- YOUR UNION
WELFARE, ADVICE &
SPORTS CLUBS &
- B4 BAR
House Hunting? Read this first!
A helpful guide to:
1 Finding a House
The Advice & Representation Centre (ARC) encourages landlords and private halls of residence companies in the city to advertise specifically to Aston University students. This is usually started in January and most advertise for the letting year starting in the summer.
►Private Halls: In the last few years there has been a huge change in the housing market. This has seen a rise in the number of companies creating private halls of residence in the city centre.
►Shared Houses: There are many shared houses in Birmingham, especially in suburbs such as Erdington and Edgbaston. If you prefer to live together with your friends, this is a very good option to look at. We advise looking at a number of houses before agreeing on one, as shopping around will give you an idea of the quality of properties on offer.
2 Housing Lists
All non-campus accommodation, including private halls, is advertised on www.astonstudentpad.co.uk. By using Studentpad you can refine your search and read through information about the available properties. You can also use the messageboard facility to talk to fellow students.
3 Inspections and Safety Issues
Landlords are obliged to have all gas appliances such as cookers, fires and boilers, safety checked annually. The Union requires properties to have a safety check on the electrical wiring. Adverts are not accepted unless the ARC has copies of these safety certificates. The ARC however does not inspect any of the properties advertised on its lists. We strongly advise you view the property yourself before agreeing on it.
4 House Sharing
Many private companies let you apply in groups with your friends - living in a shared house obviously lets you share with your friends. However, if you have doubts about sharing with someone, don’t sign up together! Experience shows that these doubts tend to grow rather than diminish. (See also: Section 12).
If you choose a shared house that has 3 or more storeys with more than 5 bed rooms, your landlord should have registered the property with Birmingham City Council to ensure it meets all safety standards. (See page 6 for our full checklist).
5 Aston Brook Green (ABG)
Applications for ABG, a housing association site managed by the Students' Union, must be made in January for annual tenancies that begin on the first day of the summer vacation. Houses at ABG are suitable for students in groups of 3 and 4 and for student couples or single parents wanting a 1 bedroom flat. Please visit www.astonunion.com/abg
6 Tenancy Agreements
If your landlord does not have a tenancy agreement, the ARC has a generic one which includes a detailed inventory that you can request. The ARC agreements are uniquely designed to be used either individually or jointly. If your landlord uses a different agreement, the staff in the ARC will be happy to check it before you sign it.
Landlords usually require rent in advance. Always ask for receipts or pay by cheque or direct debit via your bank account, so you have a record of payments.
8 Vacation Rent
In shared houses landlords vary as to whether they want full rent, half rent, or a lump sum of rent to cover the summer months when you may be absent from Birmingham. However, it may be possible to negotiate a reduced rent for the summer period. There is no legal requirement not to charge full rent. The ARC’s generic tenancy agreement allows for a reduced summer rent if necessary. Students are usually expected to pay full rent for Christmas and Easter vacation periods.
9 Deposits and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme
If you take a new tenancy using an assured shorthold tenancy agreement (which is very likely), the landlord has to protect your deposit by either taking out special insurance or by handing the deposit to a third party. This is called a Tenancy Deposit Scheme. A deposit is returnable unless there are rent arrears or the property/furniture has been damaged. Deposits should not be withheld for fair “wear and tear".
To avoid possible future disputes with the landlord, it is advisable to use an inventory. A generic inventory list is available from the ARC. Take photographs where possible to provide additional proof against any claim by the landlord.
11 Council Tax
If the accommodation you choose is occupied solely by full-time students, you will be council tax exempt. If you are thinking of sharing your accommodation with non-students or part-time students, the accommodation will no longer be exempt. Council Tax can be indirectly passed to student and non-student tenants as a rent increase. For more detailed information, please see www.astonunion.com/advice/content/757993/
12 Bills in Shared Houses
BILLS ARE USUALLY NOT INCLUDED IN YOUR RENT, PLEASE CHECK!
Ask your landlord for details of the company or companies which supply gas, electricity, phone lines or internet connections to the house, and whether these bills are included in the rent or are separate.
You should contact the companies a few days before your tenancy begins. This allows them time to arrange for the supply to be in your name(s). You must read gas and electricity meters as you begin and end your tenancy. At least 48 hours’ notice of arrival and departure is usually needed. The people named on the bill are legally responsible for paying it. Sometimes more than one name can be put on a bill which spreads the legal responsibility. Some utility companies will ask for a returnable security deposit before connecting the supply.
Agree in advance if you are sharing whether or not you all pay an equal share of the bills. Consider what would happen if one student spent most of the time out of the house, if someone else regularly spent time with your group, or if some students were not present during the vacation when others were. Would you all want to pay equal shares or would you agree to read the meters at regular intervals to look at usage costs? Get a written agreement signed by all sharers to help prevent arguments and unequal payments.
13 Fire Safety
Your landlord must provide fire resistant furniture and upholstery. In shared accommodation there should be fire safety equipment: self-closing fire doors/fire doors, a fire extinguisher and fire blanket in the kitchen and interlinked smoke alarms in communal areas. If your house has three storeys (including ground floor) regulations include emergency escape lighting and a fire resistant safe escape route. Make sure that smoke detectors are working and do not remove batteries.
The Landlord should insure his building and any of his possessions in it. You should take out personal possessions insurance to cover the value of your belongings. Most insurance companies need you to have individually locking bedroom doors in order to validate the insurance. (If living in halls, you may be covered by your parents’/family’s home insurance. Check this with them in advance.)
The landlord is responsible for keeping the exterior structure of the property in good repair. He also has to keep water and gas pipes, electrical wiring and sockets, basins, sinks, baths and toilets, water heaters and fixed heaters, for example gas fires, in good repair.
The City Council will take action on your behalf against a landlord who does not do repairs, once you have formally written to the landlord about the disrepair. Equally you can see a solicitor, usually under the Legal Help scheme, who can also act for you. The ARC will recommend one if required. Please book an appointment at The ARC as we do help with housing problems.
16 Water Rates
In shared houses it is usual for the rent to include an amount for water rates, thus allowing the landlord to pay the water rates out of the rent received. The Tenancy Agreement from the ARC allows for this.
However, some landlords and most accommodation agency tenancies ask the tenants to pay water rates directly to the water authority. Students should contact their water supplier at both the start and finish of the tenancy period. Most water locally comes from Severn Trent Water: telephone 08457 500 500 or www.stwater.co.uk
Usually the tenancy agreement is needed to show dates of occupancy and allow bills to be apportioned correctly. Water rates are billed in ‘years’ which run from 1 April to 31 March thus effectively meaning each student tenancy will involve two different water rate billing periods.
17 Television Licences
If you use a television in the property you will need a licence. If you have a joint tenancy agreement you will only need one licence for the whole house, however many TVs there are. If you have individual agreements you will need a licence for each person’s TV set. If you move house you may phone 0870 241 6468 or go visit www.tvlicensing.co.uk to move your licence address too. Failure to have a TV Licence while watching live television on the premises (this includes via the internet too) can result in a fine of up to £1000.
For further information, click here to download a leaflet from TV Licensing.
18 University records
Once you know your new address log onto My Aston Portal (MAP) to update your details.
House Hunting Checklist for Shared Houses
Looking at a property
We would advise you to think or ask about the following things when you are looking at houses. Don’t worry about who is going to have which room - there are other matters which may be just as important!
Is there enough furniture for everyone?
Is there enough space in the kitchen to store everything?
Does any of the furniture belong to existing tenants?
Is all the furniture in good condition?
Does the upholstered furniture meet current fire resistance standards?
(It may have a special label. If the upholstered furniture is very old it is unlikely to be fire resistant - not only will this be illegal but it will also give off lethal fumes when on fire.)
Will there be an inventory of all furniture signed by the landlord and the tenants?
Gas and Electricity
Is there heating in every room?
Do all fires work?
Does the cooker work?
Does the oven work?
Have you seen gas and electricity safety certificates?
(This is not necessary if the house is on the lists provided by the Advice & Representation Centre or on www.astonstudentpad.co.uk)
Are there any danger signs e.g. soot or discolouration on any gas fires?
Check which company supplies the house with gas and electricity.
Could you safely and quickly escape if there was a fire?
If your house has more than 3 storeys, there are especially strict rules on fire safety - ask at the Advice & Representation Centre for more information.
Do you have to pay summer rent? If so, is it at a reduced rate?
Will you have the right to live there in the summer if paying summer rent?
(The law says you should but not all landlords understand this, so check it out!)
You can not be asked to pay rent if the house is not habitable.
Do you have to pay water rates?
Which Tenancy Deposit Scheme does the landlord use?
What is the deposit for?
(Is it to reserve the property whilst you think it over and get the tenancy agreement checked out or is it the basis of a binding legal agreement [most likely]?)
What if you change your mind tomorrow?
Do you have a receipt for any money paid?
NB: Legally the deposit may not be more than twice the monthly rent.
Will the landlord provide an agreement and let you get it checked before signing it?
Is it a joint or an individual agreement?
(A joint agreement means you are all fully liable for each others’ rent. An individual agreement means you are liable for your own rent only. From your point of view it’s usually better to have individual agreements. From the landlord’s perspective it is better that you should have joint agreements.)
Landlord details and promises
Get the landlord’s full name, address and telephone number.
Do the current tenants appear to get on with him or not?
If the landlord promises to provide extra facilities or to make improvements, get this in writing, signed and dated to avoid arguments in the future.
If repairs or renovations are being done as you view the house, get written confirmation of expected date of completion.
No rent should be payable if the house is not habitable. This includes summer rent.
Outside the Property
Does the roof look sound?
Are the drains clear?
Is any of the woodwork rotting or unsafe?
Is there any damp near gutters or drain pipes?
Is the house clean? (It should be in “reasonable condition” when you move in.)
Do any repairs need doing?
Have you told the landlord (in writing) what needs doing and kept a copy of your dated letter?
How do you heat and pay for hot water?
Does the toilet flush properly or show any signs of leaking?
Are the door and window locks adequate?
Do the windows lock?
Do the windows open for fresh air and as a possible means of escape from fire?
Is the area itself secure (e.g. are there any boarded up houses nearby)?
How will you get home late at night?
How far do you have to walk and is it safe?
Will you have to walk through subways and is there reasonable street lighting?
Is the front of the house visible from the street, not obscured by bushes or trees?
Can you afford insurance for your personal possessions?
Do the bedroom doors have locks on?
(Many insurance policies are invalid without locks!)
Will it cover you for vacations if the house is empty?
What postcode area is the house in?
(This affects the premium you will have to pay.)
Who is responsible for:
- Window cleaning
- Gardening (has the landlord provided gardening tools?)
- What does the tenancy agreement say about you doing the decorating yourself?
Try and speak to the current tenants to make sure you are not letting yourself in for a difficult year. They usually have views on the landlord which can be worth listening to!
Pests and vermin
Are there any signs of pests (mouse droppings, slug trails, ants, pigeons, rats etc.)? Ask the tenants if they have experienced any of these too!
Good luck in finding your accommodation! If you need more help, visit The ARC, located on the first floor of Aston Students’ Union. Phone: 0121 204 4848. We are open 10am-4pm Monday-Friday.