Advice

Housing

When should I start looking for a property?

Every year we hear rumours that all the houses for the next academic year will be gone by Christmas. They won’t! If you start to look in late November/December this will help you to get a good idea of what’s around, but you do need to seriously consider whether you’re ready to commit to your group or a property this early on and might want to wait a little bit longer to sign any contracts.

We’d recommend you have something sorted by the end of the Spring term as less properties are available in the immediate area around the campus after this. Properties will be available into the summer and plenty of single rooms come up in the late summer as people decide they don’t want their room for a variety of reasons, but if you’re looking at this time, you’ll need to accept you have to be a bit more flexible in your choice and may have to compromise on location, price or facilities.

The most important thing is to make sure you’re fully happy with the house, location, price and future housemates as contracts can be difficult to get out of once they’re signed.

Where should I look and what should I look for?

This is up to you- most students do live in Egham or Englefield Green, but a wider variety of properties, different facilities and different prices can be found in surrounding areas such as Windsor, Virginia Water, Staines and Slough.

Agents, websites advertising spare rooms, friends, noticeboards on campus, Facebook groups and the internet are all good places to start but do be careful- if something looks too good to be true or you’re asked to pay anything up front, ask questions before you sign anything or hand over any money.

You can find a helpful checklist of things to look at in a property in our Housing Guide.

What should I expect to pay?

Lettings Agents can charge ‘reasonable’ fees for administration and a variety of services such as referencing or the creation of an inventory, or for drawing up or renewing contracts. They cannot charge you to view a property. They also cannot ask for ‘unreasonable’ sums for these services. While there’s no exact legal definition of ‘reasonable’, we’d generally consider whether the proposed fee was in line with the fees charged by other agents in the area. If it was excessive by comparison, we’d recommend raising this with the agent.

Prices in Egham/Englefield Green vary from around £320-650 per person per month for a room.

What should I look for in my contract?

You can bring your contract to the Advice and Support Centre for a free check. If you’ve not got time, or it’s over the weekend and you need to make a decision fast, have a look at the guidelines on the Government website.

What is a joint tenancy?

A joint tenancy is made between all of your group and the landlord. The most important thing to know is that you’re all ‘jointly and severally liable’ for any costs or damage. This means that if one of you fails to pay the share of the rent agreed between you all, the landlord could choose to pursue you all or any single one of you for the debt- there’s no such thing as ‘her share’ or ‘his £300’- you’re all equally responsible for making sure the whole amount makes its way to the landlord. Even if one of your housemates leaves, you all remain liable for the whole rental share. Ideally they’d continue to pay until a replacement is found for them, but if they leave and stop paying, the landlord might choose to charge the rest of you instead and this is totally legal.

This can sometimes extend to your guarantors as well, meaning that your guarantor may end up being pursued for the unpaid debts of your housemates. Check paperwork carefully and if you’re not sure, come and see us in the Advice and Support Centre.

Joint tenancies mean that if one of you wants to leave and replace yourself with another tenant, you must all agree on this replacement- you have more control over who lives in your house than you would with single tenancies.

This type of tenancy also means that your group has exclusive possession of all parts of the property, including the common areas, giving the landlord less freedom to come and go in the property than with single tenancies.

What is a resident landlord?

Some landlords rent out rooms in their home and you live with them and their family or housemates in your own room in their house. This can be a good way to save money as it’s usually cheaper and with bills included but it does mean your rights are far more restricted than with a single or joint tenancy outside of your landlord's home. Your landlord isn’t, for example, required by law to protect your deposit in one of the government schemes and could choose to end the agreement with a very short notice period (though so can you!).

What fixes is the landlord responsible for?

In an Assured Shorthold Tenancy the landlord is responsible for:
1. most repairs to the exterior or structure of a property- like replacing roof tiles or guttering.
2. the equipment for supplying water, gas and electricity working safely.
3. essential services (such as heating, the toilet, sinks, locks on the doors etc).
4. structural issues with floors and ceilings.
5. electrical wiring in the property.

What are the tenants responsible for?

In an Assured Shorthold Tenancy the tenants are responsible for:
1. letting the landlord know of any repairs that need doing as soon as you can.
2. keeping the property and items supplied with it clean and in good order.
3. changing lightbulbs and fuses- including buying new, appropriate bulbs or fuses.
4. unblocking sinks clogged through everyday usage, including buying the correct product to help you do this.
5. fixing or paying for anything that yourself or a guest has broken. If something you do damages a neighbour’s property, i.e. you forget to turn the tap off over the weekend and come home to find you’ve flooded the downstairs flat, you could be liable for the cost of fixing that too.

Who's responsible for paying the bills?

If the bills aren’t included in your rent, all of you are responsible for paying them, but neither the utility companies nor your landlord is required to mediate between you all if there are disagreements about who owes what.

If you can, you should add all of your names to every bill to prevent one person from being pursued by the company if there are any debts.

While it can obviously work for some groups, we’d never recommend dividing up the bills on a monthly basis according to what you feel each person used (or how many days they were there, or if their friend stayed for the weekend, or it they own a games console or hair straighteners…). The standing charges remain the same every day and many companies will average out the cost of a whole year when they work out your monthly payment, so you’ll probably pay for much more than you actually use over the summer to make up for higher usage in the winter. This all makes it very hard to be truly fair if you try to charge for daily usage. Unless you check the meters on a daily basis or take the time to work out exactly how much power everyone’s various appliances use, you’ll never be able to perfectly split them and it can cause ongoing rows and tension. Whatever you decide though, be clear and be willing to be flexible and discuss arrangements again later on if a major change takes place i.e. a partner starts spending a significant amount of time in the house and maybe should consider paying a bit towards your household costs.

My landlord keeps coming over unannounced, what can I do?

Unless you’re living with a resident landlord, or there is an emergency such as a gas leak, your landlord or agent must give you 24 hours’ notice when they intend to visit you. If this isn’t happening, you should contact them politely by letter to remind them of your legal rights as a tenant. A template letter can be found below.

I want to leave my room now, even though my contract isn't finished yet. How do I do that?

There are hundreds of reasons why you might want to leave your room early. Most contracts allow you to leave provided you can find a suitable replacement. This is very easy at the beginning of the academic year but gets harder as time goes on. Until you find someone and the paperwork is sorted, you remain responsible for the rent, even if you’ve left the room. If you’re on a joint contract and you leave, this could put your housemates in unfair financial difficulties so do discuss your situation with your landlord/agent or the Advice and Support Centre if you’re planning to leave your room. You can advertise your room here:
RHUL Housesearch
Message of the Day
SURHUL Housemating Facebook group

What is carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide is very dangerous- it can cause permanent damage to the brain and heart and even death. You can’t smell, taste or see carbon monoxide. It can build up in your home if you have a faulty central heating boiler, oven or other appliance or a blocked chimney or flue. It causes flu-like symptoms such as headaches, sickness, dizziness and shortness of breath which will start to go away when you leave the house for a while then come back when you come home again. You should have a working carbon monoxide detector and use it according to the instructions. You can buy a detector for £10-30. If your detector goes off or you and your housemates start experiencing these symptoms, immediately turn off potential sources of carbon monoxide, open the windows and doors, inform your landlord and visit your GP or call the NHS on 111.

What have I had a council tax bill?

As a full time student, you personally are not eligible to pay Council Tax but if you receive a bill, DO NOT just ignore it, it won’t go away! The Council can and do pursue their bills and may have sent you a letter because they don’t know you’re a student. Ignoring the bill could lead to court action and leave you with costs to pay. You must contact the Council as soon as possible to discuss the bill and you may need to send them proof of your student status which you can get through Campus Connect or by visiting the Student Services Centre. In some circumstances your spouse will be eligible for a discount too, or you may not fit the definition of a ‘full time student’ under the rules (for example if you’re on a short pre-sessional English course)- if you think either of these categories apply to you, book an appointment with us to find out more.

Template letters

 

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