This was originally published in the Cardiff Times September 2013 Edition.
For many students independence is something to welcome from the overall university experience. Often privately rented accommodation is one element of this.
Unfortunately regulation of the student sector in this industry is not as watertight as it could be, thereby sometimes resulting in a less than desirable experience for students. In particular the, sometimes, last minute need to acquire accommodation is unfortunately an advantage to unscrupulous landlords. Yet it does not have to be all doom and gloom. There are ways to prevent such landlords or letting agents from taking an opportunity even when time is not your advantage. Like university studies, itself, it just takes a bit of hard work and research. Here are a few areas that I personally think are the most critical for students to consider.
The first concerns that most basic living consideration for student; money, which provides for your food, rent, drink, learning materials etc. The deposit for a house is therefore an investment which you will inevitably want back. To do so it is useful to have knowledge of the appropriate legislation.
Since 2007 landlords are legally obliged to protect their tenant’s deposits with one of three government authorised tenancy deposit schemes. These aim to protect students that were previously potentially forced to bring lengthy court cases to landlords over disputes. In addition landlords potentially face a fine if they fail to inform their tenants of the scheme that they are using within 14 days of accepting a deposit. A inventory is therefore valuable to maintain if the landlord fails to do so themselves at the commencement of the tenancy, as required. This way you keep the deposit as safe as you would your most personal possessions. This can simply be digital photographs. Most importantly it allows you to counter any illegitimate or spurious claims of property damage from a stronger position.
Another important area to resolve is council tax. Full time students are not required to pay council tax, unless they are sharing a house with part-time students. Most likely either the university or letting agency will notify students of this themselves and explain the need to provide a completed exemption form to cover your tenancy period. This should be available from your university during term time. An issue I encountered regarding my own exemption form was that it, annoyingly, ran out just a few weeks before I intended to move home. A phone call and a trip to Cardiff’ council’s central office was all it took to sort it however so if you face this at the end of time as a student yourself you don’t need to worry. Speaking to my own course-mates it seemed they had not encountered such a problem so it is unlikely.
One of the most critical safety concerns is that relating to a Gas Safety certificate. Landlords are legally obliged to provide one of these. If they have not done so upon the first few days of your tenancy, at the very least, it is imperative that you notify and try to resolve the issue. Though not as dangerous as a gas leak burglars sometimes target student areas as they often view student houses as less secure properties. In this situation therefore at the very least asking the landlord to fix key operating locks is advisable.
When I was viewing a specific house for my final year I only learned afterwards that the area in Cardiff where it was located was, in fact, one of the most deprived areas of the UK. A positive consequence was that I was exposed to a vital lesson – explore an area to gain a true feel of how safe and secure it really is. Don’t solely rely on online photographs for a reliable impression
Lastly, friends are a benefit when challenges do arise. Even when time is short getting to know a potential flatmate is only beneficial to manage tensions that may, almost inevitably come up at some point in the future.