Looking for Accommodation

Before getting started

Finding where you are going to live for the next academic year can be daunting at the best of times. This guide is based on some of the more common queries that we advise and support Aber students on each year. We’ve covered everything, from things to think about, to what to look out for during viewing and payments you should be aware of.


Signing too early

Aberystwyth is a bustling student town with lots of landlords and letting agents competing to house the student population. Historically, Aber students have tended to start the search early with various pressures to do so largely from other students. However since the development of Fferm Penglais and PJM ,and with many students opting to stay in university accommodation, there is no need to start the search too early.

It’s important to make sure you read any tenancy agreement carefully before you sign it. If you are not sure about some parts of it, don’t sign it as it is important that you make sure that the accommodation is right for you and not get tied into a tenancy agreement you might regret later. Bring it to the AberSU Advice Service before you sign it to have it checked.

Don’t be pressured into signing a tenancy agreement because you think you might lose the property. There is no cooling off period or right to cancel after you have signed, so only sign when you are certain. A reputable landlord or agent will give you time to get advice about the tenancy agreement.


Where to start

Accommodation can be rented directly from a landlord, letting agent or a private halls provider. Most agencies charge tenants an agency fee, although some don’t. Agencies must clearly advertise their fee if they charge one. Typically students will approach many providers directly either in person, by phone or online. Many also find accommodation by asking friends for recommendations or websites such as Zoopla.

The AberSU Housing Fair in mid-November is another great opportunity for you to start a conversation with the local providers as well as find more information on how to find the perfect accommodation. We carefully scrutinise who is invited, ensuring all attendees are registered with Rent Smart Wales. Our Student Advisor is also on-hand to provide advice and information on your rights and responsibilities in relation to tenancy agreements, bills, security, energy saving and much more.


Rent Smart Wales

It is important to ensure, whoever you use, that you make certain they are licensed with Rent Smart Wales. This compulsory registration scheme required under the Housing (Wales) Act was introduced in 2016 and all rental properties in Wales must be registered with Rent Smart.

It is a condition of the landlord/agent’s license that they must always adhere to the Rent Smart Wales Code of Practice which places an obligation on landlords and agents to;

  • Provide correct and not misleading information.
  • Document all fees associated with the rental.
  • Protect your deposit with an approved protection scheme within 30 days of receipt.
  • Provide a Gas Safety Certificate and an Electrical Performance Certificate (EPC).
  • Inform the water supplier of the tenants(s)’ occupation within 21 days.
  • Provide the landlord’s name and address within 21 days of it being requested.
  • Ensure that the property remains in a safe condition.
  • Keep the installations for heating and hot water in proper working order.
  • Respect the tenant(s)’ right to peaceful possession of the property.
  • Give 24 hours’ notice requesting access to the property unless in an emergency. If access is refused a court order must be obtained before a landlord or agent can enter.

The full Code of Practice can be accessed by going to:

www.rentsmart.gov.wales/en/

You can check if your property is registered or if your landlord/agent is licensed by going to:

www.rentsmart.gov.wales/en/check-register/


What to look for during viewings

It’s almost impossible to get released from a tenancy agreement once you sign it, even if there are problems with the property. It is therefore important to ensure you scrutinise the property carefully when viewing and make sure the place is right for you before you sign. Below are some top-tips when it comes to viewings:

  • Make sure you and all other housemates view the property if you are planning on living in a shared property. Don’t take someone else’s word that the property is right for you.
  • Don’t simply sign-up for the first property you see – even if it might feel like a good fit, compare a range of both providers and properties.
  • When you go to view, take notes and photos, and use our handy checklist linked at the end of this guide to make sure you don’t miss anything.
  • Get informed on your rights and responsibilities as knowing these will help you view properties more critically and put you in a stronger negotiating position.

Think about your budget

Rent will be your single largest outgoing so it is important to get your budget right. Having a penthouse flat in the middle of town or one of the finest en-suite studios in Fferm Penglais might seem attractive at first, but you should always consider what you can actually afford.

As well as rent, don’t forget you also need money for food, books, stationary, travel costs, not to mention extra for clothes and socialising. Some tenancy agreements also exclude utility bills and that’s before you think about broadband, media and television.

We can help you budget and plan out how much you have for rent when taking other expenses and your priorities into account. See our Budgeting guide or get in contact to discuss your options.


Over promise, under deliver

Any promises made at the time of viewing whether it be redecorating a room, that entertainment system you’ve always dreamed of or other additions to the property should be written into the tenancy agreement with an agreed time limit for completion.

Make sure you’d be happy to live in the property if the additions, improvements or repairs you’ve been promised are not carried out. If not, then we’d recommend looking elsewhere because if this work isn’t done, it doesn’t mean you can automatically get out of the tenancy agreement. If this happens, get in contact to discuss your options.


Know who is in charge

If you use a letting agency to find your house, be clear on whether the agency is going to manage the property for the landlord when you move in. If yes, you will need to deal directly with the agency if you have any problems or repair needs (although remember the tenancy is with the landlord who still has legal responsibility for the tenancy).

Agencies are obliged under the conditions of their Rent Smart licence to ensure that the properties are registered.


Joint Tenancies

If you agree to take a house that you have viewed, and you and your housemates all sign the same tenancy agreement, you become joint tenants who are jointly and individually liable for any rent, arrears, utility bills and damage to the whole rented property. If one or more tenant moves out, the landlord or agent can pursue the remaining tenants for any rent arrears or unpaid bills. They can also pursue the tenant/s that have left.


Guarantors

Some letting agents and landlords may require a guarantor form signed by parent(s) or other family members. This is a form that guarantees payment of rent and any other bills or payments that you are liable for under the terms of the tenancy agreement. If the tenancy is joint be careful that the guarantor form is worded to ensure your guarantor(s) are not liable for money owed by the other tenants. Students who do not have a guarantor may be asked to pay several months’ in advance. If this happens get in contact to discuss your options.


Tenant Responsibilities

Tenancy agreements will often ask you to behave in a ‘tenant like manner’. This specifically includes paying rent as agreed, taking care of the property and reporting faults, to pay utility bills as agreed in the agreement and comply with all other fair terms as written in the tenancy agreement.


Unfair Terms

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that you should not have unfair terms in your tenancy agreement. If you have concerns that your terms might be unfair, get in contact to discuss your options or contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on: 03454 04 05 06.


Deposits and Fees

A landlord or letting agent may charge you fees for a range of administrative reasons with many different names. Under Rent Smart all fees should be made clear early on and before you are asked to sign the tenancy agreements – good providers will display these clearly at the earliest opportunity.

Never pay any money until you are happy with the property and have signed a tenancy agreement. If you pay and then change your mind about taking the property, it might be hard to get the money returned. Always pay your deposit and any fees by cheque or debit/credit card and get a receipt showing the amount paid and what it covers; keep this safe with a copy of the tenancy agreement so it does not get lost.

Below are the most common deposits or fees asked for; there are no set amounts that can be asked for:

 

  • Deposit - A deposit is a sum of money which is held against damage to the property, rent or utility arrears, any essential cleaning, removal of large amounts of rubbish and the cost of replacing any locks or keys if not returned on time. Deductions cannot be made of reasonable wear and tear to the property.

          Refundable at the end of the tenancy agreement provided there are no arrears or damage.

  • Signing or Admin fee - Usually charged by a landlord or letting to cover costs including drawing up agreements, credit and reference checks. Don’t hesitate to enquire why they are charging the fee and what it specifically covers, and if you have concerns get in contact to discuss your options.

           Not usually refundable

  • Holding deposit - Usually charged where a tenant agrees to rent the property, but is yet to sign the tenancy agreement. It is a means to show you are committed to making a deal and in return the landlord or letting agent agrees to “hold” the property. In some cases the holding deposit will become a deposit once the tenancy begins which they must protect (see deposit above).

          Not usually refundable unless the letting agent decides to withdraw an offer.

  • Retainer - Unfortunately, there is no precise definition. Some landlords and letting agents charge a retainer to leave or store your belongings during the period (usually the summer months) before the start of the tenancy. However, retainers do not give you this right unless specifically stated, so get it written into the tenancy agreement.

          Not refundable.


Deposit Protection

Once you pay your deposit, your landlord or agent must protect it using a government approved scheme; those who fail to comply with this, including giving details about how it is protected, can face penalties.

There are three main schemes:

  • The Deposit Protection Service
  • The Tenancy Deposit Scheme
  • My Deposits

Deposit protection schemes provide a free dispute resolution service if either the landlord or letting agency and tenants cannot agree the amount to be returned, thus ensuring your deposit is not held and avoiding the need to take court action to get your money back. It is therefore important before making payment to ask how your deposit will be protected.

Your landlord or letting agent are required to protect the deposit within 30 days of receiving it as well as provide details about how it is protected. Those who fail to comply with this law can face penalties. The following information should be provided:

  • The name and contact details of the landlord or letting agent.
  • The amount of deposit paid and address of the tenancy.
  • The name and contact details of the deposit scheme used.
  • The procedures for repayment of the deposit at the end of the tenancy
  • Details of the scheme’s free alternative dispute resolution service

In cases of joint tenancies, schemes will usually only deal with the lead (first) name on the tenancy agreement. This person must accept the responsibility as representative of the other joint tenants.

For further information on deposit protection get in contact to discuss your options or go to:

www.gov.uk/tenancy-deposit-protection


Inventory

An inventory is a list of all furniture, fittings and other equipment provided by the landlord. At the beginning of the tenancy you may be asked to sign this document. You should ensure that it contains information on the condition of everything in the house and not just list its contents (including carpets, doors and walls etc.).

This can be used as evidence in any dispute over damage or cleaning when it is time to get your deposit back. Photographs taken at the same time can also be very useful, so don’t be afraid to take these including a date/time stamp. If you are not provided with an inventory, prepare one yourself, sign it and ask the landlord or agent to also sign it.

See our Moving Out guide for information on what to do and how to get your deposit back at the end of the tenancy.


What can the AberSU Advice Service do to help?

The AberSU Advice Service provides free, confidential and impartial advice and information for all Aberystwyth University students.

The Advice Service can assist you in a range of ways, including:

  • Explain the rights and responsibilities of landlords, letting agents and tenants.
  • Review and advise on tenancy agreements before and after signing.
  • Support you in the event of a dispute, liaising with the landlord or letting agent.
  • Help you to collate appropriate evidence where required to support your case.

The service is delivered by drop-ins, appointments, email and phone. We also undertake other activities and events to develop awareness of student rights and responsibilities to ensure you are as happy and health as possible during your time in Aberystwyth.

To get in touch to discuss all of your options, including what support is available to you, please contact us using any of the methods below:

Drop-in: Students’ Union Building, Penglais Campus

Phone: 01970 612700

Email: union.advice@aber.ac.uk

Website: www.abersu.co.uk/advice


Useful links


Reviewed: September 2018

Disclaimer: We have made every effort to ensure that the information in this guide is accurate. AberSU cannot be held responsible for the consequences of any action taken as a result of reading this guide. Before taking any action you are advised to visit the Advice Service.