Should you use a letting agent when renting a private student room? What happens to your deposit? Will you need a guarantor? Get these 12 tips on how to rent a private property in the UK. And download the free inventory form to protect yourself.
When rent prices are per week- what is your monthly rent?
In the UK you’ll find that sometimes rent prices are listed per week (pw) and sometimes they are per calendar month (pcm). Be careful with weekly prices – your monthly rent is not four times your weekly rent but higher. That’s because on average a month is about 4.35 weeks long, so to convert a weekly rental price into a monthly one, try this formula:
£120 (you rent per week) x 4 (weeks per month) = £480
£120 (you rent per week) x 52 (weeks per year) / 12 (months per year) = £520
Your monthly rent = £520
Use a letting agent if you want – but before you do, ask about their fees
Letting agents are part of the property landscape in the UK. Homeowners who can’t or don’t want to deal with tenants (people who rent) directly use them to advertise and let their property.
As an international student, I think a good letting agent is a safe choice – if your university doesn’t have a list of approved or accredited landlords (homeowners that have been checked as being genuine and offering decent quality).
Letting agents can’t charge you for showing you a property. But if you decide to rent a place they’ve shown you, they’ll charge you a ‘finding fee’. Ask them in advance to give you in writing the total fee you’d have to pay. It could add up to as much as £400 – £600.
Email the agent and ask them to email you back confirming what their total fee covers and if it covers any of the following:
If you’re renting with other students ask about the agency’s fee for changing a student’s name in the contract in case someone moves out. I’ve read that some agents charge up to £200 just for making this small change (I assume because they would have to prepare a new contract).
If you can’t provide references there’s a solution….
Normally, anyone renting in the UK has to provide ‘references’. These are recommendation letters from a previous place where you’ve lived that confirm you’re a good tenant and always paid your rent on time. The landlord would also check your credit history to make you don’t have any debt.
As an international student renting in the UK for the first time you won’t be able to provide references, and you won’t have a credit history either. What the landlord / letting agent might agree instead is that you pay your rent in advance – usually, six months’ rent as you move in and another instalment six months later.
Be careful though: Only pay money in advance if the landlord is accredited or you’re renting through one of the well-known letting agents (you can always ask your university’s housing office for advice). There are some bad people out there targeting students with ‘housing scams’, so protect yourself by being extra cautious.
What is a ‘guarantor’ and will you need one?
A ‘guarantor’ is a person who agrees to pay your rent in case you miss any payments (usually one of your parents or a close relative). The guarantor normally has to be based in the UK but, again, if it’s difficult for you to provide a guarantor, the landlord might just agree that you pay your rent in advance.
I’ve seen that in some cases the university itself can agree to act as your guarantor. But not all universities do this and, those that do, might only do it for second or third year students (not new students).
There’s an important difference between a holding and a security deposit
If you see a property and decide to rent it, you can reserve it by paying a ‘holding deposit’. The amount varies but I believe it may be about one week’s rent. After you’ve paid, the agent / landlord can’t show the property to anyone else – they now start preparing the paperwork for your contract. If you change your mind, you lose your holding deposit. If you take the property, the holding deposit is counted towards your ‘security deposit’.
The security deposit is usually about a month’s rent. You pay it after signing the contract and before you move into the property. It’s a kind of insurance to the homeowner in case you don’t pay your rent or your damage anything. When you leave the property at the end of your contract, you should get your security deposit back.
They say ‘the property is in excellent condition’ – Better do an inventory
As you move in, ask the landlord / agent if they have an inventory (see my freebie) of the condition of the property and furniture. If they don’t, do one yourself and take photos of everything. This is really important as you don’t want to have to pay for any damage someone else may have caused. You should also send a copy of the inventory to the landlord / letting agent as they need to agree and sign it. If anything needs repairing, they should sort it out before or very soon after you move in.
Creating an inventory doesn’t have to be daunting. Use this 9-page template that I’ve put together for you. Remember to complete it as you move in, and again when you move out. It covers things to check in your student bedroom, the living room, kitchen, bathroom and other areas in the property.
What is ‘wear and tear’ and what repairs are your responsibility?
You may have heard people use the phrase ‘wear and tear’. Wear and tear is normal damage that happens to something over time as we use it.
When you live in a property, some things will inevitably suffer wear and tear. The homeowner shouldn’t ask you to replace them or pay for them. And the other way round: If something just looks used or slightly damaged, but you’re still able to use it, you wouldn’t usually ask for a replacement.
However, if something major breaks, like the washing machine or a water tap, you need to contact the letting agent or landlord. If, on the other hand, a light bulb needs changing, you would (safely) step on a chair or ladder and sort it out yourself (after turning off the main electrical switch).
Rent is always paid in advance and on time
You always pay your rent for the month in advance – or, as mentioned earlier, several months’ rent in advance if you don’t have references, a credit history or a guarantor. If you share with other students, you and your flat-/housemates will together be responsible for paying the rent. It makes sense for you to agree among each other who will collect the rent from everyone to pay it to the landlord / letting agent.
Remember, if one of your flatmates leaves, the rest of you will have to pay his or her rent until you find someone new. Except if the person had a separate contract with the agent / landlord, in which case it’s their responsibility to find someone.
Bills, bills, nothing but bills….
Unlike university accommodation where your bills are already included in the cost of your room, if you’re renting privately, you usually pay for them extra (although sometimes they are included). I’m talking here about electricity, gas, water and wifi.
Most of the time, you’ll have to register with the utility companies yourself, but sometimes the landlord continues receiving the bills and passing on the cost to the tenants. Make sure to get clear information on this from the landlord / agency.
Also, avoid the mistake that I made and ask where the gas, electricity and water meters are as you move in. Take a ‘reading’ on the first day, that is write down the usage count + the date + the time of the reading. When you move out, take a reading again. This way, you pay only for the energy that you have used, and not for what someone else may have used. That’s what nearly happened to me as I’d forgotten to take a reading when I moved in and almost ended up having to pay the gas bill of the tenant before me.
I wouldn’t recommend you rent a property that has a ‘pay-as-you-go’ gas or electricity meter. ‘Pay-as-you-go’ means you have to continuously put money into the meter for it to work. I can’t even start to tell you how expensive this is – it really can cost twice as much as a normal meter that you’re billed for monthly or quarterly.
Also, if you’re sharing the property and the bills are registered to the tenants, make sure everyone’s names are on the bill. Only the persons whose name is on any bill are legally responsible for paying it.
Hello…? You’ll need wifi, yes, but do you really need a telephone line?
Find out if the property already has a fixed telephone line or a wifi connection installed. The cost for having these installed after you move can vary, and I’ve seen figures between £50 – £150.
Nowadays, many people decide not to pay for a fixed telephone line and to use a mobile phone only. But, often you can only get broadband if you have fixed telephone line and this can add to the cost of your wifi. I didn’t have a phone line in my old flat and back then Virgin Broadband was the only option available in my area. But that was five years ago and things may have changed, so always compare packages and prices before signing up with any provider.
They say TV isn’t good for you…But no one said it costs you money
In the UK, if you watch or record live television programmes you need to pay for a ‘TV Licence’. Even if you don’t own a television but you use your computer, laptop, tablet or phone to watch programmes as they’re being transmitted, you still need to get a TV licence.
When sharing a property, you and your housemates would usually only need one licence for the entire property – as long as you’re all renting on the same contract. Anyone in the property who has their own rental contract or their own entrance to the house would probably have to pay for their own TV licence.
The cost of the TV licence is £145.50 per year.
For more details and contact information (for example if you want to find out whether your shared house needs more than one TV licence), go to the TV Licensing website.
Yes there is a Council Tax and no, you don’t have to pay it
Council tax is a government charge that is paid on houses, flats and self-contained properties, like for example studio flats. The bad news is: Everyone has to pay council tax. The good news is: As a full-time student you can apply for exemption – it’s simple as long as you have the right letter. Find out more in my post on council tax and how to apply for council tax exemption as a full-time student.
Let’s face it: compared to living in a student hall, renting a private property can see a lot more hassle and work. Agents, landlords, references, guarantors, housemates, deposits, rent, bills, wifi, TV licence, council tax – the list does of things to think about can seem endless.
Most international students I speak to tend to prefer to live in a student hall on campus or near the university. Many of those renting outside often do so because they have no choice: Either the university doesn’t offer accommodation or they’ve missed their chance to apply.
But believe it or not international students that rent off-campus say there are many advantages. For example, you can choose where to live, whether to live in a flat or house, and who to live with (if you’re renting with friends or even choosing between properties depending on the people that live there). Also, living off-campus means you will live in a smaller property and not a huge student hall.
So don’t be put off by the responsibility – in a way, it’s great preparation for the future and it can really be quite exciting to share a flat or house. Just make sure to choose somewhere you like, you feel you can trust your letting agent if you decide to use one, and you ask for all the relevant information in advance. And don’t forget to insist on an inventory or to create your own.
What is your situation? Are you planning to rent privately because you prefer this option – or is it because you don’t really have a choice? Let me know in the comments below or join me on Facebook.