When you find a property that you like make sure that you are clear on the rent and any additional costs. The landlord/letting agent will ask you to sign a contract - read our Contract Guide and then read your contract carefully. If there is anything you do not understand, or which seems irregular or unfair, ask the Student Advice Centre or a member of the Residential Services to check it for you before you sign - letting agents should always supply a "sample agreement" even if it doesn't have your name and details on it.
When you sign the contract you will probably be asked to pay a deposit. Since April 2007 landlords have been required to ensure that all deposits are protected by one of the government-approved Tenancy Protection Schemes. This legislation means that this now has to be paid into a government run scheme, offering you protection from unfair deductions. Please see the government website on Tenancy Deposit Schemes for more information.
It is common for most estate and letting agents (and some private landlords) to make separate charges alongside the deposit such as holding deposits and administration fees. Usually there is nothing wrong with these charges, the question is are you happy to pay them or would you prefer to look for a landlord who doesn't charge extra?
Most agents and an increasing number of private landlords will ask for a guarantor for each of their tenants before agreeing to let a property. A guarantor agreement is where a third party, who must be based in the UK, agrees to guarantee that your rent will be paid. In the event that you do not pay your rent your landlord can recover the money from your guarantor. For most students, their guarantor is one of their parents or guardians.
Many landlords and agencies will ask you to complete an inventory when you move in, but if yours does not it is worth completing one anyway. An inventory is a record of the condition of the property when you moved in. Done properly, this should be fairly detailed, listing all fixtures, fittings and appliances along with information about the condition they are in, and doing the same for the building itself - including walls, ceiling, windows and flooring.
As well as completing an inventory, we recommend that you take photographs of the property when you move in. Not only will this support your inventory, but it will let you know what condition you should return the property to when you move out. Try and make sure the photographs have a date printed or recorded on them digitally. It can be helpful to back up detailed photos with a “walkthrough” video of the property to get an overall idea of the cleanliness etc.
Find your gas, electricity and water meters (if applicable) and take a note of the meter reading on the day you moved in. As the amount you pay will depend on how much gas/electricity/water you use, it is vital that these first readings are accurate, otherwise you could be charged for something you haven't used.
If you don't know who supplies your gas and electricity, check with your landlord or agent. Contact them to let them know who you are and the date you moved in, along with the correct meter readings. This will make sure you only pay for the utilities from the date you moved in, and aren't responsible for anything used by previous tenants.
Full-time registered students are exempt from paying council tax, but this doesn't mean you can ignore any Council Tax bills that come through your door. For the exemption to be valid, the Council need to have evidence that you are full-time registered students, otherwise they will continue to charge the tax. For further information about how to let the council know you are a student, please see our dedicated Council Tax Information page.
Sometimes, students find that they don't want to move into a house or flat they have arranged because they have made alternative arrangements - perhaps they have found another place to live, or perhaps they may be returning home or to another town or city. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to remember that you have signed a legally binding contract with your landlord or agent.
You should contact your landlord or agent as soon as you decide you will not be moving in. It is unlikely that you will simply be released from the contract but that you will continue to be held liable for the rent until a replacement is found for you, so it is essential to let them know of the situation as soon as possible. The earlier you let them know, the more likely it is that a replacement will be found sooner rather than later.
Very rarely, a student may feel that there is a problem with the property to the degree that they do not want to move in. For example, the landlord may have agreed to complete refurbishments by the time you move in but on the agreed date you find that work is still on-going. In such a situation you should always discuss this with your landlord immediately. Depending on the situation, the landlord may be obliged to return some or all of the rent you have paid for any period when the property is considered uninhabitable.
If you feel that a property is unsafe to live in you should report this immediately to Residential Services or to the Students' Union Advice Centre. You can also contact the Council's Housing Advice service (email firstname.lastname@example.org telephone +44(0)23 8083 2254. However, you should be aware that in extreme cases the Council or the Fire Service may declare a property uninhabitable, which means that you would need to find another place to stay immediately.