Page header: House Hunting

If you haven't rented a house before (or even if you have!) the process can be overwhelming and complicated.

With that in mind we've put together a step by step guide to stress free house hunting that should leave you informed and confident about getting into the rental market!

+ Who are you living with?

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...

Your housemates

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?

Both larger and smaller groups can be fun to live with, and you can work things out to make sure none of your mates get left without anywhere to live. Large houses can be popular however 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!
  • Can you all afford the same rent & bills?
  • Do you all have similar ideas about parties? Loud music? When to sleep?
  • Do your courses all have the same academic demands?
  • Will everyone do their fair share of washing up and cleaning?
  • Will you feel able to discuss issues comfortably with your housemates?

+ The big stuff - what to look for in a house

Happy with housemates? Now sit down and work out some of the key details.

Budget

  • Deposit & letting fees must be paid up front
  • Monthly rent costs
  • Bills bills bills - remember to add them too

Location

  • Distance from University
  • What area of Bristol suits you?
  • Deal breakers

What are the features, above all else, you want this house to have? What are you prepared to compromise on?

It could be things like good-sized rooms, parking, bike storage, or a garden.

+ When to start?

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.

The University of Bristol housing advice fair is on 30th November, and Bristol SU Lettings release their listings in early December.

Don't feel pressured! 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!

Some 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 don't want to 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.

+ Check out some lettings

Bristol SU Lettings is the best place to start as they charge zero agency fees and are run by the SU, so they put students first! Bristol SU Lettings has a 93% approval rating from students.

Plus...

  • Be wary of online rental scams
  • Use a trusted letting agent or landlord
  • Never wire money
  • Never pay a ‘holding deposit’, rent or any money without visiting the property

Check out online reviews

You might want to avoid letting agents with bad reputations. See reviews of student accommodation at movem.co.uk

Book a viewing

  • Try to arrange a time that is suitable for everyone that you want to live with
  • Never go alone. If you do have to, let someone know where you are going
  • Never take large amounts of cash with you
  • Make a list of questions to ask at the viewing

At the viewing

  • Read through our viewing checklist
  • Consider visiting before your viewing to check out the area
  • Visit at night to see how you feel
  • Are you happy with the commute to University?
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the agent or landlord and tenants questions
  • If you feel unsafe at any point, trust your instincts and leave!
  • Take lots of pictures

+ Your safety - Who's responsible?

Landlords are responsible for:

  • Any furniture they provide - upholstered furniture should be fire resistant
  • Electrical wiring
  • Any electrical appliances they provide
  • The gas supply
  • Any gas appliances they provide - they have a legal duty to have these checked each year by a gas safe engineer

You're responsible for:

Checking the fire and smoke alarms work after you move in. If an alarm stops working, check if it needs new batteries or contact the landlord to arrange a replacement alarm.

  • You should allow your landlord access to your home to fit or repair smoke alarms.

+ Before you sign - Your agency, deposit and more

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 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.
  • Get any promises or agreements about improvements to the house in writing before you sign the contract. Using email is a good way to do this.

If you’re concerned about, or you don’t understand, your tenancy agreement: speak to the Accommodation Office before 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 the moving 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”. If you don’t have a UK guarantor, you could consider offering one of the following options instead:

  • Housing Hand: Whether you are a UK or International student and need a guarantor, housing hand can be your UK guarantor so that you can pay your rent monthly. The University is partnering Housing Hand to provide guarantees for students at a fixed cost of £225 for the year or 8 monthly payments of £30. You can find out more here
  • 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

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