House Hunting

Image of the Clifton Suspension Bridge

Don’t Panic!

There are plenty of houses to go around! Agents/landlords may tell you that houses are running out or in short supply – that just isn’t true. Properties are registered all year round. Bristol SU Lettings is a great place to start looking for property as they will not charge you any fees for booking your accommodation through them.

Remember what you’re looking for in a house, and don’t be tempted to drop your standards or sign for something you can’t afford to pay, you will find what you’re looking for eventually!

Unscrupulous landlords or agents may try to pressure you into looking and signing for properties early. Remember that they’re the ones on the back foot here – they’re worried that they’ll be left with an empty property. They might even be trying to get you into a house they couldn’t rent last year! They might show you grotty houses first to make it seem that there are only a few good ones out there, or try to tempt you with a ‘discount’ or ‘gift’. If you’re worried about anything a landlord or agent says to you, get advice from the Accommodation Office.

What to Look for in a House

Location, Location, Location

First and foremost – where do you want to live? Make sure that the location you’re aiming for:

  • is within your budget
  • makes it easy to get to University
  • makes it easy to get to places you like to go out

Housemates

Most students live in groups: it’s often cheaper, often easier to find properties and usually more fun. But remember that you’ll usually be responsible for the house (and the state you leave it in) as a group – so think carefully about who you’ll be living with...

Who?

Think about how well you know your housemates – if you don’t live with them already, you might not realise how clean or noisy they are, or how much they party, until you move in with them.  If you already live together, think carefully about how you get along as a group.

If you haven’t met anyone you’d like to like to live with yet, don’t panic. There are always adverts in the Union building, and around Clifton (such as outside the 10 o'clock shop), for housemates wanted. The Accommodation Office also have a bulletin board where students advertise their spare rooms. 

How Many?

Large groups can be lots of fun, and you can make sure none of your mates get left without anywhere to live. But the flipside is that it limits your choices, and can increase the possibility of arguments over noise or cleanliness. If you can’t find a (decent) house that you can all fit into, think about splitting into two smaller groups and looking for two houses close to each other instead.

What else?

What do you think of your housemates’ friends/boyfriends/girlfriends? Chances are you’ll be seeing a lot of them too!

Other Things to Consider

Think about what you really need/want from your home – and make sure you talk to your housemates about it! Don’t feel pressured to live somewhere you don’t like, don’t feel comfortable with, or can’t afford. 

  • some things can be compromised – but others, like location and cost, might be a deal-breaker
  • different students have different priorities – you may not be able to live without a power shower, while your housemate might be lost if she’s not able to take a bath at the end of a hard day. The most important thing is to talk about, and agree on, what’s important to you as a group
  • room size can be a killer, especially in bigger houses – be honest and upfront with your housemates about whether you’d be willing to have a smaller room (and if you are, make sure you’re clear on whether you’ll be paying less rent as a result)

Legal Stuff

There’s no getting away from it – your tenancy agreement is a legal contract. As such, there are all sorts of important things to think about. Some of the main ones are set out below, but for specific advice and more information, speak to a Just Ask adviser or the University’s Accommodation Office.

The Accommodation Office offer a contract checking service. We strongly recommend using it!

Tenancy Agreements

Once you’ve signed a tenancy agreement, it’s very hard to get out of! So make absolutely sure yours says what you want it to, and that you understand what you’re signing.

In particular, think about:

  • when your tenancy starts and ends – are you paying money for an empty house over the summer?
  • is your tenancy joint or several? This affects your liability for rent and damage, so be clear about it
  • do you have an assured shorthold tenancy? This is the most common type of tenancy, and gives you specific rights to repairs (amongst other things)
  • does your contract allow your landlord to make extra charges or fees? Make sure you’re comfortable with these.

If you’re concerned about, or you don’t understand, your tenancy agreement: speak to the Accommodation Officebefore you sign anything!

Agency Fees

If you rent through an agent, you are likely to have to pay agency fees. As a matter of law, agents are not allowed to charge you a fee (or whatever else they try and call it!) for:

  • registering your details; or
  • supplying lists of available properties.

If an agent tries to charge you for either (or both) of these things, please report them to a Just Ask adviser.

However, an agent can charge you for things like:

  • taking references and/or carrying out credit checks
  • preparing and amending tenancy agreement
  • a deposit to hold the property
  • preparing guarantees and checking guarantors.

If you’re not 100% happy with an agent’s fees, behaviour or documents, DON’T SIGN ANYTHING AND DON’T PAY THEM ANY MONEY!

Deposits

Pretty much every landlord/agent will insist on you paying a deposit when you accept the property. This is usually equivalent to 4-6 weeks’ rent (but may be more, for example if you don’t have a guarantor).

The purpose of a deposit is to protect the landlord from any financial loss he/she suffers as a result of you not behaving properly in the house. As such, your landlord may deduct money from your deposit for:

  • replacing items you’ve lost, stolen or damaged
  • cleaning
  • unpaid rent
  • repairing damage to the property
  • other losses – such as the cost of changing locks and getting new keys if you don’t return your keys on time, or the cost of re-advertising your room if you leave your tenancy early

For tips and advice on how to make sure you get as much of your deposit back as possible, have a look at themoving in and moving out sections of our website.

If you have an assured shorthold tenancy (“AST”), your landlord is obliged to protect your deposit. He/she should tell you within 14 days of receiving your deposit how your deposit is being protected. Some landlords try to get around this by calling your deposit something else. If this is the case, or you're concerned (or unsure about) whether your deposit is being properly protected, speak to the University’s Accommodation Office.

Guarantors

Most agencies and landlords will require a guarantor for your tenancy. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay your landlord (usually for rent or damage) if you do not. Precisely what your guarantor will be liable to pay depends on:

  • what the guarantee says (so make sure you, and your guarantor, check this!)
  • what your tenancy agreement says (that is, if you have a joint tenancy agreement and your guarantor is acting for ‘the tenant’, then your guarantor is effectively guaranteeing the whole property)
  • the amount of your deposit (if your deposit is more than the amount of damage or unpaid rent that the landlord is claiming, then the landlord won’t need to ask your guarantor for any more cash)

Most landlords will insist on the guarantor being a “UK guarantor” (mainly because they’re easier to chase for money!). If you don’t have a UK guarantor, you could consider offering one of the following options instead:

  • a larger deposit (if you can afford it)
  • a certain number of months’ rent in advance (again, only if you can afford it)
  • a reference from your previous landlord
  • a reference from your bank or employer