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A guide to student accommodation in Wales

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As a student going to university you will face a lot of new and unfamiliar challenges. Perhaps the biggest one is finding somewhere to live.

If you are planning to live away from home, chances are it will either be in a hall of residence or renting from a private landlord.

Wherever you end up living there are a number of things you should know about how the law protects you from unsafe or badly managed housing.

You need to be aware of the implications of entering into a contractual relationship with your landlord in which both sides have certain rights and obligations.

Above all you need to think about the sort of community you are going to be living in.

As a student looking for somewhere to live, here are just some of the things you need to think about.

If you’re going into halls of residence, it will either be provided by the university or a commercial company. Either way the standard of accommodation will probably be covered by a code of practice. Ask the accommodation provider for a copy.

If you’re going into privately rented accommodation, you can either rent a house or flat together with some friends or, if you’re searching on your own, your best bet may be to find someone who lets out rooms in their home.

Don’t leave it too late to begin looking for somewhere to live. Remember that the best value accommodation tends to go first. Most universities publish lists of accommodation during the Spring. Make sure you know when the list is coming out and check that the properties on it are accredited by the university or local authority.

If you are dealing directly with a landlord, you should make some enquiries to see if they are reputable. Ask the university accommodation office what being on their list of providers means in practice. Does the university operate an accreditation scheme for landlords? If not, does the local council run one? If the landlord is not on any recognised list supplied by the university don’t be afraid to ask them what experience they have.

If you are dealing with a letting agency, find out if they belong to a trade body or accreditation scheme – Association of Residential Letting Agents, National Association of Estate Agents, National Approved Letting Scheme and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Agents belonging to these bodies are bonded, which means any rent money you pay to them is insured against theft and fraud and they have redress schemes in the event of things going wrong.

You may be asked to put down a holding deposit to secure the accommodation. Before doing this, make sure you know the circumstances in which you can pull out and get your money back.

Don’t sign a tenancy agreement or pay the full security deposit/first months’ rent until you are absolutely sure you want to take the accommodation and all your finance is in place - especially any student loans or grants. A reputable landlord or agent should not pressure you to sign a tenancy until shortly before the tenancy is due to begin.

If you are going to share a house or flat with friends, you’ll probably be offered a joint tenancy. This means you will each be jointly and severally liable to pay the rent or for any damage caused to the property.

You may be asked to provide someone to act as a guarantor for your rent. Usually, this would be a parent or guardian. They will be liable to pay your rent if you default. In a joint tenancy this liability may extend beyond liability for just your rent. Make sure you fully understand the terms of the guarantee before agreeing to it.

You will probably be asked to pay a security deposit. This is an amount of money to cover against unpaid rent and/or damage to the property. Make sure you understand the terms on which some or all of your deposit can be withheld and that the landlord/agent does a full inventory of the condition of the property and its contents before you move in.

Tenancy Deposit Protection came into force from April 2007. For more details go to: Tenancy Deposit Protection.

New Health and Safety Rules, which came into force in June 2006, relate to the fitness of all accommodation. Your local authority’s Environmental Health Officers are responsible for enforcing them.

Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation may now apply to shared student housing. The licence will specify the maximum number who may permanently reside in a house and your landlord should make it a condition of your tenancy that you do not allow this number to be exceeded. If five or more students share a house that has three or more storeys it must be licensed by the local council. Some councils may also license smaller student houses. If you have any questions, check with your local authority.

Once you have sorted out your accommodation and are happy with it and the people you are going to be living with, spare a thought for your new neighbours. It’s nice to live in a mixed community but try to avoid conflict by having respect for other people’s way of life. Not everyone will enjoy your musical tastes or like to party late into the night!

And remember if you have any problems with your accommodation don’t just ignore them. They won’t just go away. Speak to your student housing officer or the NUS. Other advice agencies that may be able to help include the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux and your local council.

Want to learn more about all these issues? Go to...

  1. The Universities UK website for their Code of Practice and advice on students in the community: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk
  2. The Accreditation Network UK website for their Code of Practice and advice on accreditation schemes generally: www.anuk.org.uk
  3. The NUS website: www.nusonline.co.uk