Living off campus with a group of friends can be a really fun and rewarding experience but it can also be a minefield of potential problems. In order to make the whole process a little easier we have prepared this ‘Student Housing Guide to Living off Campus in Lancaster’ to provide a little help.
If it feels a bit strange and selfish to be picky about choosing potential housemates it is important to remember you’ll be spending a year with them. Differences in lifestyle can and will be a source of conflict once you are living together in a student house so it is important to choose carefully.
Important things to consider when choosing housemates: Are you more interested in partying than working or vice versa? Are you messy? Are your potential housemates messy? Do you need privacy or are you comfortable to leave your door open? Early bird or late owl? Will you disturb your housemates with your drunken antics at 3 in the morning? Be honest about your interests and what you want out of a housemate. If there are too many differences, you may need to think again. It may turn out better not to share with a friend and keep the friendship healthy, rather than risk a big falling out.
Looking for suitable Student Housing
How to find student accommodation that is right for you – The quality of your experience living off campus is as much about choosing the right landlord as it is about choosing the right student house. There are many different landlords in Lancaster offering a whole range of student housing, varying in both size and quality. It is therefore very important to take time to properly investigate your options rather than jumping in head first only to regret your decision when it‘s too late. Remember that once you have signed a tenancy agreement you can’t change your mind!
During your first few weeks at university you will be blitzed with flyers, free gifts and other marketing material from the larger private student housing companies wanting your custom. Whilst these companies are worthy of consideration it is important to look past the flashy marketing material and judge what some of the smaller landlords are offering in terms or quality and value for money, you may be pleasantly surprised! A quick search for ‘student housing in Lancaster’ on Google will generate a list of many smaller landlords, many of whom offer competitive rental packages far cheaper than their larger competitors.
We have heard many stories from tenants about the poorly maintained properties and the bad service they have received from larger operators so its important to look past the glossy façade. Just because a landlord has many properties does not mean that the properties are maintained to a high standard or that they offer superior customer service, in fact our experience tells us that the reverse is often true. It is also important to understand who you will be dealing with on a day to day basis. Talk of lettings managers and maintenance teams are all well and good but giving the perception of a professional service is far easier than the reality of delivering it.
Here at StudentHQ Lettings we feel strongly that it should be your prospective landlord who shows you around the properties, not a letting agent or existing tenants. We feel it is important that there is one point of contact giving you the confidence that any issues or problems will be dealt with in an efficient manner.
The best student housing will normally rent quickly so if you are keen to find a nice student house then it is advisable to start looking at the beginning of October for the following academic year. We are not suggesting that you should rush your decision but you are better off starting the process early to avoid disappointment. We would always recommend that you draw up a shortlist of student houses that you are interested in viewing so that you can compare what is on offer. See a selection, but don’t over do it, four viewings provides a great comparison and allows enough time to view each one, get the detail you need and prevents you forgetting what you’ve seen. Organise a day when as many housemates as possible are available that way it is easier to make a decision once you find a house that you all like. It’s always a good idea to take a notebook with you so that you can list down the pro’s and con’s of each property you view.
Key things you need to think about before arranging viewings: How many bedrooms do you require, there is no point viewing a four bedroom property if there are only three people in your group. Where do you want to live? Do you want an all inclusive rental package with bills included? Do you want double beds? Do you want to be close to public transport? Do you need parking? Do you want to be close to pubs and entertainment.
Always make an appointment – You should never visit an property you have seen advertised without first making an appointment with the landlord or property manager. With lots of competition for the best housing, make a good impression and use the opportunity to ask some questions.
Questions before you view – Use the opportunity when booking a viewing to ask a few key questions. The answers may save you a trip: Is the landlord fussy about the make-up of the group? Some landlords may only accept mixed sex groups or non-smokers. When is the housing available, and does this fit with when you need to move in? Will you be expected to pay rent over the summer? This is common, as many tenancies last for twelve months. Some landlords reduce the rent over the summer, so it’s worth checking. If you have a pet, then will your landlord allow it to stay too?
You should always turn up for a viewing on time as the landlords must give the existing tenants notice as to when the viewing will take place. If you are running late or can’t make the viewing you should give the landlord as much notice as possible in order to cause minimum inconvenience. It is normally a good idea to turn up a little earlier so that you can check out the area and locate local amenities, etc.
Checklist Don’t be shy about asking questions, or worry about being nosy. Feel free to speak to the existing tenants and ask them about the landlord. Never feel pressured into making a decision, take your time to think about it first. Checking the property is in good condition, but try not to judge a property on how clean it is as that is mostly likely down to the existing tenants!
Internal features Is there a central heating system? Is there instant hot water? Check what furniture is included and that it is in good condition. Check what appliances are included. Are there any signs of mould, damp or vermin? Does the property smell? Are the bedrooms well ventilated?
External features Check the condition of the roof, are there any broken or missing tiles that may cause a leaking? Check that windows and doors fit properly, is there double glazing fitted? Check the external walls for any damp or dis-coloured patches, which is usually caused by broken gutters. Is there adequate space for bins?
Safety Are there enough working fire alarms? Are plug sockets cracked or damaged? Are there enough sockets in each room so you don’t have to overload electrical points? Is the furniture fire resistant? Does the kitchen have a fire blanket or fire extinguisher? Do the doors have decent 5 lever mortice locks and are there locks on windows? Do the doors have thumb turn locks for easy escape in the event of a fire?
Questions that you may consider asking the Landlord
Ask to see a copy of the current gas safety certificate, which is required by law. If the student house you are viewing has five or more bedrooms then it is classified as a HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) and should by law be fully licensed by Lancaster City Council. If this is the case then ask to see a copy of the licence. Ask about the duration of the contract. When the rent is due to be paid. If a fully inclusive rental package is being offered be sure to check what is included and whether this is based on an allowance or quota per person. Ask what furniture is included with the property. Ask about local amenities, bus routes and access to parking (if required) Ask the landlord how any maintenance issues will be resolved during the tenancy
Speaking to Existing Tenants
Existing tenants can be a great source of information about the area, the house and the landlord. We are happy for prospective tenants to speak to our existing tenants, if a landlord was unhappy with this it would suggest that they may have something to hide.
Making a Decision
You should never make a rash decision when viewing a property as this is likely to end in tears. Some less scrupulous landlords use scare mongering to pressurised groups into making a decision so unless you are totally happy do not agree to sign any contracts. With that said the best student accommodation will naturally rent quickly so once you have all decided which property you like it is best to inform the landlord as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
The Tenancy Agreement
The tenancy agreement is a legally binding document setting out each party’s rights and responsibilities. By signing it, both you and the landlord have certain rights protected in law, which cannot be overwritten by the contract. Before you sign make sure that you understand all clauses, so there can be no nasty surprises after you’ve signed. We would always recommend that you ask the landlord for a copy of the tenancy agreement prior to signing so that you have time to read it through and seek advice from your parents if required. If a landlord refuses to provide you with a copy of the tenancy then you should question why. In most cases the tenancy agreement is likely to be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement and will normally last for between 44 and 52 weeks. Many tenancies run for a fixed term, i.e. July 1st 2015 to June 30th 2016. In this case make sure that you are happy with the length of the contract as it is very unlikely that you will be able to end the tenancy early.
A legal tenancy agreement must include the following: The address of the property to be let The names of all tenants The landlord’s name and address. The date the tenancy begins and its duration. How much the rent is and when it should be paid The rights and responsibilities of the tenants The rights and responsibilities of the landlord The signatures of all parties.
Houses in multiple occupation
Some larger properties are required by law to be licensed by Lancaster city council. In Lancaster a student house must be specially licensed as a ‘House in Multiple Occupation’ (HMO) if it has: five or more unrelated people sharing; and three or more storeys If you are unsure whether the property you are planning to rent should have a HMO licence then check with the local authority. The purpose of the licence is to ensure that the property is appropriate for the number of occupants and that the landlord is a fit and proper person.
Your tenancy agreement will provide you with all of the details regarding when your lease comes to an end along with anything else you are required to do. If you think there could be a lot of rubbish to dispose of on moving day, try to stagger the amount of waste you put out for collection over a few weeks. In the weeks building up to moving day, gather together as many boxes as possible along with as any other items you feel may be useful for transporting your possessions. Supermarkets and shops are usually a good place to find unwanted cardboard boxes that can be reused for free. Try to eat as much of your leftover food (probably a lot of baked beans!) as possible before you move to save cash and space.
Before you leave the property:
Ensure all refuse has been removed from the property including the including yard. Wash walls and skirting boards to remove any marks and grime. Replace anything which has been broken or notify the landlord. Vacuum carpets and mop floors. Give all rooms a thorough cleans, especially communal areas such as kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. Air the property as much as possible. Defrost the freezer and clean the fridge (remove all food) Take pictures of the house once you’ve cleaned and removed your possessions just in case there are any disputes over the condition the house has been left in. Ensure that all keys are returned to the landlord.