Finding accommodation before you come to the UK

It can be difficult finding accommodation before you have arrived in the UK but obviously you want to identify suitable accommodation before you arrive.   Newcastle has many options from University run halls of residence where you will live in a block of self-contained bedsit rooms and the university will be your landlord, private rented student halls similar to student halls but you will have a private landlord and private rented flats and houses where you might share a smaller property with other students in residential areas of the city.

If someone is helping you find accommodation in the private sector make sure you can trust them and they understand your needs.   Ask for copies of any documents such as tenancy agreements and inventories to be sent to you beforehand. Some landlords are Accredited or members of professional bodies, this is a good indicator of their professionalism and you should ask to see their certificates or membership number. If you can Skype or facetime the landlord so you can talk to them and ask questions directly.

Knowing who your landlord is

It is important to know who your actual landlord is and who you will be dealing with on a day to day basis.

This is equally important when renting halls of residence a the University as some halls are privately owned and not owned by the university itself. If you are dealing with a letting agent you should ask who the landlord and how you would contact them and who will be managing the day to day tenancy i.e. who will be collecting the rent, arranging repairs etc.

If you are renting from a private landlord you might do this through a Letting/ Managing Agent. Depending on what service the landlord has asked the agent to provide for them it will affect who you will be dealing with when looking for a property, signing the tenancy agreement, paying a deposit and managing the tenancy.

Managing agents

There are three main levels of service an agent will offer to a landlord, services can vary but in most cases you can expect:

  • Tenant find only: The agent will advertise the property and show round tenants. They will carry out reference checks, gather guarantor forms and advise the landlord when choosing a tenant.
  • Tenant find and sign in service: As above but the agent will draft the tenancy agreement, attend the sign in and witness the signatures. They will probably take the deposit and provide an inventory as well but this can differ. After taking the deposit they might be responsible for protecting it in behalf of the landlord or they might hand the money straight to the landlord who will be responsible to protect it.
  • Full management: After helping the landlord find a tenant and completing the sign in they will manage the day to day running of the tenancy. You will probably pay the rent to the agent and be expected to report repairs to them and they will arrange property visits.

Fees and deposits

Most agents will charge a fee to both the landlord and the tenant. Fees are usually not payable until they have secured you a property and you should be made aware of what the fees are at the outset. Agents should have fees listed clearly in their offices and on any websites. Fees are usually non refundable and cover the work the agents do to help you find a property.

In addition you might be asked to pay a holding deposit once you have seen a property you want to rent but before you sign the tenancy agreement. This is to allow the agents time to carry out any checks while giving you protection that the property will not be offered to someone else.  You should find out before handing over any money in what situation the money will be handed back to you and when it could be retained by the landlord.

Usually when you finally agree to sign a tenancy agreement a holding deposit will be topped up and turned into a deposit. The deposit is a returnable amount that remains the property of the tenant throughout the tenancy but can be withheld by the landlord at the end of the tenancy for damage or rent arrears. If you have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement than a landlord must protect any deposit taken in one of the three government approved schemes.

Council Tax

If you are a qualifying (full time) student living with other qualifying students you will be exempt from paying council tax. You will need to provide the council with your Student Certificate to receive your exemption. This is available from your University and you should ask for a copy when you start your course.

If you have a break in your studies but are still enrolled and intend to return to your studies (i.e. due to illness) you can still be considered exempt but you will need to provide evidence to the council.

If someone lives with you and they are not a full time student you might get a council tax bill but a discount may apply, you should contact Newcastle Council for more information. The responsibility for the bills lies with the non-student and they should ask you to contribute if you are exempt.

When your course comes to an end you will start to be liable to pay council tax, if you live alone or are claiming certain benefits you might receive a discount or help to pay the council tax, you should contact Newcastle City Council for more information.  If you are going on to study again after your course ends you will need to provide evidence of status between the two courses to be applicable for an exemption. If you are not exempt you will have to pay council tax for that period.

Before handing any money over

It is usual to pay a deposit and rent in advance when securing accommodation. If you are using a letting agent there is likely to be an admin fee payable to the agent and sometimes you might pay a holding fee or holding deposit to take a property off the market before committing to sign a tenancy agreement.

Ask the landlord or agent to give you details of what money would need to be paid, what that money covers and when it needs to be paid before agreeing a to take a tenancy. Good agents should have all this information listed on their website.

Usually payments for housing in the UK are paid by card, bank transaction or sometime cheques. If you wish to pay in cash you should make sure you get a receipt for any money paid.

Understanding your tenancy agreement

It is normal for you to sign a tenancy agreement which will be written in English. You can ask for an independent body to explain any terms you do not understand. Your student advice centre or accommodation office or international student advisor should be able to help you with this.

The agreement will include details of the rent, when the rent is due, the duration of the tenancy, who is liable for the tenancy as well as other specifics around the rights and responsibility of both the tenant and landlord.

Tenants rights

As a tenant you should expect: –

  • The landlord to maintain the property to a good standard. The property should be in a good condition from the start of the tenancy and repairs done in a timely manner.
  • Your deposit should be protected and you should get written information about where the deposit has been protected and how to get it back.
  • You should get receipts for any payments made in cash.
  • To have quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the property, the landlord should give you notice before visiting the property and not come into the property without your permission.

Tenants responsabilities

Your landlord can expect:

  • You to pay the rent in full on the dates agreed.
  • To get the property back in a good, clean condition the same as it was at the start of the tenancy.
  • Be able to keep all or part of the deposit for any rent due, damage, cleaning or removal of rubbish.
  • Not to get complaints from the neighbours about your behaviour.

Getting your depoist back

At the end of your tenancy the landlord should look to return your deposit to you in ten working days or give you the reason why they want to retain all or part of it. If you do not agree with the reasons they have given to retain your deposit you can ask the deposit protection scheme to look at the dispute or take action through the courts, however this is difficult if you have already left the UK.

To prevent problems after the end of the tenancy you should make sure your landlord has protected your deposit at the start of the tenancy. Towards the end of the tenancy make sure you have an pre end of tenancy visit with the landlord, usually about one month before the end of the fixed term. The landlord should tell you about any problems that would like to see made right before the end of the tenancy and give you opportunity to put these matters right. On the last day of the tenancy you should meet the landlord to go over the inventory and agree any deductions.