The Student’s Guide to Finding Accommodation
Halls Of Residence
Every year students face an abundance of accommodation nightmares. Due to the competitive nature of the property market, students often expect to live in poor conditions, which causes many to end up settling for anywhere with a window and shower. House hunting is somewhat of an endurance test and agents will often employ scare tactics to convince prospective tenants that a tiny squalid box-room is all that's available for their price and timescale.
Being new to the renting process, most students have a pretty hard time making a decision and end up signing contracts on the first available property they lay eyes on. The market contains very little helpful information about what's really available, and more importantly, what constitutes an acceptable standard of living. Contrary to popular belief, in today's market there are actually more choices than ever before. From halls of residence to private housing, there are literally hundreds of options to accommodate all budgets.
If you are in the process of searching for student accommodation and are encountering problems, this guide will help.
Halls of Residence
Halls of residence are generally for first year students and can provide the perfect backdrop for your university experience. They give you an opportunity to make new friends, explore the area and settle in as quickly as possible, and are often located on or near the university campus.
Most universities will provide a large variety of flats. Some may offer more space, a double bed, on-suite amenities, and even shared leisure centres - and have a price tag to reflect the higher standard of living. Fundamentally, you'll have to have savings, a job or further financial aid to afford a higher quality room.
Booking Your Space
Don't rush in and book a space in university halls without giving them a visit first. Due to the ever-increasing amount of students undertaking further education, many universities now partner with private sector organisations, such as UNITE, to manage their student complexes. While universities will strive to provide you with a place in their residences, many will have exclusive contracts with landlords in and around the campus to ensure they can provide an adequate amount of space.
The booking process will vary depending on the institution. Most universities operate on a first come, first served basis, and will outline their halls of residence booking procedures on their website. A non-refundable deposit of between £200 and £500 is often required to secure a place.
Student accommodation building
Maintenance loans will usually cover the minimum living expenses and can vary depending on whether you're studying in or outside of London. Halls of residence rental fees cost between £60 and £120 per week. However, certain properties could be as little as £50 or as high as £350 per week. Again, it all depends on your preferred standard of living.
Rental fees often include Wi-Fi, utility bills and security; however, this can vary depending on your institution. Some may also provide car parking permits and contents insurance, for additional fees.
Halls of residence are generally recommended to first year students who have never lived away from home before. While cheaper accommodation can often be found privately, their convenience cannot be understated.
House shares are the best option if you're moving into your second year. Once you've worked out who your friends are and decided on a group to move out with they are the easiest, cheapest and most convenient form of accommodation for your remaining time.
Students like to live among other students; therefore, most student houses are located in areas of the town that contain high densities of university accommodation. This phenomenon is called 'studentification'. While the thought of living in such an area may sound appealing, it's worth noting that these areas often experience more burglaries than conventional residential areas, they may also be dirtier in appearance and can be loud during the evenings.
Rooms in a house share can vary in price depending on the size and included amenities. Rent may be cheaper for a tenant with a smaller bedroom; however, all tenants will have equal access to other areas of the house.
When you move into a house share and sign a Tenancy Agreement your rent will be your number one priority. Even if you decide to move out, you'll still have to pay your rent for the remainder of the term. If you share accommodation under one Tenancy Agreement all the residents will be responsible for the deposit; therefore, if there are any issues at the end of the term it's up to you to divide up the remainder between yourselves. To prevent disputes make sure you complete an inventory and take photographs when you move in.
Booking Your Space
There are various ways to source shared housing. Universities that are partnered with landlords will often advertise them via their online student portal or Accommodation Office - this should always be your first port-of-call. Otherwise, letting agents or student accommodation websites are your best option.
Most house shares will have 4-5 rooms spread across multiple floors; however, if you don’t have a big enough group your landlord may find other students to fill the void. You will have to pay a deposit up front, which is usually the price of one month's rent.
House shares may cost less than halls of residence; however, the rent may not cover the utility bills. Expect to pay anything between £40 and £100, or even more, depending where you live. When you're viewing a house ask to see the Energy Performance Certificate if you have concerns about how efficient the property is. In addition, take travel expenses into account if you're not within walking distance of your university campus. The average rent in a house share outside of London is £300-£400 per month, while in London it's roughly £550 per month.
Full time students are exempt from council tax. To ensure you're not charged you'll have to get a form from your university Accommodation Office and send it to your Local Authority as proof. Part-time students, however, are not exempt; therefore sharing a house with them could cause tension as they'll have to pay the entire bill.
The sooner you get some friends together and start looking for a house share the better. The best properties get booked up fast and competition can be fierce.
Private housing is generally more expensive than other options; however, if you have the money and don't mind your own company, it can definitely be worth it. There are three primary options: a bedroom in a private hall of residence, a bedroom in a private house, or your own private accommodation.
Private Halls of Residence
Because the number of students attending university has increased, so has the demand for accommodation. Private sector halls of residence give you the same benefits as university halls; however, contracts normally last for 52 weeks and the property may be open to a diverse mix of people, such as students from other universities.
The average cost of private halls of residence is £140 per week.
Room in a Private House
Renting a room in a private house can be more homely than other options and a great way of saving money. But it comes at a cost - you'll live with your landlord, which is probably not how you envisioned your university years. That said, because you live with them they will often keep the property in tip-top shape and may even include meals for an extra fee. If you choose this option just make sure that the contract states that you have exclusive access to your bedroom.
Renting a private flat is the most costly option of all, but if you're purely attending university to study or have had bad experiences in other shared accommodation it can be highly beneficial. Finances aside, students often find living alone difficult, as life can be quite lonely.
Before you make any concrete decisions it's important to assess what you want out of your university experience. While you're there to study, the social aspects and friendships should not be understated. If this is important to you, renting private accommodation may not be suitable.
Your maintenance loan will only stretch so far and rent certainly isn't your only expense. Bills, food, travel, insurance costs and social activities will all place a strain on your finances. To make a more informed decision about what type of student accommodation you can afford you must factor other costs into your budget plan.
Note: these costs are an estimate based on UK averages. The cost of living can greatly vary depending on your lifestyle and spending habits.
Food accounts for a significant part of your budget, regardless of your type of accommodation. Even halls of residence which provide catering will require some expenditure as lunches and weekend meals are rarely included.
Catered halls of residence: £72
Non-catered halls of residence: £200
Although food bills may seem substantial, it's worth noting that you have greater control over your dietary habits than any other living expense.
Gas and Electricity
Gas and electricity bills will account for roughly 10% of your monthly outgoings; however, this can vary depending on your supplier and location.
Halls of residence: Included in rent
House share: £40-£60
If you're moving into private accommodation, look around for cheap suppliers. You don't have to use the same services as the previous tenants.
Broadband and landline charges will usually require a £35-£50 installation fee in addition to the contract amount. These costs will cover the setup and router.
Halls of residence: Included in rent
House share: £12-£32
Internet and landline costs are often included in television media packages, which are more expensive, but could work out cheaper if you're already planning on paying for extra channels.
The appropriate mobile phone contract for student living will cost between £20 and £40.
Laundry services and toiletries, such as detergent and soaps, will cost between £8 and £10.
Travel expenses, such as bus tickets and train fares, can widely vary depending on the location of your home and university. The average monthly travel card costs £40 for students; however, in London this figure is doubled.
The average student takes approximately £2,000 worth of belongings with them to university; therefore, contents insurance is a necessity. This is generally included in halls of residence rental costs, but could be £5 or more.
For detailed guides, tips and checklists about managing your finances as a student visit Money Saving Expert.
Maintenance Loans and Grants
Maintenance loans and grants can vary depending on where you're living. As of September 2015, if you're living away from home and outside of London the maximum allowance you're entitled to receive is £5,740 per year. If you're living in London this figure rises to £8,009, to accommodate the extra living costs.
Money jar and books
Maintenance loans and grants will only cover your basic living costs; therefore, if you want more money for social activities or a higher standard of living, you will probably have to find part-time employment or break into savings.
Letting agents are often hired by landlords to help them source tenants; therefore, they may have advance knowledge of available properties before they're made public. Hiring a letting agent can be highly beneficial as they'll do almost all of the groundwork on your behalf.
Do not give in to pushy or verbally aggressive letting agencies. While most are decent, there are bad apples out
there and some will employ scare tactics to get you to sign a contract.
Letting agents won't always contact you if a suitable property becomes available. Make sure your fresh in their thoughts by registering your details and giving them a call once per day.
Always make direct contact with your landlord prior to signing a contract agreement to make sure that they're local. If they aren't and you have issues with your house they could be a nightmare to fix.
Don’t be afraid to ask letting agents questions - especially regarding the condition of the property - even if the answers seem obvious.
Remember that signing a contract agreement is a long-term decision that'll have a significant impact on your finances and student life. If you don't like a property that a letting agent has recommended, be honest and tell them why; it'll help them be more thorough in their search.
When you sign a contract it becomes legally binding. Make sure you read it carefully before you pay your deposit and put pen to paper. If you are not happy with certain clauses, take it to your university Accommodation Office or Students Union to get a second opinion. You need to be sure you are happy with the property and the contract before you sign.
Types of Contracts
Fixed Term: means that you are guaranteed the house for a certain period - stated on the contract - and are committed to paying full rent throughout the duration.
Joint Tenancy (Joint and Several): means that you and your housemates are all liable for rent arrears, bills and damages. If one or more tenants move out or fail to pay rent, the landlord can pursue the remaining tenants.
As a student you may have to have a guarantor (usually parents) because you aren't in full time employment. This will make them liable for rent and damages and additional costs if you break your tenancy agreement.
As a tenant you must pay rent, take care of the property, conduct day-to-day maintenance, inform your landlord if any problems occur and comply with the contract.
After you move in, the landlord must give you the right to peacefully enjoy your home; therefore, they need to ask for permission to enter the premises and should give you 24 hours’ notice in writing before conducting an inspection or showing prospective tenants around.
Under the 1985 Landlord and Tenant Act, the landlord is responsible for: the structure and exterior of the property, the heating and hot water systems, including basins, sinks and any other sanitary installation, fire safety of furniture and furnishings and keeping water heating systems in good working order.
Failure to pay your rent will put you into arrears and could result in legal proceedings. If this is unavoidable talk to your landlord beforehand and try to make a special arrangement or payment plan.
If you ever find yourself struggling financially seek advice from the Student Money Service or speak to your university Students Union. In certain circumstances you may be entitled to an emergency loan or grant from your university Hardship Fund. To find the appropriate contact details visit the National Union of Students website.
If you decide to leave university or move out during your tenancy, you will still have to pay for your share of the rent. Landlords may release you from the contract; however, they will have to find a replacement first. In a joint tenancy your housemates and landlord must approve your release.
Man packing box
Make sure you get everything in writing and be wary about promises made by landlords and agents when you're viewing the property. Unless you have it in writing you'll have no legal right to challenge false promises when you move in. Seeking aid from professionals is highly recommended if you are unsure about your responsibilities and legal obligations.
Approximately one in ten student groups will sign a contract agreement with the first house they see. While your living standards will largely reflect your budget, there are certain standards that landlords must uphold. Entering a contract agreement on a whim could lead to all sorts of trouble, especially if there are problems with the property itself.
Pests are a very common problem in student housing. Look for signs of mice, slugs, banana flies, pigeons and rats. Pay particular attention to the kitchen and check under cabinets and inside cupboards for slug trails, rodent faeces, rat poison and mouse traps.
Remember that it's not just the house you need to worry about, it's the location. Find out what shops, supermarkets and transport connections are nearby. Try to gauge how much it will cost in travel expenses if the area is a little remote
Safety and Security
One in three students gets burgled during their time at university. Check the access points, locks on doors and windows, and road lighting. In addition, make sure that the property has working fire alarms, fire extinguishers and fire blankets.
Make sure you're clear on what's included in the tenancy agreement as certain electronic appliances, such as microwaves, may not be included. If they are, test them to ensure that they're in good working order.
This is especially important if you're moving in with a large group of people. One bathroom and a shower that dribbles won't be sufficient. Check the taps and showers to make sure they're working as they should.
Be clear on what furnishings are included in the tenancy agreement. Stylish decor may be a selling point, so you don't want it to be gone when you move in. Also remember that properties advertised as student houses must contain a desk and chair in each bedroom.
Energy bills are one of the biggest monthly costs for students and could literally make a difference of hundreds of pounds each year. Ideally you'll want a property that has double glazed windows, secure doors and a good heating system.
Student houses often suffer from severe damp and mould problems. Mould smells bad, harms the structure of the property, and can cause problems with the respiratory tract. Check the walls, ceilings and windows, and look for signs of flaking wallpaper or recently painted patches.
A damp wall
Take your time, take a camera, and ask the current tenants if there are any issues. This could be your only opportunity to find potential problems and ensure they’re addressed before you move in. If anything catches your eye and your landlord or agent claims that the issue will be resolved, make sure you get it in writing.
One of the biggest challenges of moving into student accommodation is budgeting. This is probably the first time in your life that you've genuinely had to deal with your own finances. While creating a budget plan may seem boring, it's a crucial element of remaining in control. You'll be surprised by how much further your money goes with a little planning and self-discipline.
To get started:
Do not include your interest free student overdraft in your budget plan. Unlike your student loan, you'll have to start paying this back as soon as you graduate. Also, at some point during your time at university you'll probably need it to fall back on.
- Work out what's available to spend - loans, grants, savings, job income, etc.
- Work out your likely costs, being sure to prioritise the necessities.
- With what's left over put a weekly cap on unessential spending - nights out, takeaways, etc.
- Always round up your expenditure - it's better to over-compensate than under-compensate.
- Remember to take holiday periods into account.
- Use the free budget calculator and spreadsheet planner from savethestudent.org if you need help.
Keep track of your spending using online banking. Dedicate 30 minutes per week to financial management so you can assess your spending habits. If you have anything left over consider putting it into a savings account for emergencies or holiday periods. Remember, as a student you'll be entitled to plenty of benefits and discounts, so make sure you use them. Over time it'll make a huge difference. To apply for an official NUS Extra student discount card visit nus.org.uk/nus-extra
The student lifestyle can be a challenging and daunting experience. Finding accommodation is a process that you'll probably be subjected to multiple times throughout your duration of study. If you take this advice on board and give yourself plenty of time, you'll have absolutely no reason to worry.