Young Academic is continuing its quest to bring you only the most important student news and advice with some great tips on student housing and rent. Luckily for you guys, we have teamed up with AFS to bring you all the advice and guidance you need on very important theme.
Until tuition fees sky rocket next year, students’ biggest expenditure will remain rent. For those of you entering the world of private rented accommodation this year, it’s important to get organised and know your rights. Having some idea of the potential pitfalls of the private accommodation sector will help you avoid making some very costly mistakes. What’s more, not having to worry about eviction or getting your deposit back means that you can concentrate on the important stuff: study and socialising.
In an effort to put students in the know, Simon Thompson, MD of Accommodationforstudents.com (AFS), has compiled some practical advice. Thompson started AFS in 2000 whilst at University, having experienced first hand the problems of finding student accommodation. Since its conception, the site has helped house over a million students in the UK. With over 10 years experience in the student accommodation industry, AFS has seen every accommodation problem you can imagine and Thompson has given some suggestions on how you can avoid them.
“ Whether you’re a fresher who hasn’t been able to get a room in university owned accommodation or a second or third year who simply appreciates all the mod cons at an inclusive price, private halls are an attractive, not to mention sociable, option for students.
“Private halls are often expensive with prices ranging from about £75 to £120 per week, but are usually in convenient student locations and bills are nearly always included. If you’re a bit unsure about paying bills and managing budget, these all-inclusive packages can be very appealing. The facilities are plush and often include gyms, en suite bathrooms, great WiFi connections and modern kitchens. Other benefits include safety. Private halls often have 24-hour security, CCTV and state of the art locks and security features.
“ Before you get carried away and sign a lengthy contract to a luxury new accommodation, ensure you can afford it. Sit down with a calculator and work out whether your loan or part time job will cover the payments and still leave you with enough to eat (private halls are rarely catered) and go out. Contracts are often 10-12 months, which may seem unfair if you’re planning on returning home/going travelling in May or June. However, the fact that supply can rarely meet demand in student housing means landlords can take advantage of their position.
Looking at properties
“If budget doesn’t stretch to luxurious private halls, many students will look into shared housing. Obviously, the most important factor for students when selecting their accommodation is the people you’ll be sharing with. However, living in absolute squalor just so you can live with your mates is not the answer. There’s always a bit of hysteria at the start of the student-letting season as students scramble to secure the best properties and housemates. Students are often so worried that they’ll be left out in the cold and unable to live with their newfound friends that they’ll tie themselves into unsuitable contracts for horrible properties. Don’t rush into a contract before checking prospective properties for cleanliness, good security features and facilities that are up to scratch. Don’t be shy when examining properties and negotiate what you want fixing/installing before you move in. Never sign anything on a promise of “we’ll get that fixed later.”
“Of course, in the panic of securing housing for next year, groups tie themselves very quickly and you may find you have no one to house hunt with. If this happens to you, don’t panic and try not to take it personally. There are plenty of properties out there and loads of groups who need an extra person or two to complete their letting. You never know, you might end up meeting your new best friend. Accommodationforstudents.com allows groups of friends to advertise individual rooms or individuals to advertise that they are looking for a room. The site includes personal profiles of prospective housemates, which list essential info about themselves and the sort of housemates they are looking for. The “rate my mate” feature allows an individual’s friends to leave personal recommendations of them to allow visitors to get to know the people in the profiles a little better. Of course, safety is of utmost importance and we always advise students to meet with prospective housemates in a public place after telling a friend of family member where they are going and what time they expect to be back.
“It may seem daunting to move in with strangers, but rest assured that everyone’s in the same boat at university, whether they get thrown together in halls of select their housemates in another way. Relax, be friendly, and if all else fails, take in some beers and everyone will love you!
The bank of mum and dad
“If your parents are generously footing your accommodation bill, make sure you know their budget e.g. no more than £65 per week, before you start your house hunt. For reference, the average weekly rent in 2011 is £67.11. Although I’m sure you’re aware that rents are considerably higher in the South East of the country with the average London rent standing at over £108 a week. If your parents can’t cover what you need, consider part time work or how you can use your loan to make up the difference. Be open and frank with them about what you’ll need for accommodation and bills so they can plan for the outlay.
“In case you don’t know, Landlords have a legal obligation to provide their tenants with a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate before they move into a property. Check for working smoke/carbon monoxide alarms too.
“At Accommodationforstudents.com, the safety of our tenants is of the utmost importance. Consequently, we’ve formed a partnership with independent student accommodation charity Unipol. Trained assessors from Unipol physically inspect our properties to ensure they are up to scratch on health and safety regulations. As of the 1st September, students can rest assured that any property listed on our site with the ‘thumbs up’ symbol, is top quality accommodation owned by a landlord specifically trained in letting to students.
AFS has compiled a quick checklist of things to look out for when searching for properties:
- Check how long the tenancy agreement is for and if there is a reduced rate over the summer. Don’t be scared to negotiate
- Check locks work properly. Check upvc windows and doors close and lock properly. Is there an alarm?
- Visit the property at night (with a friend). Do you feel safe there?
- Check public transport links. How easy will it be to get to those all-important lectures?
- What does the rent include? Are any bills included? If not, get an average monthly breakdown of bills from the landlord to see if you can afford it.
- Is WiFi already installed? This might be something to negotiate before you move in.
- Check for signs of mould in the bathroom and kitchen.
- Check the facilities work and there are enough for the amount of people living there. One shower between 10 housemates does not make for an easy life.
- Check who will be responsible for the garden. If it is the tenants, ask if the landlord will provide you with tools.
- How old is the boiler? Check the make and model and then Google it. Ask if it is a combi or a system boiler. Combis can struggle to provide enough hot water for larger properties.
- Check the white goods? Is there enough fridge space for the intended number of sharers? Do you get a washing machine/ dishwasher?
- Establish which furniture in your room belongs to the house. Negotiate with the landlord for any additional items you might require. Check the mattress.
Bills and money
“Most landlords take no responsibility for bills but others include water in the rent. Ensure you know what is and isn’t included in the contract.
“It is fine to wait for bills to be delivered through the door, that way you can settle up in cash at the post office. Whilst many energy providers offer discounts for paying by direct debit, the payments would have to be made from an individual’s account. Before you become the named account holder for the property, ensure you fully trust your housemates to pay their fair share of the bill. Unfortunately, all too often, irresponsible tenants refuse to pay up, leaving the named account holder to foot the whole bill. If you are unable to do this, you may acquire a poor credit rating or become ‘black listed’ by utility companies.
“It may seem like a fuss, but shopping around for energy suppliers/ WiFi providers can provide considerable savings. A little research now could save you a fortune over the next year. Websites like Comparethemarket.com come in handy when comparing prices.
“Ask your mum for information about budgeting for meals and cooking. Students can waste a fortune on takeaways or ready meals because they are unable to cook and plan meals properly. Talk to your housemates about cooking as a group as this often costs less than preparing meals for one. Doing your shop online helps avoid making any expensive impulse buys. If you do go to a supermarket, make a list beforehand and stick to it.
“If a property is rented on a shared basis, then only one TV Licence will be required. If sharers have individual tenancy agreements, a licence will be required for each person that has a TV in their room. Any unlicensed televisions can leave you vulnerable to hefty fines.
“Full time students are exempt from paying council tax but part time students aren’t. Where possible, full time students should avoid sharing accommodation with part time students in case the household decides that it is unfair for the part time student to pay the entire council tax bill on their own.
“The majority of students will struggle with money at some point during their university career. Don’t suffer in silence. There is plenty of help and advice available at your student union. You may be eligible for grants and bursaries that you aren’t even aware of. Explore all other options before getting a credit or store card and make sure your parents are aware if you’re really struggling.
“Student areas are always a target for thieves as security is lax and there are usually plenty of electrical goods for the taking. If you’ve recently bought a slick new laptop/iPad to start off your university career, make sure it’s insured.
Deposits and Tenancy agreements
“The standard deposit for private accommodation is one month’s rent. As of April 2007, landlords are legally obliged to retain the money in a Tenancy Deposit Scheme. This prevents the landlord spending it during the tenancy and also ensures that any disputes over damage to the property are registered with the authorised body.
“To ensure you get your deposit back on moving out, make sure you get an inventory. An inventory is simply a list of household contents and their condition at a certain date. Students should ask for an inventory as soon as possible, ideally with photographs. You should then go through it thoroughly looking for any inaccuracies.
“If a landlord is unwilling to provide an inventory, do one for yourselves. Put your camera phone to good use by quickly taking pictures of the house and note down any existing damage. Images should then be sent by email to landlords or by recorded post on the first day of the tenancy.
“A detailed inventory will help prevent disputes over landlords keeping some or all of their deposit at the end of the tenancy. With deposit in tact, you can use this for your next property, without having to fork out again.
“Finally, once the contract is signed, ensure you understand that you will have to pay the rent at this property for 12 months, whether you live there or not. If you do decide to move out, it’s worth knowing that you’ll have to fill their vacant room before you leave if you have a joint tenancy agreement. If someone else leaves, the landlord should draw up a fresh contract, which includes all the current tenants names and signatures. “
“If a landlord wants a tenant to leave, the notice is generally two months, while if the tenant wishes to go, they have to give one month’s notice. A landlord has to request the tenant to quit by completing and serving a Section 21 notice. The section refers to the relevant clause in the Housing Act. 1988. If the tenant fails to leave, the landlord can pursue eviction through a county court.”
So now you know. For more advice and guidance on all things accommodation, visit http://www.accommodationforstudents.com/