So it’s that time of year again, where the rumours emerge about “all the good housing has already gone” and “if I don’t sign now, I won’t have a house for next year” – what a load of rubbish!
For some of you guys, this is will be the first time you’ve had to look for your privately managed housing or accommodation. For others, you may have already had an experience of renting and the whole process of signing for a house, and then others of you may just decide to stay in university managed student accommodation for the foreseeable future.
Whatever you decide, the whole process of looking for housing and signing contracts for the next academic year can sometimes be more complex than it looks and here at the Students’ Union, we’re trying to break this down for you and make sure that whatever you sign for is the right choice for you and that you understand your legal rights as a tenant!
A tenancy agreement (that’s your contract) is a legally binding document, and often there’s no “get out” clause so it’s important you’re sure you’ve made a good choice before you sign it!
Be Ready to Rent...
The first step is always knowing what you can afford, and what you can’t! One of the biggest changes often when moving from student accommodation to a residential house is the increase in length of contract. Most residential houses will be between 48 weeks – 52 weeks, so although a house may be cheaper than you pay per week for student accommodation, this still may cost you more than you think if it’s a longer contract. If you’re struggling to work out how much money you can afford to spend on housing, why not attend our Money Matters – Managing Your Money workshop.
Who to live with:
Your current flat mates? Friends from your course? Friends from home? Friends from a sport or society? Or maybe you’ve decided you just want to live by yourself! Making sure you find the right people is an absolutely vital part of renting, so having a really honest conversation before you sign a contract can sometimes be the best thing to do! Working out between you what you’re like to live with (do you want to live with super clean people, or would you prefer to live with quiet housemates?) and deciding what your housing criteria is (how many bathrooms is your minimum, and to tumble dryer or not?) and what you’re willing to compromise on is a good way to lay the foundation for the best housemate relationships!
Types of Housing:
The majority of students will live in university managed accommodation in their first year and privately managed housing is often what lots of second and third-year students will live in, but not always! If you’re thinking about moving into a privately managed house, there’s lots of pro’s and con’s to consider – it’s often cheaper and you have more opportunity to customise your living space to your own style, however you’ll often have neighbours to think about when it comes to noise and there’s more responsibility when it comes to house chores (remembering what day the bins go out is the first hurdle).
Locations in Lincoln:
Privately managed housing is often in 3 main areas of Lincoln, I’d recommend visiting them to see what it’s like!
- “West End” – why not try visiting Liquorice Park?
- “High Street” – cheer on Lincoln City FC at the Sincil Bank Stadium.
- “Monks Road” – grab a picnic and head for the Arboretum!
You may or may not know that the university run an Accreditation Scheme, which private landlords and letting agents can join, meaning that they meet the high standards expected by students and the university. The benefits of renting from an accredited landlord or letting agents are huge, because there is a strict Code of Practise that they have to adhere to which you can read here, but at a glance includes the following:
- Repairs must be dealt with promptly,
- Gas and Electric safety checks are carried out,
- Deposits and inventories are managed effectively,
- Disputes and queries are responded to reasonably.
The best thing about renting with an accredited landlord or letting agent, is that if you do have an issue, you can go straight to the University Residential Services team who will be able to help you with your problem immediately and contact the landlord or letting agent on your behalf.
The only way to be sure that your future housing is part of the Accreditation Scheme, is to find them at the Housing Fayre on Wednesday 27th November, from 11am – 5pm in the Engine Shed.
From this date, all accredited properties will be listed on Student Pad.
The Housing Fayre and Student Pad are the ONLY places where you can be sure all of the properties available are accredited.
Come along to the Housing Fayre to meet accredited landlords, university staff and the SU team who will be able to make sure you find the perfect property, learn about your rights as a tenant and help you find the perfect property for next year.
Prepare for your viewings...
When you’ve got to point that you’re ready to view, it’s important you check out more than one house so you can compare them with each other and understand what’s important to you personally! Before you arrive, it can be really helpful to collect all the information about the house you’re viewing, and this means you know all the facts and can’t be swayed by any sales people! Make sure to take photos/videos so you can refer to them when comparing properties and just in case you need proof of the house condition when you signed.
You can find a full viewing checklist here, but I have put together a short list of the key essentials from our experience of renting!
Which furniture/appliances are included? Do you need to buy extra?
Are you happy with the condition of the property? (E.G. No damp or infestations)?
Are all of the doors and windows secure and lockable?
Does the property rooms have working smoke detectors?
Do the rooms have adequate storage?
Make a note of any questions you want to ask the landlord – and don’t be afraid to ask!
Remember, if they’re telling you “it’s been very popular, you’ll need to be quick to get it” or “someone else is about to sign for it”, this doesn’t mean you have to sign for it straightaway! There’s lots of different accommodation all across the city so it’s more than likely you’ll find another house perfect for you if it really does go that quickly!
Understanding your Contract...
Types of Contract:
Contracts can get confusing but there are some common types you’ll see often when getting ready to sign for a house: AST, Joint & Severally, and Sole! To give you a brief overview of what these mean:
AST (Assured Shorthold Tenancy):
Tenant has the right to occupy the property for a fixed period of time (provided they keep to the terms of their tenancy agreement), and once the period ends either the landlord or the tenant has the right to terminate the tenancy.
Joint & Severally:
Each tenant can be held responsible for the whole of the tenancy as well as their own share, all under the same tenancy agreement.
Each tenant in the property has their own tenancy agreement, and therefore they each have exclusive possession of one specific room while sharing other facilities (i.e. Kitchen).
Dates are everything! Dates of the contract, will you have time to move in and out? Dates of the rent payments, do they align with your Student Finance payements? Dates of the deposit, how early is required?
You often hear lots of rumours about people “not getting deposits back, which is why it’s so important to have your deposit placed in a Government Deposit Protection Scheme! This means that your deposit is protected, and cannot be taken by your landlord without clear grounds and you will also have the opportunity to contest the decision if you feel that’s appropriate.
Hopefully they’ll never be needed, but if there’s ever unpaid rent, bills or costs your Guarantor in legally liable and your landlord can take action to claim these costs from them! It’s important they know what they’re signing up for, and have read the contract – a second pair of eyes can never hurt!
Landlord vs Letting Agency:
One of the most common confusions when it comes to renting comes from who actually is responsible when it comes to maintenance! It’s important to establish who manages your property before you sign the contract, as they will be the one who actually deals with your maintenance.
Letting agents will often tell you “everything will be fixed before you arrive” while viewing the house, but if it’s not in writing – there’s no obligation that they have to fix it!
What support is available?
Across the University & Students’ Union, there’s tonnes of support on offer but sometimes it can be difficult to work out which service to go to. Each service has a different speciality, and below I’ve put together a brief explanation of what you could go to each one with!
SU Advice Centre (located at the SU, opposite the library):
Our SU Advice Centre have a great section on their website about Housing and all the steps when looking for a house and how to rent properly once you’re in the house! Find it here.
The SU Advice Centre can also read through contracts and identify key points you may not have considered before, and their drop in is 12pm-2pm or you can book an appointment at [email protected].
Student Support Centre (located in the Minerva Building):
If you’re struggling with funding or going through hardship, the University Support Centre has loads of information about the different hardship funds on offer – you can find this on their website!
Student Wellbeing (located next to the Health Centre):
Maybe you’re finding the renting process difficult and need help getting your head round it all? Student Wellbeing have some great podcasts on Getting Organised & Homesickness may be able to help!
Student Leader Top Tips:
Emma, Vice President Welfare & Community:
“Make sure to check who actually manages your property, not just who lets it to you! When I was in my first year, we were sold a property believing that the letting agency also managed it when in reality the landlord managed it and they lived in London and would take days/weeks to come and fix anything!”
Abi, Vice President Activities:
“Don’t take the first house you see just because you’re worried houses will run out! Take your time to look for the right house for you, everyone is different so just because you hear a house is popular, doesn’t mean it will work for you!”
“Consider all the extra costs you may need to pay that might not be included in your tenancy charge, for example WiFi, TV Licence and travel costs if it’s far away! Make sure you check these when you view a property”
Mohit, Vice President International:
”Make sure you get your Guarantor to read the contract too, hopefully they’ll never need to use it but just in case, it’s important they understand what’s involved too!”
Georgia, Vice President Education:
“Make sure you look at all the walls everywhere – something in the way? Move it. You don’t want to live somewhere with mould or damp for a year, just because you didn’t take 5 minutes to look around (trust me).”
Most Common Myths:
“There’s isn’t enough housing in Lincoln so I need to sign quickly!”
WRONG – There’s always too much housing year on year, come along to the Housing Fayre on the 27th November and check out Student Pad to find accredited housing from then on!
“A deposit can be any amount”
WRONG – The legal limit for deposits is 5 weeks’ worth of rent (where annual rent is less than £50,000) or 6 weeks’ rent (where annual rent is more than £50,000).
“Bills are always included in the cost of rent”
WRONG – most student housing in Lincoln has bills included but NOT ALL do, so check your contract to see what the case is for you!
“Admin fees are just part of renting”
WRONG – From 1 June 2019, the government banned almost all fees charged in connection with a tenancy!