GUIDE TO STUDENT ACCOMMODATION
Your student house will probably be the first property you rent and may even be the first time you have lived away from home. It can be a daunting task, understanding what to look for in a property, how to set up the utilities and how to make sure you don’t make mistakes, so we have put together this guide for you, to try and help you get the most out of your renting experience.
Pros and cons of different student accommodation
As if there weren’t enough choices already to be made when choosing a university, one of the things you will also need to think about is where you will stay. What are the accommodation options open to you and what are the pros and cons of each?
So what are the choices?
University Halls of Residence
Owned by the university, these are usually either on campus, or in the case of city universities, very close to the main university buildings. Usually, most 1 st year students will opt for university accommodation on campus. It is a good first step as your first time away from home and you will be right in the thick of all the activities. But not all universities have campus accommodation and campus accommodation will not suit everyone.
Most university halls are modern and more and more offer ensuite facilities to your room, in a flat of between six and eight students. The communal areas will usually be cleaned once a week and they provide good value option to give you time to get used to living away from home. Some halls are catered, so you don’t even need to learn to cook for yourself.
As long as you are prepared to abide by the rules, halls of residence are an excellent option for first year students. They provide good value accommodation and are generally located on campus or within easy reach of the university. Other benefits include having your linen washed once a week and the bathrooms cleaned regularly -a veritable home from home. Students will be asked to sign a Residence Agreement lasting approximately 40 weeks.
Advantages : you will be close to all the university facilities and be eased in gently to living away from home.
Disadvantages: can be more expensive than University Halls.
Private Halls of Residence
In recent years more and more private halls of residence have been built, which are not connected to a specific university or college. They are often a bit more expensive than the Halls provided by the University but they are usually built to a very high standard and will be good quality, modern, en-suite rooms. Private Halls offer a similar experience to living in University Halls so you will not feel as though you are missing out and they have the added advantage that you will often be with students from other Universities in the city too, so you will be with a more diverse group of people.
Advantages: you will get a nice, modern room with all the home comforts and you won’t be missing out on the Halls experience
Disadvantages: can be more expensive than University Halls.
Most students in their 2nd and 3rd years will go in to shared flats and houses with their friends. However, this is not always as straightforward as it sounds. Students are often under pressure to reserve their house for the following year very early on in their first year and will find themselves paying a deposit on a house with people they’ve only known a couple of weeks. By the time it comes round to it the following September they may find that there are other groups they would rather be with, or some students will have dropped out of the course so you will find that there are spaces in some of these shared houses, being advertised over the summer. Most universities will have a notice board or forum where students can advertise their spare rooms, or there are websites such as EasyRoommate.co.uk where students and others looking to fill a spare room, can advertise.
Advantages: you will be with a group of students who already know their way around who can help you settle in.
Disadvantages: you will not be with others in the first year and you may find that you make less friends in your peer group.
Another option, which is often a common choice for international students, but could also be appropriate for some UK students, is to stay with a host family. University Halls are not for everyone and some students may prefer the home from home experience, living with a family and having the option of home cooked meals and your laundry done for you! Check out www.homestay.com
Advantages: this can make moving away from home easier if you settle in with the host family, it is an easier first step to independence and you do not need to commit to the whole academic year. You could just book for a couple of months while you find your feet and some friends to share a house with.
Disadvantages: you will need to make more of an effort to get involved in University social life as you will find yourself more removed from all the activities.
What to look for in a student house
- Location, Location, Location – it is often said that the three most important things about buying a house are Location, Location and Location and the same applies when looking for a house to rent. It may sound obvious, but you may think at the time “Oh the walk will do me good” or “I won’t mind commuting” but will you really feel like then when you have a 9am lecture on a Monday morning? Make sure the house has good transport links to the university and does not take too long or cost too much to get there. Also, look around the local area. Are there any convenience shops nearby? Will you feel safe to walking home in the small hours of the morning? Is it an area with a high crime rate?
- Look out for signs of damp & mould – as you look round, look at the walls and ceilings for signs of black mould, particularly near the windows or the smell of dampness in the house. Not only does damp smell bad but it can also be bad for your health living in a house with mould, particularly if you suffer from allergies and asthma.
- Pests – when you look round, check for any signs that there might have been a problem with pests, such as mice, rats or slugs. Landlords will try to cover this up when showing potential tenants around, but ask to look in cupboards, or scrutinise the carpets for slug trails.
- Safety and security – do the windows have locks? What about each individual door? And the front door? Are there smoke alarms and fire extinguishers fitted? Are there good fire escape routes from all floors and all rooms?
- Electrics – have a good look at the plug sockets and electrical appliances that are provided in the house. Do they look safe? Are there loose cables? Are there enough sockets in your room? Are there enough electrical appliances for all the people who would be living there?
- Heating and Insulation – as winter sets in, if the house is not well insulated or the heating does not work properly, you will be miserably cold. Check whether the windows are double glazed, the loft is insulated, the doors are draught proof and that the heating system works.
- Storage – if the property comes furnished, are there enough cupboards and other storage space for all your things?
- Gas – if there is gas in the property, your landlord should provide a copy of the annual gas safety inspection certificate, which he is legally required to have done every year.
As you wander round the property, you will also get a feel for the general condition of the property and if it feels as though it is looked after by the landlord. If a house needs a lot of repairs done, it will suggest that the landlord is unreliable.
Understanding your tenancy agreement
Most student lets are shorthold or short term tenancy agreements with private landlords. This means that your contract with the landlord is for a fixed term, usually 12 months, even though you won’t necessarily need the house for the whole 12 months.
Within this, the tenancy will either be a joint tenancy or an individual tenancy agreement, which means that you will either all be held jointly responsible for the overall rent, or you will be held individually responsible for your own rent.
Taking a joint tenancy agreement with people you do not know particularly well can have its risks, as if one of them leaves the property and does not pay their rent, the rest of you will still be liable, or if your parents are acting as guarantors, they may find themselves liable for someone else’s unpaid rent, which might not make them too happy!
There have been plenty of horror stories of landlords taking advantage of unsuspecting students, so protect yourself before signing any agreement and make sure you bear in mind that you are the customers and you therefore have certain rights which you can exercise if your landlord does not deliver what has been agreed in the contract.
Check your contract and agreement carefully for the following things
- When it runs from and to and when you have to pay the rent. Put these dates in your diary so you don’t forget to pay. Make sure that the amount you are liable for is stated in the contract.
- How much deposit is required and the terms under which any or all of the deposit may be withheld. Check if your landlord is backed by a deposit protection scheme, which they should be by law.
- What you can and can’t do in the property – for example can you have pets, parties?
- What utilities, if any, are included in the rent and are there any caps on usage?
- What happens if you want to end your tenancy early?
- Who is responsible for what repairs? Your landlord is usually responsible for doing most repairs and for ensuring the safety of gas and electrical equipment, furnishings and asbestos.
What are your rights as a tenant?
- You do have certain rights as the tenant but you can also be evicted quite easily if you do not pay your rent or you become a nuisance to the landlord. However, in order to do this, they will have to serve you notice and get a possession order from the court. You have the right to stay in your home until the bailiffs evict you but you may find yourself paying some of the landlord’s legal costs if you stay on after the notice has expired.
- Your landlord or their agent does have the right to access your home to check any repair work needed and to carry out the repairs. Unless it’s an emergency, they must give you 24 hours’ notice.
- The landlord does not have the right to enter your home otherwise, unless you invite them.
- It is against the law for the landlord to harass you or illegally evict you.
Do not feel pressured to sign any contract until you have read through it all and made sure you understand and are happy with all the terms of the agreement. Although there is always a rush to get the best properties at the start of term, it is better to get it right than rush in to something you later regret.
Setting up your utilities
Once you have to tenancy agreement signed, if utilities (water, electricity, gas, telephone/broadband) are not included in the monthly rent, you will need to sort this out yourselves. It will save a lot of hassle if you can get your utilities included. This way the landlord is responsible for paying the bills to the utility companies and you just pay him your monthly rent. However, you may find that some landlords will hike the price to ensure that they are covering themselves, in case someone in your house has five baths a day and leaves the lights on all night.
So what do you have to do?
- Do a price comparison – use a site like moneysupermarket.com or uswitch.com to get a comparison of the likely costs. Most contracts will run from 12 months but some will offer you 9 month contracts, especially designed for students. Check the terms and conditions of each contract as often there will be cancellation fees and set up charges incurred, so make sure you take those things in to consideration when choosing which supplier to go with.
- Phone up the companies – once you have decided which companies you will use,
- Make everyone responsible to pay – it might seem complicated, but it is better to have all the housemates names on the bill, so that not one person is held responsible if the bill isn’t paid. If it is your name on the bill, it can affect your credit score if the bill is not paid.
- Set up direct debits – you are going to have enough things to keep you busy during the term, without having to remember when to pay your utility bills. If everyone sets up a direct debit for their portion of the bill, you can be sure that the bill will be paid and you can all just forget about it – as long as everyone has enough money in their account to cover the direct debit each month!
- Take regular meter readings – make sure you read the meters on the day you move in and also on the day you move out, so that you are not paying for anything someone else has used. It is also recommended to read the meter and submit readings on a regular basis so that your bills are not estimated by the utility company.
When do you need a TV licence?
If you plan on watching any TV live you will need a TV licence. That now includes watching catch-up TV on BBC iPlayer or 4OD.
If you are living in a shared house, you only need one licence between you. The cost is currently £145.50 for the whole year but you can get a refund when you move out, for the three months you have not used it for.
Getting on with your flatmates
- Choose wisely – don’t rush in to getting a house with the first people who ask you. Typically, students will start looking for a house quite early on in the year and you may feel under pressure to agree to look with someone, just because they ask you. After all nobody wants to be left on their own, feeling as though they have no friends. But if you take a bit of time and don’t rush in to it, think carefully about who you want to live with, you are far more likely to have a successful household and less arguments.
- Set down some house rules – when you first all arrive, it is a good idea to set out the house rules. Create a rota, so there it is not always the same person who puts the rubbish out each week, sweeps the kitchen floor or cleans the toilets. Make sure that everyone does their bit.
- Clean up after yourself – don’t leave piles of washing up in the sink so there is no room for anyone else’s things. We are not suggesting you have to do it instantly but be aware of other people’s needs and if someone is waiting to get in to the kitchen while you are cooking they are likely to need space and not want to cook around your dirty utensils and plates.
- Don’t be a nag – it is one thing to ask someone to clean up their things, but you will soon lose all goodwill if you become the house nag, moaning all the time about the mess. Be reasonable and try to compromise.
- Talking is good – don’t let problems brew in your mind. If something is bothering you, call a house meeting and discuss it like rational adults. Things seem far less important once you have discussed it with whoever is annoying you.
- Don’t steal – each house mate will have their own shelf and cupboard for their food. Don’t just take someone else’s without asking. The chances are, if you ask they will say yes, sure have some of my milk, but it will be very annoying to go to the fridge knowing you bought some milk, to find that someone else has used it.
- Don’t shut yourself in your room – everyone has work to do, but shutting yourself in your room and not being sociable with your flatmates will create a difficult atmosphere in the house and you may find the others talking about you behind your back. Nobody is suggesting you have to be best friends and spend your every waking hour together, but common courtesy and politeness go a long way towards a harmonious existence.
- Don’t move your boyfriend/girlfriend in – of course you can have them to stay, but you are going to get your flatmates annoyed if your boyfriend or girlfriend becomes a permanent fixture in the house. After all, they will be using utilities and bathroom time, but not paying rent. Why should they be allowed to do that when everyone is paying for them? You might love having them around, but if you want to live together full time, move out and get a place together.
- Be considerate – don’t come rolling in at 3am every morning, blind drunk and singing at the top of your voice. Just because you like to party hard, doesn’t mean everyone does, so don’t force it upon your flatmates.
- Pay your rent on time – particularly if you have a joint tenancy agreement, but even if you don’t, keeping the landlord happy will ultimately benefit all tenants, as he will be more willing to deal with any issues that arise.
You’ve got your student loan and your maintenance loan and maybe even a maintenance grant, but when you see the costs of student accommodation and add up the figures, it can still be quite hard to see how you are going to make ends meet.
Unite Foundation Scholarships
The Unite Foundation provides free student accommodation and a generous annual scholarship to young people in the UK who aspire to a degree – but face the most challenging circumstances..
Open to all students who upload a video of themselves doing a good deed. You could be in with the chance of getting one term's accommodation costs paid for.
The City Undergraduate Accommodation Bursary
£2,000 a year towards accommodation costs in City University’s nominated halls for students who are ordinarily resident in England and have a household income of less than £42,611
Scotland Accommodation Bursaries
For students who are Scotland domiciled but living away from home when studying at the University of Edinburgh; living outside the City of Edinburgh at the time of application to the University; eligible to receive a guaranteed offer of University accommodation; in receipt of a Young Students' Bursary or an Independent Students' Bursary
A discount of £3,000 per annum for the first 2 years of study at the University of St Andrews will be available to undergraduate and postgraduate applicants from September 2016. The award will be means-tested, based on financial need. Household income below £34,000
£2,000 towards accommodation costs for students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales who are studying at Aberdeen University
Undergraduate Academic Achievement Award
£2,000 towards the cost of your accommodation at Cardiff Metropolitan University. You must achieve results that are within the top 10 in your academic school.