Going round the houses

Posted in: University Life

Our student accommodation guide to help you through the process, the legal bits and the key things to consider when making your choice.

Knowing what you’re looking for

If you are studying at University it is likely that you will need to live away from home. Typically in the first year, you will live in student halls.  These are often on, or very close, to campus with amenities very close by to get you used to living away from home. Of course, you can choose to stay in halls throughout your degree but it is often the case that halls favour first year students. 

You may find that your first year flatmates become your best friends and you all wish to stay together.  This may be the case with course/society friends as well. If this does not happen then you can find a studio or one bedroom flat for yourself.  In order to start a house/flat search, you first need to decide who you will want to live with and how many of you there will be. When you enter this process it can be very irritating if people chop and change their minds half way through. Once you have decided who you are living with you will need to contact a Letting Agent. 

Choosing an Agent 

When you are choosing a student Lettings Agent you should take care into researching what they offer. Some landlords may offer a month’s free utility or vouchers for signing up with them, make sure you only hand money over when you’re completely certain because these rewards aren’t always what they seem. Different Lettings Agents will have different types of accommodation so be sure to look around and look at reviews of the Lettings Agents before you commit to any meetings. Be mindful that you can say no at any time before a contract is signed. 

When deciding which properties you are interested in it is always a good idea to have a list of requirements. For example how many bedrooms and toilets do you need, whether you need parking or a garden, whereabouts is the property in relation to your University?  It is also very important to set a budget that everyone in the group can stick to. Everyone’s student loan will be a different amount so do some number crunching and come up with a figure that works for everyone. Some houses, for example, have larger rooms and smaller rooms that are priced differently, so this might be a way for a group of people with different budgets to still be able to live together.

It is perfectly fine to be booking viewings with more than one Lettings Agent. However, if you go into an Agent’s office they will be able to show you multiple properties that fit your requirements. 

Don’t forget to look at their websites to understand more about the properties on offer and how they might fit your needs.

A first timer’s guide to viewings 

When you are taken round a property there are several things that you should be mindful of. Most importantly is that the property is as advertised, of course, a student property may be a mess (we know what you’re like) but remember that when you move in at the end of the summer it will be clean and you can keep it as tidy (or as cluttered) as you like, so don’t let a bit of mess put you off.

It is always a good idea to walk to the property from the University so you can get a feel for the route and distance of the journey. You don’t want to get a taxi there and realise it is a 40 minute walk to your 9am on a Monday morning once you’ve moved in.

Student properties, particularly older houses, can be prone to condensation if the rooms are not being heated or ventilated properly by the current occupant.   When looking around a property be sure to take a close look at corners and if you can, behind wardrobes. Condensation can be resolved easily, but it is best to make sure you have raised anything on the viewing that you want to be addressed.  

You can also ask for certain things to be added into the contract to make sure they are done before you arrive.  For example, some shared houses do not have lockable bedroom doors. Make sure you specify that you want this (if you do) before you sign anything, and make sure this is included in the contract.

Whether you’re in a group of 8 or you’re looking for a one bedroom flat, you will need to know what appliances are included. This way you won’t turn up with 6 kettles and won’t be left without a toaster. If you are not able to find out during the viewing it is recommended that you get in contact with the landlord and they can tell you what is included. 

It can be difficult to find true, up to date reviews on the properties that you are viewing. If you can, speak to the current tenants whilst you are in the house. This way you can get a truthful account of what it is like living in the building. 

Booking process 

Although you may like a property it is ideal to spend some time thinking seriously about your decision. Once you have ensured that you are A) going to be able to pay your rent and will be able to afford to live comfortably with your student finance / job etc and B) that you are sure that the people you are entering into a contract with are on the same page as you, the letting Agent should provide you with a contract which you can review. You will get around 7 days to make your decision before you sign anything. Once you have signed you will then pay a deposit then all you have to do is look forward to your new home. 

Don’t treat your tenancy agreement lightly

Signing your contract for your next year’s accommodation is always incredibly exciting but a housing contract is a legal document and it isn’t something to be taken lightly. 

Being a student can give you an immense sense of maturity dealing with financing your own home, but what happens if you won’t (for whatever reason) or worse, can’t pay your rent, what are your options?

Important to note 

As a full time student you are exempt from paying council tax. If your household has one or more full time students you may be applicable for a discount. It is worth getting in touch with your local council if you are confused. 

If for personal reasons you have to intercalate (where the University gives you permission to take official time out from your Degree), speak to your University Welfare team before you do because once you leave you will still be liable for the rent, and if you are no longer a student the University might not be able to help you. 

Not paying your rent due to a dispute?

First and foremost, you must remember that your tenancy agreement is a legal contract and paying your rent is legally required. If you have a dispute either with the landlord, your housemates, or bank, you need to speak to someone as soon as possible. 

You can talk to the Letting Agent. You could speak with your Landlord to resolve any disputes however you are still legally contracted to pay your rent. If you have issues and withhold your rent, this will not be looked upon favourably if you have to take the problems further.  Paying your rent is a completely separate issue to having a faulty washing machine, for example, so even though it may be frustrating, you need to make sure you are sticking to your side of the agreement.

Another important source of help is your Students’ Union. They have advisers who can help you with financial, legal, and emotional struggles. Similarly, you can reach out to your University Welfare team. 

Remember that unpaid or late payment of rent will have consequences. At the very least you might find it difficult to secure a property for the next year of your studies. If you fail to provide prompt and reasonable excuse as to why you have not paid then you may struggle as Agents and landlords will want to see an efficient payment record.

 Can’t afford to pay your rent?

We understand that as students it is rare your loan will cover the entirety of your rent and you will be making up the remainder with a part time job, savings, or family assistance. If one of these stops without notice then you may be caught short on your rental payments. 

The first thing to do is evaluate your options: there is support available to you.

Talk to your Lettings Agent to see if they can offer an extension or alter a payment plan. The Students Union can also help. Their financial advisers will be able to point you in the right direction, as will the University Welfare team. Make the most of the free services that are available to you. The most important thing to remember is to talk to someone. Keeping it to yourself will only make matters worse. 

Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

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