Unlike the popular perception, the biggest challenge I faced during my years as an international student in the UK was not passing my exams, or even the long hours of study, but finding and renting a room or apartment each year (or sometimes multiple times a year!) after the holidays were over. For me the whole process was stressful, time consuming and, more often than not, expensive. I dreaded the moment I would have to pack and start going to viewings, especially because I was not used to moving ALL my possessions around so much (in my home country people usually own their homes and they rarely, if ever, move). Nevertheless, you need not panic as here are a few things you need to know in order to make the whole process a lot easier and hassle free:
1. Start looking early
I started looking for accommodation even before moving to the UK as I wanted to save as much time and money as possible. Unlike my experience of renting in Italy for a summer, where I was able to secure a room in a private accommodation before my arrival, I soon found out that the same could not be done in the UK – here I would have to book a ‘viewing’ and see the place in person before renting anything. This does not have to be a big inconvenience if you have friends or family in the city that can host you while you go to viewings (or if you can afford various days at a hotel), but otherwise you should research and plan in advance to make sure you will not end up spending more than you can afford. One thing that I found helpful is to join a Facebook students’ group (e.g. ‘University of Birmingham Students’, ‘UoB French Society’ if you are from France, etc.). There you can ask if someone has a spare room to rent before arriving in the UK, or you can even find that someone from your university is already advertising a spare room in their flat (if you message them they might agree to hold the room for you to see upon your arrival). Planning in advance is key!
2. Research different options
However, not all students will want to rent a privately owned accommodation (such as a flat or room let by an agency or a private landlord, etc.), some students, depending on their budget and preferences, prefer to stay in a student hall. Student halls work great for some people and they are really good places for socialising and tasting a bit of that party filled student life. They are also usually located inside or really close to the campus which can be a blessing when you have to make it to that 9am lecture (*sigh*). However, depending on the part of the country, they may also be or not be more expensive than private accommodations. To see if this is the case in the city where you will be living try comparing the student hall rents to those of private accommodations using
websites such as Zoopla or Rightmove (the rent prices of student halls can usually be found on your university’s website).
If you decide that you want to rent privately, try checking the websites of some the local letting agencies in addition to property portals like those mentioned above. What I found was that some properties are not always advertised on big portals (at least not right away), so checking with the agencies might give you a chance to take a look at the best flats before they are quickly rented away to other (better informed) people. You’re welcome!
3. Learn about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant
Whether you live in a university provided accommodation or a privately rented one, it is always very important to know what type of tenancy agreement you have and, depending on this, what are your rights. If you live in an accommodation that is provided by an educational institution such as a university, you will be an occupier with basic protection, which means your rights are limited and as long as your landlord follows the correct legal process you can be evicted quite easily. Therefore knowing your rights and responsibilities is essential.
If you choose to rent privately, either through an agency or private landlord, always ask for a copy of the contract when you move in (if you are not provided one). As well, make sure you know your rights and responsibilities depending on your tenancy agreement (in most cases this will be a short assured tenancy). If you are unsure what your rights and responsibilities are, a lot of useful information about private renting can be found on the government’s website.
4. Check the flat for problems and ask for an inventory before moving in
Before moving in make sure you have a good look at the flat for any signs of mould or damp. These are serious threats to your health and should immediately be reported to your landlord if found. Mould and damp are caused by excess moisture inside the house, therefore, besides obvious signs of these nasty things lurking on the walls, check that the place has effective heating, adequate window coverings, or any signs of leaking near toilets or sinks.
As well, check the floor and carpets to make sure they are clean, not stained or smelling bad. When inspecting the windows see if they open and close properly (a window that does not open is a huge safety hazard!). Check the blinds while you’re at it, too.
Flick all the light switches, and plug an appliance into all the outlets to make sure they are functional. Smoke detectors, water boiler, faucets, shower, door locks, wardrobes and drawers, stove and fridge, they should all be inspected and found to be working and in good condition.
If your landlord or agency does not provide you with an inventory (a detailed list of all the goods that were in the property when you moved in), insist that they provide one. Then take a tour of the house and compare each description on the document with what you see – this is your chance to find any inconsistencies in the inventory and let your landlord know (so that at the end of your tenancy you are not responsible to pay for something that you did not break).
5. Less is more
Do NOT bring all your house with you, you will end up throwing most of the things away for lack of space or utility. Most flats come with all the kitchen crockery or, really, everything that you might need to share with your flatmates (if something is needed you will all share the cost and buy it). As well – towels, linens, duvets, blankets, besides being extremely expensive and difficult to transport, you most likely will not need to bring any as there will be some in the house when you move, adversely you can buy cheap ones on sale or at a charity shop all year round. Speaking of charity shops, there you can also find cheap clothes, books, DVDs or weird and funny decorations for your room without having to break your piggy bank. More about money saving tips and costs of living in the UK you can find here.
Melisa Costinea, comms intern for UKCISA, studying Social Science Research Methods at UCL.
These are just a few things that I wish I had known about housing and moving to the UK when I was a fresher, but you can read more about choosing your housing here. Did we miss something important? Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below!