Written by Enrique Saunders, BA Film

If you’re a first year university student, there’s a high chance that you’re currently staying at university accommodation.

You may be catered or self-catered, live on or off campus, but what happens when you’re thrown out into the real world of letting agencies and student houses?

Here’s my breakdown of what to look out for when moving out of halls accommodation.

Planning ahead

Note: This part technically only applies to people who have yet to arrive at university, but it’s good to be aware of nonetheless.

Before you apply for halls accommodation, you might want to consider when the contract ends. Depending on if you choose a 40 or 51-week contract (these may differ between universities), you may have to move out earlier or later into student housing, as most student house contracts begin on July 1st. For example, the latest that a 40-week contract at the University of Reading ends is on June 30th, which would mean leaving you homeless for a night—and some contracts end even earlier.

More on that later.

Student house hunting

This part is probably the most anxiety-inducing, at least it was for me.

The thing is this: most student houses go on the market as early as October. What tends to happen is that first years start rushing to find people to live with so they can go to viewings for the ‘good’ houses.

And that’s fair enough—the earlier you go house hunting, the likelier you are to find a house that’s in an optimal location, or one that comes with benefits like larger rooms for less rent per month.

There are many options for student houses. Most houses occupy a minimum of three people—sometimes two—up to as many as seven or ten. It’s important to consider what you want and what you’re willing to compromise for if you want to sign a house contract early.

What not to do

Don’t rush into signing a contract for a ‘good’ house with a group of people you barely know just to get a good deal. I saw many fellow first years do this and regret it afterwards. They arrive in September, and two months later they’ve committed a year of their lives to share a house with strangers, essentially. They might be your friends, but do you know if they clean the toilet or wash up after eating?

Don’t find out the hard way.

Me? Well I waited it out till I was sure I knew people who were decently hygienic. They happened to be second year students who needed to fill a space of someone who has leaving to study abroad. Lucky me! This was in February though; by then a lot of houses were gone, so my options were somewhat limited. Use your best judgment.

Moving out, moving in

Preparing for the transition from halls to house will save you a lot of stress later on.

Remember when I suggested finding out when your halls contract ends? Well that’ll come in handy now because it will determine how you’ll go about moving your stuff from one place to another.

If your contract ends before your student house contract begins, you’ll have to pack your things ready to move out of halls first. I highly recommend finding storage to put your boxes away during the period between contracts! Additionally, you’ll have to think about where you’re staying during your small period of homelessness.

This is why many parents come down to university to help students move out. It simply isn’t possible without the support of others if your contract in halls ends before the move-in date.

However, if your contract ends after July, you can enjoy moving from one accommodation to another as gradually as you like. The only downside? Kind of a financial redundancy. You weigh the pros and cons (spoiler: I did it this way).

So, you survived the move and you know the basics, but are you ready for the legal responsibilities that come with moving into a student house?

It may sound daunting, but based on my experience, it’s crucial to stay informed on what’s best practice when it comes to the less exciting aspects of moving house. Below is a guide on what to look out for when signing your first contract.

The contract

Read it.

Your Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreement is the long, comprehensive document that you’ll be asked to sign once you’ve picked a house with your mates to secure the deal. Taking the time to sit and read every bit of information and clause in the document may feel awkwardly pedantic, but will highly increase your awareness of what exactly you’re getting into. Plus, it’s good practice for any binding contract you sign in the future!

The AST includes things like your landlord details, period of tenancy, the lead tenant among your group (chosen by you), deposit fees, rent payments, responsibilities regarding utilities and cleanliness, and any other fees you may have to pay.

This document is your house bible.

  • Can you put posters on the walls? Check the AST.
  • Are pets allowed? Check the AST.
  • What’s the minimum notice my landlord has to give me for a visit of any kind? Yep, AST.
  • Can I paint the walls? AST!
  • Do I need to regularly manage mould build-up? AST, AST, AST.

Think of the AST as the ultimate reference for anything you would ever think of regarding house maintenance, technicalities and specific circumstances. Meeting the demands of the AST not only demonstrates you’re a responsible tenant, but it also ensures you’re not breaking any agreed clauses so you aren’t liable to fees in the future, or deposit deductions.

Trust me on this one.

The deposit

Ah, the deposit. Infamously coveted by evil landlords, forever out of the poor student’s grasp.

No, I’m kidding. Really, getting your deposit back in full (or near full) is as simple as communicating with your landlord and ensuring your house is left the same way it was when you checked in. Use the inventories to your advantage and get everything in writing if things do go wrong. You should be working with your landlord to restore any damages (whether caused by you or not) before the end of the tenancy.

If a dispute does arise, check which scheme your deposit is protected under. It’s in the AST. There is a three-month period during which you can dispute your deposit deductions at the end of tenancy. Contact your university’s housing advice centre if persistent issues arise or you have a troublesome landlord or you feel you are being charged unfairly.

Bills, bills, bills

It’s time to think about utilities. If yours are included in your monthly rent, great! But that’s usually just for gas and electric, and if your internet isn’t set up by default you’ll have to go through a third party. Luckily it’s a relatively simple process and can be done via any major internet provider—just find a deal that suits you.

If your utilities aren’t included, you’ll need to find out if you’re paying via a top-up meter (pay as you go, essentially) or billed monthly as per usage. Your landlord should know this, as well was which provider the previous tenants were registered with. It’s a simple process of re-opening the account the previous tenants had for the property—if you want to stick with that provider.

There’s usually competitively priced packages out there for students. Again, use your best judgment when choosing providers.

You may also want to consider opening a separate bank account for utilities. All members of the house can then transfer their share each month to that account to make payment quick and easy!

And finally…

Now enjoy the house! For real this time. Hopefully you have a good idea of what’s expected of you in your new house.

You may also decide to continue living there for an extra year. Or if you want a different house, everything from part one still applies—get looking early!

(It may sound counterintuitive having just moved in—and well, it is).

You might have to deal with house politics. Did you pick rooms before you moved in, or after? Who gets the top shelf? Who left this empty pizza box on the couch?

When in doubt, communicate and be honest.

Depending on how many people you’re living with, it might feel really simple, or really difficult!