assured shorthold tenancy are protected. Therefore only tenants have access to legal protection, a free, independent adjudicator if there is a dispute and an almost guaranteed return of their deposit if successful.

If licensees / excluded occupiers feel that their deposit has been retained unfairly, they can negotiate with their landlord. If this is unsuccessful, their only recourse is to submit a county court claim which will cost money. The court fee is refunded if the claim is successful. Winning a claim however is not the same as receiving the money from the landlord. If they do not pay, further enforcement action is needed which will cost further money.

Quiet enjoyment

Only tenancies have the right of quiet enjoyment, which is not attached to licences / excluded tenancies. Quiet enjoyment is a common law legal right to remain without disturbance or harassment from your landlord for as long as you have a tenancy. This means that the landlord cannot enter your property without just reason and notice, harass you for rent payments, change the utility companies without your permission or just generally interfere with you living in the property by disturbing you with their actions. This also covers the actions of their agents.

You will only gain this right in private accommodation if you have an assured shorthold tenancy.

Having no right to quiet enjoyment does not mean your landlord is allowed to get away with these actions. It simply means there is no anchor to secure your argument on. If there is nothing in your contract covering the behaviour of the landlord / agents it can be more difficult to argue your case because it is based around a breach of implied terms, rather than something that is not written in your contract.

Leaving the property

There is no denying that it is more difficult to end (and therefore leave) an assured shorthold tenancy. Tenancies are normally for a fixed term for both parties. They do not generally have a break clause during the fixed term and therefore are binding until the end.  Licences / excluded tenancies very often will allow students to leave their contract more easily if there are exceptional circumstances or students leave university; however, this isn’t always the case. University hall contracts are generally more generous as they may be willing and more able to underwrite students’ rent and can afford to potentially lose money if the situation is genuine and compelling.

Joint liability v single liability

Halls whether they be university or private cluster flats will be single liability contracts. The agreement will be just for the room and access to the common parts of the accommodation such as the kitchen, bathroom and any other general living spaces. This type of contract means that you will not be able to object to the people you are living with nor can you bar them from the accommodation. The advantage to this type of agreement is you are responsible only for your own rent and no one else’s.

Under a joint contract, you have control (alongside your fellow tenants) who lives in the property with you but with this brings the responsibility of being liable for the whole amount of the rent so if someone does not pay, you and your guarantor will be liable to pay this.


University and purpose-built halls are typically all inclusive so you will not need to pay the bills for electricity, internet, gas or water yourself. There is likely to be an energy contribution towards electricity and some providers will also ask for a separate charge for internet. However, this way is very convenient, and student prefer this for its ease. By choosing a bills included contract you can avoid setting up the accounts yourself, potential arguments about sharing the cost with fellow tenants and being left with a debt to manage if your name is on the bill and other tenants won’t pay.

Some private houses and flats are increasingly all inclusive too.  If the landlord doesn’t provide inclusive bills, there are a range of companies that offer all-inclusive bills where the entire group all pays a monthly amount in return for an inclusive bills package which can include broadband and a TV licence. Be aware though, many landlords will cover utility bills up to a specific limit, usually based on a per person, per week basis. If you exceed the limit, your landlord will likely ask you to pay the excess.

In conclusion, consider all options before you make a decision. Think about how much your budget is, what level of involvement you want to have with bills, how much security you want to have when it comes to eviction and your damage deposit and when you have the answers to these points, this will bring you to a decision which hopefully will bring happiness for your year ahead.

Reviewed 08.02.2024

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