Looking.

Signing a housing contract is a big decision and a huge financial commitment. And it’s one you really want to get right. Here, you will find guidance to help you find people to live with and a suitable home. You can also learn about your rights and obligations as a prospective and new tenant, knowledge guaranteed to help your budget.

Private Housing Looking Guide

We advise that you not to rush into a contract as there is a surplus of accommodation locally. If you take your time and choose your housemates carefully, you’ll be more likely to have fewer problems in the long run, and get a better deal.

Every year we hear rumours that students are told that all the best houses will be gone by Christmas. This is not the case. If you start to look in late November/December this will help you to get a good idea of what’s around, but we urge you not to sign in Term 1. It's nearly impossible to get out of contracts once they are signed and we want you to make the best decision for the coming year.

We also host a Housing Fair each year in the SU main hall, where you’ll get the opportunity to chat to a number of different estate agents and landlords as well as the Advice Centre staff. Use this event to give you get a feel for the local market, look at the websites of agencies and landlords there and discuss it with your friends and family over Christmas. Remember that many properties will not be advertised until after February.

BEFORE LOOKING

  • Decide how long you want the contract to be. Base this on what your income will be and whether you will be liable for council tax after the last day of term.
  • Decide which area you want to live in. The more flexible you are, the more likely you are to find something to suit your budget. Keep your travel time and costs in mind though!
  • Locate all the documents you’ll need. Landlords have to confirm your identity, immigration status (even if you’re British), credit history and student status.
  • Most landlords/agencies require students to have a UK guarantor.
  • Those without a guarantor, including international/EU students, are usually asked to pay 3-6 months’ rent in advance instead. Email us to ask for advice if this is a problem for you.

THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR

  • Online ads are not properly regulated and can have fraudulent users and scams.
  • Avoid going to a viewing alone. If you don’t have a good feeling, don’t go and get advice instead.
  • When your group attends a viewing, let someone know where you’ll be.
  • Never pay for anything in cash or under pressure. Pressure sales is illegal.
  • Don’t sign or pay anything before having your contract checked by the Students’ Union Advice Centre. Just email your contract over to us with the subject ‘contract check’.

HouseSearch is your free portal to hundreds of local properties, run by the Students’ Union. You can use it to search for accommodation, post ads for rooms, and find housemates.

Online: You can find lots of accommodation advertised online. If you’re not part of a group yet, we’ve created a Facebook group called RHSUHouseMating. to help you find housemates or spare rooms.

Letting Agents: You can find local letting agencies’ websites and their ratings on Google. If you call each agency and tell them what area you’re looking in and your budget, they’ll tell you what they have available.

Whether you're looking for a group to join, on the hunt for a housemate to complete your group, or seeking a replacement housemate, it can be hard to find the right person. We've compiled some key pointers, which should make things a little easier for you.

TOP TIPS

  1. Decide what kind out housemate you want (consider budget, gender, age etc.)
  2. After looking at other ads, create a post of your own, advertising what you are looking for/offering.
  3. Include as many photos as possible if you’re advertising a room/house.
  4. Include important information about yourself if you’re looking to join a group, e.g. party animal, vegan, smoker, postgrad, etc
  5. Advertise and read posts on as many platforms as possible, share your post with everyone you know and ask them to share it for you. Comment on you ad after a while if it has been pushed too far down to be seen.

HOUSING PLATFORMS

Here are some platforms connected to the university and SU that you could post on:

As a student you may have access to different sources of income, but it's always best to monitor how you are using it. You can come and see us to help budget for the year ahead, especially when you consider signing for a new house. Often students use their last loan payment to help fund deposits and fees when signing; this is useful, but remember that you may have other costs at this time.

FUNDING YOUR DEPOSIT

Some of the sources you can use are:

  • Grants available
  • Loans available
  • Student accounts/overdrafts/loans – get more information from Financial Wellbeing, Founders East 135.
  • Finding a job
  • Trustworthy letting agents will have a full and transparent price list on their website, including costs of possible future fees and charges.
  • The Tenant Fees Bill passed on 1 June 2019 stops landlords and letting agents from charging most fees that were considered standard fees before. See the government guidance for tenants here.
  • You could also be asked for a holding fee (maximum 1 week’s rent; refundable unless you cancel) to stop advertising the property.
  • Eventually you’ll be asked for a security deposit (maximum 5 weeks’ rent), and you will also have to pay the first month’s rent before you move in.
  • You can make an appointment to get help with budgeting by contacting Financial Wellbeing - moneymatters@royalholloway.ac.uk.

To sign a private housing contract you will need:

  • Security deposit (max 5 weeks’ rent)
  • First month’s rent in advance (3-6 months’ rent in advance for students without UK guarantors

Most landlords and estate agents will require students to have a UK-based guarantor that can pass their credit checks. A guarantor is someone who signs to say they will pay the rent and bills if you can’t. They can be a family friend or relative, as long as they live in the UK. Students who don’t have a suitable guarantor are usually expected to pay 3-6 months’ rent in advance.

International students should have enough funds to cover a bigger deposit as part of their visa requirements. Home and EU students who do not have a guarantor should see the information below about the university’s Rent Guarantor Scheme

We strongly advise that you do not pay for or sign anything until you secure a guarantor.

ATTENDING VIEWINGS

It can be hard work getting your landlord to fix things after you’ve signed. Landlords and agents often make promises they never fulfil during viewings, so if they promise to fix things, ask them to put it in writing.

If the current tenants are present during the viewing, don’t be afraid to ask for their contact details so you can ask them about what the bills are like, etc. They will also be much more honest about the landlord without agents around.

Ask the landlord or agent if you can see the inventory which will state exactly what pieces of furniture will be staying at the property. If they do not have one, request that they create one.

VIewing Checklist

YOUR LANDLORD/AGENT SHOULD GIVE YOU:

  • A copy of the government’s ‘How To Rent’ guide.
  • A Gas Safety Certificate issued within the last year.
  • Evidence of an electrical inspection within the last five years.
  • Tenancy deposit protection scheme information.
  • Energy Performance Certificate.
  • Information about who manages the property i.e. if the landlord or agent is responsible for maintenance/repairs.
  • Confirmation in writing if your bills are included, either in an email, letter or in your tenancy agreement.

YOU SHOULD:

  • Check the rules about overnight guests, smoking and pets.
  • Check who is responsible for the bills and make sure this information is included in the tenancy agreement.
  • Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be fitted by your landlord - it’s the law.
  • Get any promises of repairs or new furniture in writing.
  • Check under which circumstances you could leave the tenancy early without still being liable for rent.
  • Write an agreement about who will pay how much for which rooms.
  • Make sure any other appliances, such as washing machines, are included in the inventory and that the landlord will be responsible for replacing them if they break down.
  • Check who owns the property at landregistry.gov.uk if you’re not using a letting agent. It only costs £3!
  • Request a free contract check from our Housing Advisor.

Make sure you are happy with the tenancy agreement. Don’t be afraid to question the meaning of certain clauses. You should not sign anything you are not 100% clear on!

Finally, make use of our FREE CONTRACT CHECKING SERVICE, which will save you lots of money, even if you’ve already signed!

Renting in the private sector is full of potential pitfalls from the moment you become a prospective tenant. Our contract checking service not only helps you to make sure there’s nothing dodgy in your tenancy agreement, but will also provide you with information about your rights, how to set up your utilities and what to do when things go wrong.

If you email us with a copy of your contract using the subject ‘contract check request’ or come along to one of our drop-ins, we can do all the hard work for you. We can explain the key areas of the contract in plain English so that you can make an informed decision and stay safe.

Remember: NEVER sign a contract in a rush. You are supposed to have sufficient time to look over the terms and consult someone. Pressure sales is illegal.

Finally, we want you to know that you should get your contract checked, even if you’ve already signed it. In contract law, legally unfair clauses are unenforceable, and we can point them out to you.

  • Landlords – property owners
  • Estate Agent – landlords’ representatives
  • Contract/tenancy agreement – gives certain rights to both you and your landlord, for example, your right to occupy the accommodation and your landlord’s right to receive rent for letting the accommodation. Both you and your landlord have rights and responsibilities given by law.
  • Guarantor - as a young student, your landlord might require you to ask someone to act as ‘guarantor’ – to provide a guarantee that the rent will be paid. This means that if you fail to pay the rent one month, the landlord can legally call on your guarantor to pay up instead of you. It is illegal to charge you for a guarantor credit check. Admin fees – most admin fees are now illegal and you should not be asked for any before you move in.
  • Holding fees/holding deposit - this is a fee agents charge to guarantee the property to you and stop advertising it. A holding deposit usually contributes towards the security deposit you pay when you move in. Legally this cannot be more than one week's rent.
  • Security deposit - the deposit acts as security against non-payment of rent or damage to the property. Legally this cannot be more than five weeks' rent.
  • Tenancy deposit protection schemes - the landlord or an agency, must protect deposits in a government-approved tenancy deposit protection scheme. This helps ensure that you get back what you're entitled to at the end of the tenancy.
  • Rent in advance - this is rent upfront which is usually one month's rent in addition to you security deposit and any fees. By paying your rent in advance you'll always be paying rent for the month/s ahead. You might be asked to pay several months’ rent in advance if you’re an international student, or if you don’t have a guarantor.
  • Standing order - an instruction to a bank by an account holder to make regular fixed payments to a particular person or organisation. Some landlords will ask you to set this up with your bank so your rent is automatically paid out of your account when it’s due.
  • Inventory – a document, which can be accompanied by photos, that documents the property, its contents and their condition. The tenant and landlord should both have their own copies. Two identical inventory reports are performed – one before the tenant moves in and another one when they move out. Other synonyms you might encounter are: move in/move out inventory, check in/check out inventory, schedule of condition, tenancy inventory, etc. It is illegal to charge you for the inventory for contracts starting after 1 June 2019.
  • Council tax - a tax collected by the borough for local services. Full-time students are exempt from this tax.
  • TV Licence - a TV Licence is a legal permission to install or use television receiving equipment to watch or record television programmes as they are being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, and to download or watch BBC programmes on demand, including catch up TV on BBC iPlayer.
  • Fine - a sum of money exacted as a penalty by a court of law or other authority.
  • Deposit deductions - money deducted from your security deposit before it's returned to you at the end of the tenancy. Only things that cost money can be deducted. For example, it's reasonable for your landlord to take money off your deposit to cover:
    • damage to the property or furniture
    • missing items that were listed on the inventory
    • paying for cleaning because the property was left in a dirty condition
    • outstanding rent owed by you or a joint tenant