One of the most exciting things about university – apart from the studying of course – is living away from home.
In the first year you’ll be well looked after in university halls. You’ll have to do your own washing and cooking of course but any maintenance problems will be swiftly sorted by the management team.
That means if the boiler goes on the blink or your shower leaks, you can rely on the university to have you back up and running (or should that be washing?) in no time.
Halfway through first year you’ll most likely start making plans to move into private rented accommodation. This is when the fun really begins because you get to choose exactly where you live and who you live with. Brilliant!
When should I start looking?
Availability varies from area to area.
Get in contact with your local letting agent for advice on the best time to start house hunting in your area.
Choosing your housemates
Disagreements between housemates are a common problem in shared houses. Conflicting lifestyles and personality clashes can cause misery and more stress around exam time. Remember, you are signing a legally binding contract and will not be able to simply walk away. As a group you will also have to decide on how to split and share responsibility for bills. More info...
Think about your own lifestyle and what you would like in a housemate, for example reliability with money. If you are an early riser who prefers a quiet and tidy house, don’t choose to live with a messy party animal—a fun friend isn’t necessarily a good housemate.
Private accommodation isn’t managed by the university; instead you will pay your rent to a landlord who owns the property. The landlord must provide accommodation that is in liveable condition and decorated to a reasonable standard.
As a student, you can’t expect anything too fancy here, but if the house is in disrepair, don’t agree to rent it unless the landlord has plans to renovate before you move in.
Health and safety is of upmost importance. The property should be fitted with smoke alarms and all exits should be easily accessible.
Electrical equipment and gas appliances must be safety tested before each new set of tenants move in. If you notice any safety issues, you can contact your landlord and ask them to address these immediately.
The landlord is responsible for the maintenance of the property. They must ensure all basic amenities (the boiler, oven, hot water etc) function properly. Report any maintenance issues to your landlord by phone and in writing.
All repairs should be completed in a practical time frame, although the exact timings will depend on urgency.
You are entitled to complete privacy in your home. The landlord should not come round without giving prior notice and they certainly cannot enter the property without your permission.
A landlord does have to give notice to a tenant that they are going to visit. If they don't respond, they can set a time and a date when they are going to enter the property. The minimum notice regarded as reasonable is 24 hours.
If the landlord visits the property uninvited and at unreasonable hours, or refuses to complete repairs, threatens you into leaving or disconnects essential services such as gas, they you may have a claim for harassment.
Harassment is a criminal offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. Keep a diary of events in case you need to take further action.
The NUS has advice on dealing with problem landlords at nus.org.uk.
The Tenant (That’s You!)
Students have a bit of a bad reputation as tenants. We’ve all heard the horror stories of parties gone awry but the majority of students are respectful of their adopted homes.
In any case, you are responsible for taking care of the property, reporting any damage to the landlord and being a good neighbour.
Before handing over a deposit or moving into a property, make sure you read the tenancy agreement in full. Only sign the contract when you are 100% happy as this property will be your home for the next year.
Negotiate the rent down. The rent set by the landlord is simply an asking price, and you can bid lower, just as you would do if you were buying a house.
House prices have fallen, and landlords are paying less for their mortgages, so there's no reason you should be paying a higher rent than last year's tenants.
It's a good idea to know how much you are willing to pay before you start enquiring about properties.
The landlord or agency will want everyone occupying the property on the tenancy agreement (usually an "assured shorthold tenancy") in which all names will be held "jointly and severally liable". In other words, if one of you buzzes off half way through term, you're still liable for the rent.
Parents will also be asked to act as guarantors and accept legal and financial responsibility. Student housing contracts usually now last 12 months, with no chance of a break before then.
But one tip is to look for properties outside of usual student areas and ask for the length of contract you want. If you can get a break clause inserted in the tenancy – which allows either party to give two months' notice to end the tenancy after six months – then you can use it as a clever way to get a tenancy matching the nine-month academic year.
Since April 2007, landlords have been legally required to safeguard the deposit paid by tenants, and must place the money in one of three government-approved schemes. Don't be fobbed off by a landlord who says it's unnecessary paperwork and that your money is safe so long as you keep the place tidy.
The landlord must, within 14 days of taking the deposit, tell you where the money is and how you can get it back. If they don't, they're liable for a penalty of three times the value of the deposit.
At the end of the 12 months, you have to return the property in the same condition that it was origina
When you move in, make a detailed list of the contents. "Everything (yes, that means everything), needs to be included, from whether the toilet seat is on properly to whether the carpet is without holes.
Both you and your landlord should sign and date this and have a copy each. Take lots of photographs, too. These will be essential evidence in any dispute over the return of a deposit.
If you make any verbal agreements over things such as additional furniture or repairs, get these in writing, signed and dated by the landlord or agent.
Each student in a shared house is jointly responsible for paying the gas, electricity and water bills. Don't be soft on dopey flatmates and just put your own name down on the bills. Register with each company in all your names, which means all of you are responsible – and all accountable if you fall behind with payments.
Landlords have a legal obligation to provide the tenants with a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate. The regulations stipulate that all gas appliances and flues in rented accommodation must be checked for safety every 12 months.
All furniture in rented properties has to meet the "cigarette test" to avoid being in breach of fire safety regulations. And electrical equipment should be supplied safe, although Justin Burns says: "There is little detail in the regulations as to what the definition of 'safe' is."
This costs £145.50 a year, which is why so many students try to avoid oaying it. The legal get-out is if you only watch "catch-up" television on your laptop, for example over BBC iPlayer. But if you watch any television live, even on your laptop, you have to buy a licence. More details can be found at our TV licence guide.
If you have a joint tenancy, then you only have to pay for one licence for the house, no matter how many tellies you have. If you have individual tenancy agreements, then a licence is required for each person with a TV in the room.
A place occupied only by full-time students is exempt from council tax. So if you live in a house where everyone is a full-time student you shouldn't get a bill.
If there's someone in the household who's not a full-time student the household will get a bill, but may qualify for a discount on the full amount. More details can be found at our student Council Tax guide.
Shared student houses are full of stuff thieves love – such as bikes and laptops. If you are going to rent in an area full of student houses, make sure yours has good security locks on all doors and windows, and maybe a burglar alarm.
Consider buying insurance – but try your parents first. Their contents insurance may be extended to cover their offspring's possessions away from home at little or no extra cost.
Bills and partners
The golden rule of shared households is that you always think that (a) you do more cleaning than anyone else and (b) you pay for more of the milk, coffee, bread and toilet paper than anyone else. Avoid flare-ups by setting up a kitty and decide early on how you'll each pay into it.
And don't expect your flatmates to subsidise your boyfriend/girlfriend staying for half the week.
Make a rule that if one of your flatmates has a "guest" staying two nights or more then they must pay into the kitty.
Your assured shorthold tenancy contract will contain measures to allow the landlord to evict you and your flatmates for unreasonable behaviour such as noisy parties disturbing local residents. Neighbours can also contact their local council's Environmental Health Officer.
Councils can serve a noise abatement order on the perpetrator, and if there are further offences can seize equipment and bring the offender to the magistrates court. Those convicted can be fined up to £5,000.
Just don't be anti-social. Politely inform neighbours if you are holding a party, and turn the music down after midnight, please.
lly let, "allowing for fair wear and tear," according to the government's own advice. If you and your landlord or agent can't agree how much of your deposit should be returned, then you have access to a free disputes mechanism, set out in the original protection scheme. For more information, go to direct.gov.uk The National Union of Students also has an enforcement pack at nus.org.uk
Finally: don’t rush into any decisions, view as many properties as you can and always do your research.