10 Sep 2018

How to rent student accommodation

Illustration of a book

When to start looking

The sooner, the better! You might just be settling into your new uni accommodation, but many freshers begin looking for their second-year home just months after starting university.

Move-in dates for student housing tend to be around June to August, but these places can be advertised as early as the previous autumn. London is an exception – here, houses are put on the market one or two months before they’re available.

Choosing housemates

Sharing accommodation can be a lot of fun, and it should reduce your living costs too. It’s important to pick housemates carefully though. Here are some things to consider:

  • Lifestyle – if you’re a party animal, a recluse might not make the best roomie (and vice versa!)
  • Budget – different spending abilities can make it hard to agree on rent and shared costs
  • Reliability – you may want to avoid people who won’t pay bills on time or never clean up
  • Friendships – living with people you know can be safer and more fun, but it can also put strain on your relationship

Finding student accommodation

There are many ways to find student accommodation. We’ve explored the pros and cons of common routes below:

Pros
Cons
Online listings
  • You’ll see properties from multiple letting agents
  • It’s an easy and efficient way to search
  • The website may not show all available houses
  • Some listings aren’t trustworthy(particularly on free-to-advertise sites like Gumtree)
  • Note that with many property websites you’ll still need to go through a letting agent to apply
Letting agents
  • Agents are more likely to go by the book than private landlords 
  • Some agents will search for houses for you
  • They may offer houses not advertised on property websites
  • You’ll usually pay an admin fee (although these will be banned in 2019)
  • Agents may give a hard sell
  • Agents will only tell you about properties they manage
Landlords
  • Some landlords don’t charge an admin fee, while almost all letting agents do
  • You’ll have a personal relationship with the owner, who may care more about the property than an agent
  • Many landlords have another full-time job, so they can be slow to respond or fix things

Working out costs

Before you start viewing and applying for houses, you need to know what you can afford. Here are some key costs to consider:

Rent: this is usually paid monthly or quarterly. You can try to negotiate rent down before signing for the house. You’ll usually be asked to pay one or two months’ rent upfront.

Holding deposit: this reserves the house while your application is being processed. You should get the money back if you’re refused, but not if you back out of the deal.

Admin fees: these cover the agent’s costs for processing your application, but they’ll be banned in 2019.

Tenancy deposit: you should get this back at the end of your tenancy, minus any unpaid rent or damage costs. It’s usually equivalent to one or two months’ rent.

Utilities: household bills are sometimes included in the rent price. If not, ask the landlord or agent for an estimate.

Council tax: there’s no need to pay this if you and your housemates are full-time students. If you’re a part-time student, you may get a discount.

Viewing student accommodation

It’s always sensible to view a property before signing for it. Here are our top tips for making the most of your visit:

  • Tell someone where you’re going and take a companion
  • Get a feel for the area and check out the building’s security
  • Make sure you have easy access to shops and your university
  • Look out for health and safety issues, such as loose wires, cracks, damp, mould or infestations
  • Ask for a list of furniture that’s staying, as some of it may belong to the current tenants
  • If the current tenants are in when you visit, ask them whether they’d recommend the place

Applying for accomodation

Once you’ve found the right house or flat, contact the agent or landlord to make an offer. Next, you’ll need to fill in an application form. This will often ask for:

Personal information: this might include your name, contact details, date of birth and university course.

Proof of identity: for example, a photocopy of your passport or driving licence. You may be asked to show the original document to the agent or landlord.

A guarantor: this is someone (usually a parent or guardian) who promises to pay your rent if you can’t. It’s a common request for student accommodation. The guarantor will usually need to sign the form too.

References: for example, you may be asked for a reference from a previous landlord, employer or lecturer. This can help the agent or landlord decide if you’re trustworthy.

Finally, you’ll be asked to sign a contract and pay upfront costs. Make sure you:

  • Fully understand the agreement before signing it
  • Pay by card rather than cash so the transaction is traceable
  • Insist on getting a proper receipt
  • Never send money to anyone asking to do a ‘financial check’
  • Visit the Tenancy Deposit Scheme website to ensure your deposit is protected
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