Getting everything moved into a new home is very stressful and always takes longer than expected. It can be especially nerve-racking for students who have never lived away from their parents before.
It is essential to agree an accurate inventory of what items are in the property, and their condition, before you arrive. You become liable for the replacement or cost of repair to any items that you agree are present and in good condition when you move in if they are no longer there or damaged when you move out. Loss of items on the inventory, or damage to them, is likely to mean that you lose some or all of your deposit.
You should carefully check the inventory before you move in. Where you disagree with the noted condition of a listed item you should write to the landlord, or landlord's agent, pointing this out and request a meeting to prove that an item is already damaged, or not present.
Where the property, or items in it, are in bad condition – carpet stains, wallpaper damage, cracked window or mirror, etc – take photos of these before you move in and get the landlord to sign them.
Only agree to pay a rent that you can afford. You should sit down and work out a budget before you agree with a landlord how much you will pay in rent.
It is easy to overestimate what is affordable. Remember when putting together a budget to include:
- Books for your study
- Meals, including lunch
- Transport, for getting to university and visiting parents and friends at weekends
- Social activities in the evenings and at weekends
If you are working as well as studying, you will be able to offset your income against your costs when working out the budget.
You also need to bear in mind that you will have a lot of money to pay out initially. You are likely to have to pay one month in advance for rent, plus another month or six weeks as a deposit. Add to this the fact that there are probably things for your new home you will want to buy or may need to purchase: bedding, lamps, cleaning materials and basic foodstuffs.
Make sure you get a receipt every time you pay your rent and keep it safely. That way the landlord, or agent, cannot later claim not to have received the money. An alternative – which provides a better safeguard for everyone – is to pay by direct debit or standing order.
Make sure that you know the landlord's address and phone number in case there is a problem.
Sharing: rent, bills and lead tenants
There may be a 'lead' tenant, whose name is on the tenancy agreement. That person is responsible, individually, for the payment of all the rent. If other people agree to share and fail to pay their part of the rent, decide at the last moment to pull out, or go off in a huff somewhere else, then the lead tenant may find that they have to pay much more than their share of the rent.
The landlord is under no obligation to seek the rent from anyone other than the person who is on the tenancy agreement and their guarantor. The same is true of the utility companies – they will seek to recover payment from whoever is the named person on the contract.
Sadly, it is very common for friends who share a house or flat to fall out over the payments. It is not only necessary for everyone to pay their share of the rent as agreed – they also need to pay their share of the electricity, gas and phone bills and for their food. Think before you share about whether you can trust your friends to pay what they owe.
If the named tenant is paying the landlord by standing order it may be sensible for the other tenants to pay their share to the named tenant also by standing order.
Where the group as a whole are all signatories to the tenancy agreement, it is helpful if they all pay the landlord directly from their bank accounts by direct debit or standing order.
Paying by direct debit and standing order
Tenants are often encouraged to pay their bills by direct debit or standing order. These are different forms of electronic transfers from your bank account. The difference is that a direct debit is set up and controlled by the company or organisation that you are paying. A standing order is a regular payment that is set up and controlled by the person making the payment. This can be done online if you operate an Internet bank account. You need to make sure you have sufficient money in your account for the bank to process a direct debit or standing order. If you don't, you could face penalty charges from the bank and the risk that the payment is refused.
Before you move in you will need to speak to the various utility companies, notify them of the date and time you are moving in and make sure that you are not going to be billed for what the people who lived there before consumed. Check when your first bills arrive that you are only charged for what you owe and only from the date your tenancy begins.
When you move in make a careful note of the gas and electricity meter readings – and water, if this is metered. You will need to phone these through as soon as you move in, unless you are on a prepaid meter.
There are a range of companies that sell gas. However, if you move into a flat you may need to use a prepayment meter. Using a prepayment meter also protects you from one of your friends who uses vast amounts of gas and then disappears without paying. Landlords are very keen on prepayment meters as it prevents them being saddled with bills left behind by tenants. The main supplier is British Gas, but other gas suppliers will also fit prepayment meters.
Your landlord has responsibility for gas installations, including all gas equipment being tested annually by a Corgi registered engineer. Failure to comply with this is extremely dangerous. Leaking gas appliances can kill.
Generally speaking, the same companies that supply gas also supply electricity. You can also pay for electricity using prepayment meters.
There are some simple tips for reducing energy consumption.
- Pull the curtains in the evenings – it traps hot air in the room overnight.
- Switch off heaters when you don't need them.
- Put on an extra layer of clothes rather than putting the heating on.
- Use a timer for central heating, so that it switches off after a while.
- Fit thermostats on radiators, so they don't overheat.
- If your home doesn't have double glazing, cover the inside of the windows with clear polythene during the winter.
- Close doors.
- Don't leave computers, televisions and other gadgets on when you are not using them.
- Don't leave things on standby mode.
- Don't overcharge mobiles and laptops.
- Use energy saving lightbulbs.
- If the water tank is not lagged, pad it with blankets.
- Wash clothes at 40 degrees or less.
- Wash full loads only.
- Put lids on saucepans when cooking.
- Only put as much water in a kettle as needed.
- Don't let hot water taps drip.
You will need to check with the landlord who pays the water bills. Usually water rates are included in the rent. But sometimes they are billed to the tenant. Occasionally water is metered: in which case your household will have to pay for the water used. In Scotland, water rates are included within the council tax bill, so undergraduates are exempted.
There are several companies that provide phone services, including BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky. You may be able to arrange a joint phone, broadband internet and tv package. But you may prefer not to have a fixed line phone and instead use your mobile. Calls on mobiles are usually more expensive than those from fixed line phones – but if everyone uses their own mobile it avoids rows about who owes what for phone calls.
If your property is classed as a House in Multiple Occupation, your landlord is obliged to have a phone line fitted – though it is the tenants' responsibility to pay for the calls.
You will need to decide whether you want home internet access. If you do, suppliers include BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky – though not all of them can provide broadband services in all areas. There are alternatives to having a broadband line fixed to your home. Mobile broadband – available using a dongle plugged into a laptop, notebook or desk top computer – is a competitive alternative and, according to location, can provide high quality internet connections. Mobile internet using a Blackberry or similar mobile device is another option.
You may not need to pay council tax. If you live in university halls, or in a house where everyone is classed as a full-time student, you'll be exempt from paying council tax.
If you share with someone who is not a full-time student, there will be a council tax liability – though your household may get a discount. Students cease to qualify for a council tax exemption as soon as they graduate.
You need to buy a tv licence – even if you live a hall of residence and even if you only watch tv on a laptop computer or mobile phone. The cost is £142.50 a year. It can be spread by paying monthly using a direct debit. If you only rent a home during term time and move back with your parents for the summer, or go on a long holiday/study visit, you can get a refund for the period you are away.
It is a good idea to have your property insured. This will mean that if your computer, television, books, dvd player, bike, furnishings and so on are stolen, then you will be compensated. You need to check whether the policy would pay out the current value of the stolen goods – which would be much less than the replacement cost – or whether it is 'new for old' cover.
The main specialist insurer for students is Endsleigh, which is recommended by the National Union of Students. Saxon Insurance also provides policies specifically for students, with cover provided by the giant Aviva group.
If you are studying abroad, a specialist insurance policy is offered by Aon.
Mainstream insurers of domestic properties – including the supermarkets, which now offer competitive products – can be compared on one of the money comparison websites.
Eco-friendly and recycling
Being eco-friendly starts with choosing the right place to live – is it near enough to your university that you can walk, cycle or go by public transport? If you don't already have one, buying a bike is a good investment to get around town quickly and cheaply, without pollution and keeping you fit.
One of the most important ways of being green is by saving energy – see above for a comprehensive list of energy saving tips.
You should also try to save water. Use showers instead of baths. Don't leave taps running. Get dripping taps fixed. Report any water leaks quickly.
You can also recycle much of your household rubbish – more than half, if you plan it well. Check rubbish collections with your local council – which days of the week do they collect? Are there different days and weeks for different types of rubbish? Are there special collections for food or other specific types of waste?
Make sure you know where to drop off other items for re-use and recycling. These include depositing old clothes and books in special containers. You can also recycle glass, plastics, paper, textiles, cardboard, metal and wood – but you may need to know where to go to get rid of some of these.
You are contributing to recycling just as effectively if you buy goods and products that have been used before, or are manufactured from recycled products. Buying second hand clothes and books both saves money and is being environmentally friendly.
Some information contained herein may have changed since it was first published. PrimeLocation strongly advises you to seek current legal and/or financial advise from a qualified professional.