11 Things Students Should Know About Renting
If you’re just about to start your second or third – or even fourth, year of uni, you’re probably also about to embark on the exciting journey of living in rented accommodation for the first time in your life.
Whilst in first year you were probably in the bubble of student halls, where most things were sorted for you, renting a house or apartment is a different kettle of fish altogether.
Although you probably thought the process of actually finding a property was the hard part, actually renting a place is a bit of a minefield. Lots of unexpected issues and questions are likely to arise during your tenancy, but luckily we’ve put together a list of 11 helpful tips which will hopefully cover most of them.
1. Think carefully about location
This one is mostly targeted to students who are still currently in the process of looking for a house or flat to live in. It really does pay to think very carefully about your location. Whilst an apartment slightly outside the uni area might be cheaper in terms of rent, if it doesn’t have handy transport links to where you need to be on a daily basis you could end up spending more on transport that what you’d save on rent. Ideally you want to be close to uni obviously, but shops and also bars for nights out. If you’re a Queens Uni student, areas like The Lisburn Road or Botanic are ideal.
2. Tenancy length
The typical tenancy is 12 months but this often doesn’t fit with the uni calendar which usually runs from September to May. This means that if you know you’ll be living at home for the summer, you’ll still end up having to pay three months’ extra rent even though you won’t be in the property. If you know this could be a problem for you then talk to your landlord or estate agent about the possibility of either extending or shortening your tenancy length. You never know if they’ll be open to the idea unless you ask and it could end up saving you a good bit of money, which you will 100%, totally, definitely, sensibly put straight into your savings.
3. Have you viewed the property?
This might sound obvious but you would be surprised how many students move into a property that they’ve never seen in real life before. This usually occurs when the ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ of the friend group does all the organising, sends you pictures of the flat on WhatsApp and you say ‘looks good’. HOWEVER, although you might consider yourself to be a laid back person who have low expectations and isn’t really too fussed about where they live, you should definitely view the property and get a feel for where you’ll be spending most days and nights. Your environment can play a major role in how you feel and your mood and, with one in four students suffering from mental health problems, you want to be sure that you’re living somewhere that makes you feel secure and comfortable.
4. Get an inventory list and hold onto it
When you sign your contract, the landlord or estate agent will usually provide you with an inventory list – a list of items that are in the property and the general condition of everything. If you haven’t received one of these, ask for one. When you move in, check this thoroughly and make sure everything on the list is in the property and in the condition described in the document. If everything is not as described, from the walls and carpets to the fixtures and fittings, then contact your landlord or agent immediately. This is important as having an inventory list can help minimise any disputes about deposits when your tenancy ends. For example, if you are certain that big pink stain on the carpet was there when you moved in, then check the inventory list. If it’s not there then you might need to go out and get some Shake N Vac. (‘What’s Shake N Vac?” you ask? Eh, go ask your parents).
5. And speaking of deposits…
When you pay a deposit for your rented accommodation your landlord must protect it under the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. This scheme makes sure you’ll get your deposit back when you move out if you looked after the property and paid your rent. This should be protected by one of three accredited schemes (Tenancy Deposit Scheme Northern Ireland , My Deposits Northern Ireland, Letting Protection Service NI ). Once you’ve paid your deposit, your Landlord has to notify you within 28 days, giving you information about your tenancy, your deposit and the scheme they are using. But, sometimes it is better to ask about this up front and before anything has been signed. As a student, every penny matters so you really ought to have that extra piece of mind, be assured that your landlord knows their responsibilities and feel secure in that you’ll get your deposit back.
6. Can I see the EPC
An EPC or energy performance certificate should be made available to you before you sign your contract. It will help you determine things like how much it costs to heat the house, loft insulation, double glazing, boiler age, efficiency etc. It will give the house a rating like you get on fridges A, B, C etc.
7. In case of emergency
Who do you call if you get locked out of your property and have no spare keys or if the boiler breaks, or if there’s a fire or a burglary? This might be detailed in your contract, but if not you should ask your landlord or agent for this info as well as how long it takes them to respond and react to queries. If you want to be double sure of things like this, you can ask your landlord or agent for references from previous tenants to be aware of any issues they had during their tenancy. Also, if you feel you can, ask them what their rent payments were to make sure yours aren’t significantly higher.
8. Beware of burglars!
Student areas can be particularly vulnerable to burglaries, as they tend to be more lax with security and there are often multiple tenants in the one property with high value items such as laptops. When you visit the property, take a look at things like locks on windows or doors and assess the general security of the place. If you’re not happy with the state of things, tell your landlord or agent and ask if they could improve things. You might think this is being pedantic, however if you have insurance, your policy may be void if locks and alarms aren’t working properly. You should also consider visiting the area at the night time. Whilst most agents and landlords won’t be able to do viewings at this time, you can take a look around the property to see how safe it feels. Sometimes a property or street can have a very different feel when the sun goes down.
‘What’s the worst that can happen?’…. ah the student life motto; uttered when you leave your entire dissertation to the week before or down 10 jagerbombs on a Tuesday. As we all know, this isn’t always the best outlook to adopt. Especially when it comes to your home and your belongings. For students, it makes sense to take out insurance. If you’re not covered by your parents’ insurance (check the small print), there are many providers out there with student-specific policies.
10. Everyone is responsible
In every group, there’s always one parent figure who does all the organising; from nights out to gas bills. If this happens to be you, don’t let everything fall on your shoulders. Make sure all contracts; from the tenancy agreement to the electricity and gas is in everyone’s name. If all the bills are in your name, you will be the one suffering the consequences if there are issues, such as one housemate not paying things on time. And although it might not be on your radar quite yet, if you are failing to make bill payments this will negatively impact your credit score which might make it difficult when it comes to getting a mortgage in later life.
When you live in rented accommodation, it’s common for the landlord or estate agents to make house inspections. Details of this might be found in your contract. Typically these are only every six months or annually and you are usually given notice. However, sometimes they can be sporadic and unannounced. If you’re not comfortable with this, then speak to your landlord or agent.