- When I'm viewing a property what should I be looking out for?
- When thinking of signing up for a property what should I be looking out for in a contract?
A: Time spent inspecting a potential house systematically is invaluable. This will save you time, money and, maybe, pain. You’ll need to be clear about what you want and work through a checklist each time you view a property:
- What amenities does it have and how good are they (e.g. washing machine or plumbing for one, a good, safe cooker)?
- What sort of heating does it have and how efficient is it to use?
- Is it furnished and if so, how well for your purposes?
- Are the bathroom and kitchen facilities adequate?
- What’s the general physical shape of the house like inside and out?
- If there’s a garden who is expected to look after it?
- What are the electrics like? Are they safe?
- If there are gas appliances, are they safe?
- Is there a decent fire detection system and fire escape route?
- What’s security like?
- Mandatory registration of shared rented houses is in force for properties that meet certain criteria (known as HMO licensing). Check the property is licensed and, if it is, then the property is likely to be safe. If in doubt, then contact your Local Authority Environmental Health Department who administer the scheme.
- Many institutions or local authorities run accreditation schemes that set a bench mark safety standard on properties within the scheme. Often, your institution will advise you to give accredited properties a high priority in your choices. There is normally a separate complaints procedure if an accredited house does not come up top standard or you have problems - a useful system of redress without having to use the law.
Click here for more detail on what to look out for and a checklist to print off and take with you when you’re going to view a property.
You can rent a washing machine from an electrical store for around £20 a month. If you're in a group it may be worth considering. Find out whether there is plumbing for a machine, and if not, whether the owner is prepared to meet the cost of this and any electrical work that may need doing. If not, check where the nearest launderette is.
Cookers and microwaves
Is there a good cooker? Does it have shelves and a grill pan? Although microwave ovens can be cheaper to run than conventional ovens they're not a viable alternative to the real thing.
This is an effective way of keeping warm and can be the cheapest system there is - and it reduces dampness and condensation.
It's unlikely you'll have a television provided. If there is one, you'll need a TV licence.
Some students supplement the furniture an owner provides by bringing personal items of their own. When viewing a property you should establish which furniture belongs to the tenants and which to the owner. The owner should provide a bed, desk, wardrobe, chest of drawers (or built-in cupboard/wardrobe) and chair. Have a good look at the bed and mattress - you'll soon discover if the mattress has outlived its useful life.
Kitchens should be provided with a cooker and fridge/freezer. Make sure there's enough space for food storage and for preparing meals - for example, would there be enough room if two or more of you wanted to cook at the same time?
Properties should be provided with carpets and curtains. If there's a bedroom on the ground floor, the curtains should be thick or lined. Worn carpets, especially on stairs, are dangerous - you should get the owner to replace them.
Baths and showers
If you're in a large house (seven and over), are there enough washing facilities? Are they separate from the toilet? Suppose everyone wants a bath on a particular morning - work out if this is possible without a shower. If there is a shower, does it work and is the water pressure good enough?
Checking the exterior of a house
Look at the house from across the road and check the roof for signs of damage - missing slates, leaking gutters and wet brickwork. If there's a garden, who's going to maintain it? If it's up to you have you been provided with tools? Is a dustbin provided?
Make sure the house has a safe electrical system. It is recommended that the electrical system be checked every five years. Ask the owner to show you the periodic safety report. If the house has extractor fans, check they're clean. Blocked fans, particularly in internal bathrooms or kitchens, can make the house smell.
The house should have some fire detection equipment, even if this is only battery smoke detectors in the hallways and landings on each floor. Some owners provide a fire blanket in the kitchen. Give some thought to how you might escape from a fire. Look critically at the house and ask yourself about safety hazards.
Although fire doors with self closers are not always popular with owners and tenants, they are designed to provide a half hour fire barrier when closed and can form a "protected route" (normally around the stairwell of a house) so that you can leave safely in the event of a fire. Fire doors also contain a fire within a single room for at least half an hour and, coupled with a detection system, can warn you to leave the property, allowing you to do so safely.
Many owners fit fire doors on kitchens and some fit them on all doors (you can normally tell a fire door because it is heavy, has a self closing device and has some seal mechanisms that stop smoke going round the door in the event of fire - brushes, strips or rebates).
Where the property meets the criteria for mandatory (HMO) licensing, houses will meet a particular fire specification that allows for safe exit from a building in the event of fire. Many accreditation schemes also stress fire detection and containment.
Fires do happen in student properties (most commonly caused by forgotten candles) and detection systems and fire doors do save lives - so don't tamper with them
It is now the law that owners should have all gas appliances serviced every year by a Gas Safe Register registered engineer. As a tenant you are legally entitled to see a copy of the gas safety record to assure yourself that these appliances have been serviced.
Ask to see one!
Reducing the risks: Security
Security is an increasing problem in many student areas. There are a number of ways you can reduce the risk of theft from a property. Front and back doors should have either bolts (if the door is a secondary entrance) or a mortise lock (this is a lock that fits into the body of the door and is not surface mounted). On larger properties mortise locks may have a thumbturn inside the building. Whilst this weakens security (in that if a burglar has entered the property they can then leave without a key through the front door) it allows for a fast exit, without a key, in the event of a fire. There is a clear contradiction between high levels of security and ease of exit in a fire.
Check the windows on the ground floor can be securely fastened. Sash windows should be fitted with fasteners and blocks to restrict how far the windows open. Particularly vulnerable windows, especially small ones, should be fitted with wired security glass.
A: The contract most private owners operate with is the assured shorthold tenancy.
- Click here for a detailed explanation of the legal aspects of tenancies and assured shorthold tenancies
- Staff at your Student Union will look through a contract and explain the implications of signing it.
- If you are renting from a University or College then you are likely to be asked to sign an unprotected tenancy.
The important rules are these:
never sign anything you don't understand.
seek advice about what you're signing.
understand your housing rights