Private Accommodation: Landlords and Estate Agents
Student life can be expensive. The last thing you want to worry about is extra expenditure by compromising your cash deposit. If you’re going into rented accommodation, read our guide to handling estate agents and landlords to make sure you get your deposit back.
Landlord vs letting agent
A letting agent acts as the middle man between you and your landlord. A landlord has to pay fees to the agent so going through an agent can sometimes mean you get less house for your money. Going direct to a private landlord and cutting out the middle man is likely to get you a better deal. However, letting agents can mediate any disputes that may occur and will be on hand if you encounter any problems. It is worth considering making use of one. Some student unions offer advice on this score – they may have a list of agents with whom they work and who are known to provide a good service. It would also be a good idea to do your own internet research on any landlord or letting agent to get a sense of other tenants’ experience of them.
Meeting the landlord
Before you sign anything, make sure you ask who is responsible for looking after each element of the accommodation. This will help you to clarify where the landlord’s responsibility ends and yours begins. It is also useful to make sure that the landlord knows that you are someone who understands and is proactive about dealing with these details.
Registering your deposit
Your deposit will usually be 6-8 weeks rent. It is a legal requirement for your landlord to register your deposit, usually with one of the following three agencies: Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits or The Dispute Service. This should be stipulated in your contract so check with your landlord when you receive it.
If you do decide to sign on the dotted line, make sure you also do a full inventory (including photos of any damage) so you cannot be held responsible for it at a later date. You should check to see what proportion of the deposit is likely to be held back for general wear and tear.
If the worst should happen.
Under the law, you can only get your deposit back under the terms of your contract, that’s why it’s so important to go through it properly. If you think your landlord is holding too much money back, ask them to walk you around the house and show you what needs doing. Try and resolve it between you and keep it civil. If this doesn’t work, write them a formal letter. If you don’t get a satisfactory response, take your case to the Citizens Advice Bureau or your student housing office / students’ union for some free, impartial legal advice.
The likelihood is that after your first year spent living in halls, you will move into private accommodation. Most people get a group of friends together to move in with and start looking for properties towards the end of first year.
Good places tend to get snapped up quickly so make sure that you give yourselves plenty of time. As the start of the academic year approaches, some agents in some towns drop the prices dramatically to make sure that they don’t have any properties sitting empty. In other university towns, however, accommodation is always in short supply and you will need to arrange accommodation a long time in advance. Your student union will be able to give you good advice on this score.
There are lots of differences between halls of residence and student accommodation:
- Accommodation tends to be in individual houses, rather than large blocks. There are often areas in a given city where large proportions of the houses are occupied by students, so your friends may be close by.
- You’ll have to find the accommodation independently. This will mean looking at local websites, local newspapers and in estate agent’s offices.
- Bills aren’t included so you’ll have to sort out energy providers, internet/TV providers, water, etc. See moneysavingexpert.com for the best deals and advice, or have a look at our Surviving on a Student Budget page for great tips.
- Most of the work will be done by an agent whom the landlord has hired to get tenants. Some agents also organise for work and repairs to be done to the house when the need arises, while others simply introduce the landlord to the tenants and leave it at that. Make sure you know who you are dealing with before you sign any contracts.
- IMPORTANT: You will almost always have to put down a deposit. Make sure your landlord has a scheme with an independent arbitrator to protect your deposit, this prevents them taking your money unfairly. Speak to your university’s student advice centre for more details about this. See our ‘Protecting your Deposit’ page here
If you’re unsure about anything, don’t sign a contract. Speak to your students’ union for advice and guidance. They have dealt with all sorts of accommodation issues before.
The perks of student accommodation
With the help of great student accommodation, great flatmates and a great attitude, living in halls can be a fantastic experience. Here’s our take on why:
It’s your gentle first step in the transition from living with your parents to living completely independently. You don’t have to deal with some of the bureaucratic and financial complexity of your own accommodation, such as council tax and bills (as most halls offer a bills-included payment plan), but you can begin to learn the skills of independent living.
Living with new friends
Shared accommodation and shared facilities are a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and learn how to live well together. This means everything from learning how to relate to people from different backgrounds to organising rotas for cooking, shopping, and keeping shared spaces clean and tidy. Many people make lifelong friends in the early stages of living in shared university accommodation, and it can be useful to have a friendship group that isn’t based on your academic course.
Living in the heart of things
Many student halls are located pretty centrally in town. It gives you the chance to explore the area properly, finding hidden gems off the beaten track. If your hall is on an out-of-town campus, you’ll have all the important facilities of the university on your doorstep.
Having the security of a support network
A massive advantage of life in student halls is that you’re never far from someone that can help you if you ever find yourself needing it. This can be in the form of the 24 hour security they offer, as well as knowing you’re surrounded by lots of students who have no doubt gone through what you are.
Halls of residence
The experience of going to university certainly will be a big jump from living at home. Students generally live in halls of residence for their first year before moving on to rent privately. Read on to find out a little more about it and to get to grips with all the new terminology.
Halls of residence are accommodation owned and managed by the university. Almost every university has a few different halls dotted around campus and the wider area around it. Usually, students stay in halls for their first year and move into private accommodation afterwards. The halls are divided up into flats of about 6 rooms with a shared kitchen / social area and bathrooms. You live and share facilities with your flatmates who you meet on your first day. However, these days with the advantages of social media people are often able to meet and get to know each other online before meeting in person. Have a search on Facebook for the name of your halls and there will usually be a group you can join to meet your new friends.
Facilities in halls
There are usually decent facilities in halls. A reception and wardens will be around if you need help with anything. There’s usually a snack machine in case you’re peckish and there are also pubs at some larger halls of residence. Depending on the location, there may be parking facilities available if you’re bringing a car, and there will always be bike racks if you’re a cyclist. Some halls are catered, meaning that your meals are provided for you and are served in a canteen. Others are self-catered and you’re expected to cook for yourself (Check out studentcooking.tv for some great recipes!). Pretty much all halls have wifi or at least a wired internet connection, and there’ll be a desk and shelves in your room for studying.
Your room in halls
Your room will seldom be massive, but will definitely be big enough to accommodate you. A bed with mattress and mattress protector will be awaiting you, as well as a desk with storage and a chair for you to study. There will be adequate storage space for your clothes, books and other belongings. Before you try to bring too much, do have a look at any information sent to you about your halls. Often there will be a list of prohibited items which you should leave at home. This can include things like furniture, large speakers, and even fairy lights.
Costs of halls
The cost of halls depend on the location, the facilities, how new the building is, among a range of other factors. Here are some examples
One of the best things about halls is that bills are usually included in the cost. So there are no worries about heating, electricity, hot water or internet. However if you want a TV you will have to buy a licence for your room. Information about this will be given to you in your first week.
There is often a deposit to pay for your stay. As long as you don’t damage anything in the room and common areas, you will get this back once an inspection has been done after you leave. Find out more about deposits here.
Halls are usually very secure and there will probably be 2-3 locked doors between your room and any potential intruders. Some students take out insurance on their belongings just to be safe, and some halls include insurance in the cost. Make sure to check with the wardens / reception on how to keep safe in and around your halls.
For more information, go onto the website of your chosen university and search for accommodation.