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Student accommodation guide #2: private accommodation

Don’t panic if you find yourself living off-campus with strangers from day one. While most universities aim to house all first-year students in halls, it’s not exactly a done deal...

It may be that you find yourself renting a house or flat privately from a local landlord or letting agent right off the bat  something most students end up doing in second year and beyond anyway. 

We explain the living options available to you in our student accommodation guide.

Missed out on university accommodation?

If you get your uni place at the last-minute (ie through Ucas Clearing), you may find yourself looking for a house or flat in town right of the bat. More than one in 10* (13%) of the students we spoke to who went through Clearing said they ended up not getting university accommodation (so it does happen).

It might sound daunting to jump into such an arrangement with strangers (and organising this all before you’ve even properly moved to uni). But your housing office will be able to support you in a number of ways (not just when it comes to halls on campus):
  • Good rental contacts: universities usually have approved lists of landlords and student-friendly lettings agents
  • Helpful advice: get tips on what to look out for when you view properties and things you need to know before signing a tenancy agreement
  • Match you up with potential housemates: they'll be aware of individuals in similar situations and can put you in touch with them

I found a privately rented room via the StudentPad link my university gave me. I didn't want to be responsible for a whole house with new people I've never met in a city I've never lived in, so I opted to stay in a house where my landlady lived herself with her husband. There were another two students in the house, but as my bills were included in the rent and with my landlady living in the same house, if anything went wrong I could easily get it fixed. First Year Biological Sciences Student | Anglia Ruskin University
Don't have a place in halls? Get advice for finding housemates to move in with here.

Choosing private accommodation: need-to-knows 

Here are the pros and cons to weigh up before going down the private rental route, especially in first year of university. 

Pros of private accommodation

  • Save money: university-managed accommodation is often more expensive (though it does include utility bills)
  • Gain independence: you decide where and with whom you’re living (granted from a smaller pool of students). You may find yourself more familiar with the local area than if you lived on campus in your first year; something that can help when choosing where to live (and where to avoid) in subsequent years.
  • Flexibility: you’ve got more choice on the area and type of accommodation you’d like

Cons of private accommodation

  • Managing bills: you'll need to factor bills in over and above your rent (namely gas, electricity, water and internet), including setting up and managing these. Note, some landlords may include some or all of these in your rent – check this before signing anything.
  • More to organise: you'll be dealing direct with a landlord or letting agent (from a distance initially before moving in eg sorting out viewings etc)
  • Away from the action: you may find yourself outside the main campus which is often a hub for meeting up and activities. Plus you’ll need to travel in for classes.
  • Joint contracts: you may be asked to sign a joint contract. Be aware that this means you could be chased if someone else doesn't pay the rent. This is tricky when you don’t know your new housemates all that well.

I didn't live in halls first year, but found a nice private flat with a spare room close to my uni through Gumtree. My room was large, spacious, and had everything I needed. The landlord sometimes needed a bit of chasing up to fix anything, but otherwise I loved it. Fourth Year Medicine Student | University Of Bristol

Word of warning: do your research (and use your university housing office) before you start looking, to make sure you avoid some of the common landlord and letting agent pitfalls. Brush up on your rights as a tenant.

Don't feel pressured to sign up to something you're not comfortable with – many unis or student unions offer a contract-checking service to ensure you're not being ripped off or taken advantage of.


Typical costs: private accommodation vs. halls

Good news – the NUS Homes Fit for Study report (2014) found that private accommodation was generally a significantly cheaper option than university halls, with average rents of £366 per month (or £360 with a live-in landlord), compared to £426 per month. Of course, rent for university halls will include utility bills (ie water, energy, internet).

That said, the private rental market varies from city to city, in terms of price, what you get for your money, competition (ie how early you need to start looking), the type and style of housing available etc.; so it’s really difficult to compare generally across the UK.

Bear in mind, though, that private accommodation contracts tend to cover the entire year rather than just university term time – so you may be paying rent for a period while you’re not actually living there. Some landlords and agents who offer student properties will cater to this, but you should check this before signing anything.

Tip: don't disregard the cheaper houses – do you really need all-modern facilities or your own ensuite bathroom? It’s only for a year at most after all...

Student guide to energy bills: how to slash your bills, read your meter and more

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*Stats taken from the The Uni Guide Student Survey 2013

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