By Ciara Grout, Third Year Spanish and Film
University can induce more than just academic stress. Renting your first property is complicated, and the extortionate prices can be overwhelming. On top of this, student lease agreements can be difficult to navigate with no prior experience. Avoid frustration by preparing financially, building a good relationship with your landlord, and brushing up on your rights.
One of the largest challenges that students face is affording upfront costs and rent over the summer. In order to ensure constant cash flow and avoid a gap in occupancy, most landlords and letting agents only offer 12-month tenancies beginning in July. This means that the first rent instalment is due weeks or even months before the student receives their maintenance loan for the academic year.
In the Bristol market, deposits are paid when the tenancy agreement is signed, typically between January and March before the academic year. Students should prepare for an upfront cost of around £1,500. This includes one month’s rent (averaging at £680) plus a tenancy deposit (capped at five weeks’ rent, about £850). Landlords may also request a holding deposit. This payment is capped at one week’s rent and shared between tenants. The landlord may only keep this deposit for 15 days unless agreed otherwise.
HYBR offers friendly support to first-time renters and helps students to navigate the rental market. Hannah Chappatte, a former University of Bristol student, co-founded the accommodation platform to improve the experience of student tenants and create equality in a market where a lack of supply means that landlords often hold all the power.
She emphasised the importance of building a rapport with your landlord or letting agency, in order to facilitate leniency with payment dates or the option of subletting your room over the summer. She explained that ‘The way you ask is so important—being very polite and using formal language’.
The CEO added that by reassuring the landlord that you are responsible tenants, you can increase your chances of them saying yes to your requests. In practice, this means introducing yourselves as tenants when initially reaching out, and proving that you are being proactive to ensure that they receive their payments according to your student finance plan.
‘More than ever, you need to be considering not just the rent, but bills and travel costs’
Although a survey conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS) revealed that fewer than 50 per cent of students knew their renter’s rights or felt able to assert them, Hannah reported that her agency receives calls from landlords frustrated with poor treatment from student tenants on a daily basis. ‘From the student’s perspective, they’re just really nervous. They’re scared about their finances, they don’t think they have any leverage, and they’re just trying to get their point across and assert themselves.’ The preconception that the relationship between students and landlords will be one of mutual disrespect is a source of constant clashes, and therefore the ‘human element’ is vital for a pleasant tenancy for both parties.
If you cannot finance upfront costs yourself or with a guarantor, student bank accounts offer an interest-free overdraft of up to £3,000. This expense can then be replaced once the maintenance loan is received, depending upon the amount issued as per your student finance contract. Overdrafts remain interest-free until graduation, meaning that second-year students have at least one year to pay back this loan. Another option is to take out a short-term loan with a lending company. However, interest rates are often steep and it is important to ensure that you can pay back in full to avoid fines and a damaged credit record.
Unfortunately, maintenance loans are often not enough to cover the cost of rent and upfront costs. This scenario is more prevalent than ever with the growing cost of living crisis. Maintenance loans will not be increasing in line with the rate of inflation; loans for students from England are predicted to rise 2.3 per cent over the next academic year, with forecasts of an inflation rate of 12 per cent in the autumn.
Hannah emphasised the importance of taking all things into account when considering your budget, outlining that ‘More than ever, you need to be considering not just the rent, but bills and travel costs’. She suggested that travelling further to university could well save money overall, especially if your course is provided online. Students must weigh up the cost of travel expenses, local supermarket prices, and parking permits. Although rent often includes utilities and internet provision, it is important to check your lease agreement and research additional costs needed. With the rising cost of living, the bills-inclusive option may be cheaper in comparison to previous years.
As a first-time renter, you are more vulnerable to unfair terms due to a lack of experience.
As a first-time renter, you are more vulnerable to unfair terms due to a lack of experience. You should always make sure to contact your landlord or letting agent in writing, to support your case in any potential future disagreements. To ensure that unfair costs are not deducted from your tenancy agreement, it is vital to check the inventory when moving in. It’s always a good idea to take video and photographic evidence of any existing damage to the property. Check that your deposit is being protected by a mediator service and contact them in the case that your landlord withholds the deposit for any reason.
Specific clauses to look out for include ‘how you should behave in the property, the condition of the property, and who is responsible for what’, advised Hannah. Additional clauses such as noise after a certain time can easily lead to a breach of the tenancy agreement. Not only can this lead to eviction and disciplinary action from the university, but the council could issue a fixed penalty notice with a fine.
HYBR will soon publish a ‘Contract for Dummies’ guide, which will replicate a tenancy agreement, but using simple terms. The goal is to explain difficult terminology and law jargon that can be overwhelming for first-time renters.
Featured Image: Flickr / Nick Sarebi
HYBR is keen for students to reach out for support—you can contact them for advice or help with queries.