One of the most important things you will need to have sorted out before you start university is your accommodation.
University owned accommodation
As a first year you will be given the opportunity to stay in halls of residence.
Many new students opt for this, as it allows them to make new friends more easily, is usually better value for money than rented private accommodation (as it includes meals and cleaning) and means they donít have to hunt for accommodation in an area they donít know very well.
Living in halls sometimes has the benefit of being nearest to the university, so you donít have to allow so much extra time for the journey to campus each morning.
University accommodation can vary significantly, so itís worth checking the website of the university you will be attending, or look at their prospectus, to see what the accommodation is like, where it is situated and the facilities it offers, e.g. laundry room, internet access, etc.
If you are considering staying in halls of residence, you should apply as soon as possible, as places fill up fast Ė this means completing the forms correctly and returning them to the university.
These should have been sent to in you in the post after you were offered a place at the university. If they havenít turned up, contact the universityís accommodation office.
If you donít get a place in halls of residence, you may be offered other rented accommodation owned by the university, consisting of a room in a flat or house with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities.
If your accommodation is owned by the university you are likely to be a common law tenant. This means you have rights, although these are often limited.
Private student housing
For your second year of study itís likely youíll be moving out of halls of residence and renting private student accommodation. Itís best to start doing this quite early on, say 8 or 9 months before youíll be coming back to start your second year.
You will also have to decide whether you want to move out on your own or with friends. Most students choose to move into a house with a group of 4 to 6 other people Ė this makes things easier financially by sharing the costs of bills.
If you visit the university accommodation office, they should have a list of places to recommend to you. Check that any properties you are interested in are owned by accredited landlords. This means they have to manage their properties in line with agreed standards.
If they are accredited, find out by who and who handles any complaints. If they arenít accredited, get in touch with you local authority and find out about accreditation schemes operating in the area.
If they canít offer you something suitable, you can look independently by checking ads on notice boards in the university and in places around the town/city where you are.
Alternatively, you can register with a letting agency, who will help you find somewhere appropriate. Make sure the agency is accredited with the National Approved Letting Scheme or that they belong to a trade body such as the Association of Retail Letting Agents or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Also be aware that they may charge you an administration fee if you accept any accommodation they offer.
Before making a decision
Make sure you go and look around the accommodation before you sign any contract or agreement. For your safety, always go with someone when viewing a house or flat, and let other people know where youíre going, who youíre meeting and how long you are likely to be.
Take a good look around the property Ė check for any obvious signs of disrepair and dampness, plus any doors and windows that are not fitted properly that could pose a security issue.
If you are not entirely happy with the place, either discuss any concerns with the landlord to see if they can be fixed before you move in, or turn it down and look elsewhere.
If you decide the accommodation is suitable, landlords and letting agencies will usually ask you to pay a deposit before drawing up a contract. This is to cover unpaid rent and any damage to the property.
Whilst there is no legal limit a landlord can charge for a deposit, it is generally 1 monthís rent. You may also be asked to pay rent in advance (again, usually 1 month), however donít hand over any money until youíve inspected the property yourself and are happy with its condition.
Some landlords will also ask for a guarantor Ė this is someone who agrees to cover costs if you arenít able to pay the rent or cause damage to the property. This will normally be a parent or guardian.
Once you know how much the deposit and any advance rent will be, make sure to get a receipt from the landlord when youíve paid them.
You should also get an inventory of the contents of the accommodation Ė if you donít, ask them to provide one. Try to check and sign the inventory before you move in. This will help you get your deposit back in full when you move out.
Once you've found a suitable place to move into, remember that you still have the same rights as any other private tenant. Some landlords will try to rip students off, thinking they donít know their rights properly, so itís important you do your research into the type of tenancy you have.
As a private tenant, it is likely you will have an assured shorthold tenancy, though there is a chance you may have a different type of tenancy. What is written in the agreement or what your landlord tells you might not be the actual tenancy you have if your landlord doesnít know the housing law well enough.
Remember, the type of tenancy you have will impact on your rights.
Your tenancy agreement
Your written tenancy agreement Ė the contract between you and your landlord - should include information such as the name and address of your landlord; the address of the property youíre renting; how much rent you are paying and how long you can stay in the property.
If these things are not agreed with your landlord, you may not have a legal tenancy. Without this, you will be a non-tenant occupier, which means you will have fewer rights than an actual tenant.
The agreement may also include when the rent is due each month; how it should be paid; what it covers, e.g. bills, TV licence; what furniture is provided, if any; whether you have to pay a deposit and how the tenancy agreement can be brought to an end.
You should also check for any unfair clauses, such as one saying you have to pay for repairs that are the responsibility of the landlord, or one saying your landlord can enter the property whenever they like, without giving you notice.
Unfair terms like these are not legally binding, and if you think your tenancy agreement includes any clauses that seem to be unfair, you can ask a housing advisor at your university accommodation office to look at the agreement for you.
If you are sharing your rented accommodation with university friends or any other people, itís important to know whether you have a sole tenancy, joint tenancy or separate tenancies.
If it is a sole tenancy agreement, then one person in the flat/house has signed the tenancy agreement with the landlord and is responsible for paying all the rent and bills.
Although everyone else still has to pay their share, the person whose name is on the tenancy agreement is responsible for providing the money if one or more people donít pay up their share.
A joint tenancy means everyone living in the house/flat will be on the tenancy agreement and all of you are responsible for paying the rent and bills. If one of you doesnít pay their share, the others will have to.
Separate tenancies means everyone living in the flat/house will have their own agreement with the landlord and are responsible for paying the amount of rent each month as stated in their agreement.
Houses in multiple occupation
If you are going to be living with friends, check with the local authority whether the landlord needs to obtain a 'House in Multiple Occupation' (HMO) licence for your property.
This is the responsibility of the landlord, and as of 6th July 2006, it is an offence to operate an HMO without a licence. If you are living with 2 or more people unrelated to you, it's likely you will be living in an HMO.
As of 6th April 2006, your house must be specially licensed as a 'House in Multiple Occupation' if it has:
Some local authorities may also choose to license houses with smaller numbers of occupants or storeys. This licence requires landlords to be capable managers, and to ensure the house is occupied by a limited number of people.