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Shared accommodation survival guide

Finding a house

 

When you are trying to sort out your house, the first thing you need to decide is who you will live with and therefore how many bedrooms you will need. You may feel under pressure to find a house, especially in your first year, as letting agents fuel speculation that all the student houses will get taken and you'll end up living in a box in the park. This is usually just speculation, although if you are looking for a big house, (6+ bedrooms) you will need to house hunt early.

Your two main options when renting a house are to rent from a private landlord (i.e. you rent the house directly from the person who owns it) or to rent a house through a letting agent - which is basically a company that rents out the house on behalf of the landlord and takes a cut of the rent.

There are various advantages and disadvantages of renting from both letting agents and private landlords.

From my experience, private landlords are more likely to want to keep their houses up to scratch - as they own the houses. However, if you do get a poor landlord, you will often only have one contact number for him or her, whereas most letting agents will have an office with several staff which should mean that you can always get in contact with someone. A good indication of how much support you will receive when you look around various houses is the state of the house and garden. While the previous student tenants may not be particularly clean or tidy, the landlord or letting agent should be maintaining the furniture, décor and the outside of the house. If the house is in total disrepair it will only get worse when you live there! Oh, and letting agents are more likely to charge letting fees.

When you are looking around houses you will obviously want to note how much the rent will cost. Other important points to note are whether this includes bills (gas, electricity, water and tv/phone/internet - you shouldn't have to pay council tax if you are all full time students) and whether there will be any admin fees for the house. Admin fees can vary wildly from nothing to several hundred pounds - it is always worth trying to haggle down both the rent price and the admin fees - you will have more luck with this if you're going through a private landlord.

If you are looking around a house and you would like to rent a particular house but you want improvements made, a room repainted or furniture replaced then tell whoever is showing you around. If the landlord or letting agent agrees to this - make sure you get this in writing.

You will need to sign a tenancy agreement and ask someone (usually your parents) to fill in a guarantor form. Read your tenancy agreement carefully, make sure that it all sounds sensible to you. If you have any questions, ask either the landlord or your student support centre. The tenancy agreement is for the benefit of the landlord and yourselves. It will lay out the responsibilities for both parties. Usually that you will keep the house clean and tidy, pay your rent and bills and report any problems promptly. The landlord's responsibilities will involve keeping the house is a state of good repair and dealing with any maintenance problems.

The guarantor forms is a guarantee that if you don't pay your rent, whoever signed your form will pay your rent for you.

Recommended Further Reading

When you move into rented accommodation you will also have to pay a deposit. This is against any damage you may cause to you house or flat and will usually be equivalent to a months rent. An important point to note that if you pay a £200 deposit but cause £1000 of damage to your house (and some students do!) then your landlord will usually be able to take you to court to reclaim the other £800. You should also bear in mind that when you and your housemates pay your deposit it becomes a shared deposit. Therefore, if you are planning on living with someone who is particularly destructive you may want re-think your choice of housemates, or you may end up paying for their pyromaniac activities!

In terms of keeping your deposit, you essentially need to leave your house as you found it. This means not causing vast amounts of destruction, keeping your house clean and tidy, and reporting any maintenance problems as soon as they occur. When I worked in a letting agents, a house of students had a big water leak. Instead of ringing us up and telling us, they just ignored it for over a month until their kitchen walls became saturated with water, the kitchen cupboards all warped and they developed a really bad mould problem. They ended up being charged a fortune for a new kitchen, whereas if they had called us on the day it happened we would have arranged to have the leak fixed and dried out the kitchen without charge as a water leak was clearly not their fault - however not reporting it and allowing the problem to develop was.

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