How to solve issues with your landlord

Having issues with your accommodation and not sure how to proceed? Take a look at Elliot’s step-by-step guide to addressing problems with your landlord and ensuring your voice is heard.

I’ve got more than my share of stories dealing with housing issues as a student tenant. Today, I want to share the step-by-step process that I use to resolve issues with problematic management – particularly when they’re determined to ignore you.

Why does this happen?

Short answer – there isn’t really incentive for a lazy property manager to fix issues or upgrade a student home.

  • Undergrads are, on the whole, inexperienced with escalating an issue in an attention-grabbing way.
  • Student houses are generally filled every year (regardless of state of house)
  • Students can be too polite – simply carrying on if ignored.

So: this article aims to offer a solution to these issues by breaking down the process of escalating an issue with an absentee or difficult landlord (without resorting to shouting down a phone).

But first, there’s something that you MUST do:

Be a good tenant

Because it’s literally in your contract.

Ensure you can unequivocally check off every point under the ‘Tenant Obligations’ section. Generally, this includes paying rent on time (legally the most critical), avoiding noise complaints, and keeping the house in reasonable cleanliness and repair.

Fail to do this, and your case may not be considered favorably – or even backfire, endangering you legally.

If this warning doesn’t apply to you, without further ado, here’s how to escalate an issue with your landlord.

1.     Contact them

But: do it right. This is the most important step.

First: CALL whoever is responsible for maintenance – tell them:

  • Exactly what the issue is (e.g. top drawer of the small cabinet in the room at the back of the house on the 1st floor has a collapsed floor – as opposed to ‘my cabinet’s broken’).
  • Exactly what you want done (‘I’d like either the drawer replaced, or the cabinet replaced entirely’ instead of ‘I want it fixed’).
  • Why it’s an issue (‘I took the room understanding I would have 3 drawers worth of storage, and I currently only have 2’).

Don’t hang up until you’ve written down:

  • What they intend to do (e.g. either come and take a look, or pick up a replacement and install it).
  • When they intend to do it – this is CRITICAL, because it sets up a timeline after which you can start escalating. Note the date that you can expect to hear back from them, or expect to see them.
  • Or: if they’re unwilling – why.

If you can’t get in touch: leave a message asking them to call you back.

Second: follow up the call/message with an email. Repeat both your request, and what they said they’d do, including any dates and times mentioned. Include photos of the issue, since this signals that you have photo evidence.

You’re leaving a paper trail, and proof you attempted to have your issues resolved.

If you can’t contact them (or they ignore you)- send an email with the request anyway, make a note of the date you tried to call, and skip straight to step two now. Otherwise…

Third wait. And if they don’t get back to you by the date they set…

2.     Make an appointment with a Housing Advisor

Since the service is free: I recommend using RUSU Housing Advice –just make an appointment via phone or email, or do a drop-in session during Advice Hours.

To do this, you need a copy of your housing contract (you should have one from your estate agent or landlord. If you don’t, request it), a printout of the email you sent, and if they didn’t reply – the dates you tried to call.

The goal is to understand:

  • What part of the housing contract’s been breached
  • How serious it is
  • How to escalate

3.     Escalate

This part’s simple.

Most likely – you’re going to be advised speak to Reading Borough Council, (since they handle health and safety breaches).

As luck would have it – Technical Officers from the Civic Office sit in RUSU every other week, exactly for this purpose.

This is where the legal pressure starts to happen. Base your actions off your advisor’s recommendations.

4.     Keep records – and expect contact from management

You’re nearly done. A council officer will now contact house management, informing them of the upcoming visit.

It’s likely that management will, at the very last minute, be VERY willing to solve all issues; so have a complete list of desired outcomes ready before this point, so you can simply hand it over.

If management doesn’t resolve- then the council will instruct you on what escalation will follow.

Keep a record of what happens – and follow their instructions, keeping in constant contact and sticking to any and all deadlines.

Conclusion

Overall, escalating an issue with a difficult landlord is a pretty simple process:

  1. Contact them both by phone and in writing.
  2. If they don’t respond – go to a RUSU Housing Advisor with your contract.
  3. Based on their response, escalate the issue (most likely with Reading Borough Council).
  4. Keep your record handy– and wait for the inspection. If it isn’t resolved by this point, RBC will help you escalate this legally.

Remember to be polite and professional throughout (being firm or annoyed is fine – just keep it civil and don’t take things personally). For the most part, people are just trying to maintain things as best they can.

But –others very definitely see vulnerable students as an opportunity to get lazy.

If this is the case, you now know how to escalate. Don’t let yourself be ignored.

You – and your house – will be better for it.

Happy Holidays and Happier Studying!

Christmas is coming! Liam shares his tips on staying productive during the holidays.

Hey guys, as the festive season (and a well-deserved break) is approaching, I thought I would share 4 quick tips on how I improved the quality of my studying during the holidays.

My hometown, Milton Keynes, during the festive season is amazing.

  1. Balance

The term ‘holidays’ can certainly be a deceiving one. While it is perfectly reasonable to have as much fun as you can during this time, it is also perfectly reasonable to make sure you get some studying done. In other words, it is about learning to create a harmony between work and play. Personally, I found that if I spent my mornings studying, I could spend the rest of my day binging Queer Eye on Netflix. (It really is such a wonderful, wholesome TV show.)

  1. Planning ahead

I know, I know, the last thing you want to be thinking about is the next term when you have finally entered the holidays. However, I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to check how your modules are structured for the next term. Typically, I look at my reading lists to see what books I have to study for each week. In fact, during the holidays I tend to read the first halves of my reading lists, which significantly reduces my workload for the following term.

  1. Schedules

Looking at a schedule during the holidays is akin to having to sit through Antiques Roadshow—it is not the most exhilarating thing. Despite all that, a schedule is a way of providing your day with some structure, and it makes you aware of the fact that you need to reserve some time for yourself to study. Having a schedule does not have to be an overcomplicated, month-long Excel spreadsheet. In actuality, I spare 5 minutes every morning to write a Word document with a few tasks and some accompanying time slots. For example, “Read 70 pages of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest from 10:00am to 11:00am’.

  1. Study Space

I will keep this one short and snappy as my word count is running out (I am sure you are all relieved by that). When I am at home during the holidays it can be a bit on the noisy side, so I found some local study spaces—such as my library and Starbucks—to keep myself focused on my work.

In my hometown, Campbell Park is such a relaxing place to study.

Well, I hope those tips helped out! Have a great holiday, guys!

Saving Money at University

Money has a habit of disappearing quickly – especially when you have rent, bills and a social life to juggle! Take a look at Emily’s top tips on making your money go further at university…

As someone who knows the woes of living on a tight budget while waiting for their next termly student finance deposit, here are 6 handy tips to stretch your student loan:

  1. Get a part-time job. You may think you don’t have the time to work on top of your studies but the University offers part-time work even on campus so you don’t have the excuse of a long commute. If you check out CampusJobs online or speak to them in the Carrington building, you can find roles that fit into your timetable and help fund some extra spending.
  2. Buy course books second-hand. Amazon may lure you in with a brand-new copy, but Blackwell’s offer great discounts, price matches with other online sellers, has free delivery even to campus and stocks second-hand copies that will help save you a few pennies. Top tip: you can also sell your course books back to Blackwell’s once you have finished with them!
  3. Take advantage of student discounts. TOTUM Cards (previously known as NUS cards) give you 10% off every time you shop at the Co-op and other retailers, but don’t forget UniDays for free offers for lots of the restaurants in Reading. Invest in a National Express coach card and a Railcard too to save up to 30% on your trips back home!
  4. Food budgeting is key to saving money. Visit cheaper supermarkets like ALDI, ASDA or Iceland and you can get offers for students such as money off when you do a big shop. You won’t always get your branded baked beans, but their alternatives taste just as good. Try to allot a certain spending amount each week, cap it and plan all your meals ahead: Co-Op meal deals every single day at lunchtime get expensive.
  5. Buying in bulk also helps; it may seem expensive at first but it works out cheaper overall for long-life food items. You’ll have all your essentials for weeks and have cheaper shopping trips after that.
  6. Try not to impulse buy (even if the Oracle is always tempting you with its offers). Be the boss of your budget and manage what you spend so that you don’t end up deep in your overdraft within the first few days of student finance coming in.

Follow these tips and you hopefully won’t end up -£1000 in your overdraft next term like many people I know!

If you do find yourself worried about money and would like some advice, you can always contact the Student Financial Support Team, who will be happy to help you.

Reading Knights Athletics Club Review

Rebecca shares her experience with the Reading Knights Athletics Club…

If even after panic signing up to nearly every society at the sports fair, and attending numerous taster sessions, you didn’t manage to give athletics a go – I hope this review of Reading University Knights Athletics club (RUKA) will provide some insight into the offerings of the society.

Firstly – for new runners, joining an athletics club can be quite intimidating. As someone who recently took up running myself, I found often despite clubs advertising ‘all abilities welcome’ I was the only person at my ability (rather slow!). However, RUKA genuinely does have members of all abilities, and every speed is welcome to join the runs. This is so refreshing and welcoming, and in my personal opinion, one of the best things about the society.

The Society is structured around the four key aspects of a good running programme: strength, endurance, tempo & speed work. A typical week looks like:

Monday am – Circuits with coach

Monday pm – 5k road run

Wednesday afternoon – Half Marathon training: longer run

Friday pm – Track session

The athletics society competes in cross-country races as a part of LUCA (London Universities & Colleges Athletics), as well as BUCS and track events. These races are actually (somewhat surprisingly) great fun. Mostly held in/near London, there is a great vibe brought by the likes of UCL, St Mary’s, Kings & Imperial.

For more info and how to get involved check out the RUKA RUSU page, where you can find the link to the Facebook group: https://www.rusu.co.uk/sports/athleticsruac/.

 

Top tips for acing your group assignment

Do group assignments fill you with dread? Taz has some top tips for making sure you ace the next one!

Does the prospect of a group assignment fill you with dread? At some point during your degree course, it is likely that you will be set a group assignment to complete for one of your modules. And whilst there are many students who enjoy group assignments, there are others who find the prospect of meeting deadlines, transferring their skills, and displaying their potential more difficult when working as part of a group. Nonetheless, there are five steps that you can take to ensure that you do as well as possible in these types of assignments, meanwhile ensuring that it is a stress-free experience.

Step 1: Know your group

More often than not, your lecturers will allow you to choose the students in your group. However, be aware that there will be students who may be unable to find a group, or smaller groups that need putting together. You can often check your group structures by searching under the ‘Groups’ tab within your module on Blackboard.

Step 2: Agree on your communication method

A key starting point for a successful group assignment is regular and effective communication between all group members. Once set the project, it is a good idea to decide how you are going to communicate as a group.

This might include

  • Facebook messenger
  • WhatsApp
  • Emails
  • BB group discussion board

Step 3: Planning

To ensure that you meet the assignment deadline and all aspects of the criteria, it is crucial to plan the assignment as a group. Examples of the types of projects you could be set include:

  • Class presentations
  • Prezzi presentations
  • A website
  • Group data analysis
  • A video
  • A poster or leaflet

It is best to create the plan for your assignment in person and somewhere where you can all focus. Across the University, there are numerous study spaces that you can use for the planning. To save time searching for a room, you also book a room to use in advance via the University’s online booking system.

Step 4: Delegating roles and completing the project

When it comes to assigning roles, you may either decide to complete all parts of the assignment as a group, or to delegate a section to each member. This might depend of the skill strengths of each team member, or the requirements of the task. Regardless, you want to ensure that all members of the group have a fair share of the work load. To help with the completion of the project, you can also use the University’s Life Tools Programme which offers a range of workshop sessions including ‘How to prepare for and give successful academic presentations’.

Step 5: Meeting the submission deadline

The typical completion period for a group assignment is a month. This gives you plenty of time to effectively plan, complete and review the assignment as a group. Likewise, it is a good idea to decide during the planning stage which student will submit the project (if required). It is often the case that, if an electronic submission, only one member of the group will need to submit the assignment via Blackboard.

Alcohol Free Fun

There are times, especially at university, when it can feel tough to get out and socialise with people if you aren’t drinking. For Alcohol Awareness Week 2018, Rebecca has shared some of her favourite alcohol-free ways to have fun and spend quality time with friends.

Headlines this year showed that 1 in 5 university students say they don’t drink alcohol – and as a generation we drink far less than those before us. Drivers of this trend include the increased health awareness of students, wider diversity of faiths and the financial burden of studying. Whether you tried it for Sober October, or are planning on giving your liver and bank account a break in Dry January – here are some ways to spend your time teetotal and not be missing out on all the fun!

Firstly it can be hard to justify spending money when on a tight budget – however by saving money on alcohol/going out, you can spend that same amount of money on teetotal-time instead (and probably get more for your money!). Here are some fun things I do when I’m not drinking and encouraging friends to join me – although it can be difficult to persuade them at first, after they see what a good time you can have without drinking, you’ll be planning a lot more teetotal trips out!

  1. A nice meal out: Reading is full of great, affordable options if you’re looking to eat out. Bakery House offer a delicious and budget-friendly taste of Lebanese cuisine, and if Italian food is more your thing, give Buon Appetito a try for their awesome pizza and atmosphere. The best part of a nice meal out, sans the alcohol? The vastly decreased bill at the end!
  2. A trip to the cinema: As activities go, the cinema isn’t known for being the cheapest of options – but your handy student card will get you a discount at Vue, and it’s always worth keeping your eyes open for their special offers on tickets.
  3. A movie night in with all the snacks: Like being at the cinema, but with more sofas and blankets, and the ability to have a pizza delivered without getting kicked out. What’s not to love?
  4. Trampolining: Definitely an activity to be attempted sober! RedKangaroo Reading even have a Total Wipeout style course if you’re feeling ambitious.
  5. Crazy Golf: This will involve a bit of travel, so is a great option if one of your friends has a car, or you’re willing to travel the half-hour or so into London to check out some of the awesome themed courses on offer across the city.
  6. Bowling: Again, you may have to travel further afield for this one – why not spend some of the money you save on drinks and travel into nearby London to check out one of their unique bowling alleys?
  7. Quiz & Karaoke at Mojo’s: Test your general knowledge skills and sing the night away every Thursday with RUSU! The quiz kicks off at 8pm, but get there early to secure a table – it costs just £5 per team to join.
  8. RUSU Comedy Central: If you’re not a quiz fan and the idea of singing in a public space fills you with dread, perhaps a comedy night would be a better fit for you. Comedy Central Live takes place on Tuesdays in 3Sixty. Book tickets and check out other weekly RUSU events
  9. Join the society ‘R U Not Drinking Much’: This society was established to give students the opportunity to have fun and socialise without alcohol. You can get involved in movie nights, board game nights and off-campus trips – and membership is free!

Let us know in the comments below if you make one of these alcohol free swaps from your usual drinking activities! If you would like to know more about drug and alcohol advice provided at the University, click here.

Year Abroad: My First Impressions

Lucy shares the excitement and challenges that come with living and studying abroad…

Without a doubt, preparing to go on my year abroad was one of the most stressful periods of my life. I think this is mainly due to fear of the unknown, because you really don’t know what to expect before going. Nonetheless, I was incredibly excited to start my new adventure.

Preparing to head off

In the week before I went, I barely slept, I was coping fine in the day and was excited to move to Italy, but when I got into bed, my mind suddenly decided it would be a great time to think about all of the logistics.

I had shipped over my bags to Italy using Uni Baggage. With Uni Baggage you can get your bags picked up from your house and delivered to pretty much any location in the world (an amazing company, I would recommend using it to any student). I was worried however that my bags would get lost on the way, but luckily all three of my bags did arrive in Italy safely!

 

When I arrived

I didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived in Italy, but I was very happy from the moment I arrived at my apartment that I had booked through Erasmusu (another great site I would recommend looking at if you’re going on a year abroad). My bedroom was clean and modern and after a quick trip to IKEA and Tiger it was very homely.

Over the next week there were lots of things that I needed to sort out. If you are going to live in Italy you must get a codice fiscale, which serves as a type of identification. We also had to sign up at the university, collect our Erasmus cards etc etc. What I have learned is that in Italy it can be quite hard to get stuff done. Their opening hours seem to be more like a guidance rather than definitive.

The moral of the story is, if you go on a year abroad to Italy, don’t expect to get settled straight away because the culture is a bit more relaxed than it is in England. For the most part this is a positive – take into account the long, sociable lunches that Italians love to have, they really are amazing. However it is frustrating when you actually need to get something done!

 

Settling in

I have started to make a small group of friends, but these are mainly other Erasmus students. In my experience, it has been difficult to make friends with Italian students because they already formed friendship groups with each other.

Another challenge has been living with people from other cultures. I live with a Spanish girl and an Argentinian girl. Both have never lived with other students before. I am a very clean person, but we all have different expectations of house cleanliness, which can make it difficult!

After being here for a month I am only just starting to become homesick. I really love it here and I am incredibly happy, but I am starting to miss a few home comforts, namely PG Tips, Dairy Milk and a Chinese takeaway! To try and battle this I am putting into practice the advice I wrote about in my blog post about homesickness.

Reading University Music Society Review – Why You Should Come Along Too

Emily gives us some insight into the Reading University Music Society.

I joined RUMS back in October 2017, deciding that even though I wasn’t a fresher, I certainly shouldn’t miss out on the activities on offer that I’d been missing out on in my first year. I’d been a bit bowled over by the societies on offer and ended up not joining as many as I thought I would. By second year I decided to be gutsy and join the student led music society. I must confess that I didn’t even know where the London Road campus was until a committee member walked me there and I met everyone, who all seemed at first to be excitedly brandishing instruments. You see, I wanted to try something new and joining a choir seemed like good fun. I hadn’t sung properly in a group since the days of the dreaded primary school plays and thankfully the choir at RUMS is far more in tune than a bunch of 11-year olds.

After the first session I was most certainly hooked and have since performed in 3 of the termly concerts that RUMS holds and have started playing percussion in Concert Band too. It’s made me a far more confident person, knowing I could learn a new skill and I find that singing for an hour once a week is a great relief from the stresses of deadlines and is often a great laugh in rehearsals too. Within a year of joining the society I got the courage to stand for the committee and can now proudly say I am the publicist for RUMS, getting to create artwork for the posters and encouraging new members to all of our ensembles.

I may have elaborated on why I joined RUMS, but here’s some pointers as to why you should give it a go too:

  • Music is a great relief for stress and improves mental alertness (which we all need when you’ve got two lectures back to back on a Tuesday).
  • It’s only £10.50 for the whole year so it won’t break the bank.
  • We’re going to a West End show in 2019.

Lots of concerts to take part in, which is a great way to make your parents proud and say you’re spending your student loan well and not on VKs at Union!

 

(Our summer concert: credit to RUMS)

We’d love to see some new members to our society, so if you play an instrument or would like to sing in our choir, visit our website here. We have lots of ensembles available which practice weekly and none of these are auditioned, with monthly socials too. Come along, get involved and see what RUMS is all about.

Feminism for All!

Liam gives us an introduction to the University’s Feminist Society.

Hey guys, I hope you are all well! Today I wanted to tell you about the University’s Feminist Society, the ways in which the Society has made me a better person, and why you should join!

So what actually is the University’s Feminist Society?

FemSoc was re-established in 2018 after being inactive for two years, and their welcomed return marks the centenary of women gaining the right to vote in the United Kingdom.

They host a wide array of events—which includes lectures, debates, socials, etc.—that aim to create a safe, inclusive, and informative space for supporters of feminism.

My personal experience with FemSoc

On October the 18th I attended the Society’s first event of the year, entitled ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’, which celebrated women of colour across the globe. The event’s proceeds were generously donated to a breast cancer awareness charity called CoppaFeel!

The FemSoc committee members thanking everyone for the great turnout.

There were three guest speakers in attendance: Selina Patankar-Owens, Head of Student Wellbeing Services; Marissa Joseph, Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Henley Business School; and Teni Onabanjo, University of Oxford Graduate and Barrister. In their respective talks they spoke about the challenges they faced as ethnic minority women and how they overcame said challenges. As a direct result of this event, I have gained a new self-awareness of my own privileges in society as a white, straight male; I have also better developed my ability to listen and learn from everyone’s individual experiences.

Why should you join?
  1. A better campus life: I firmly believe FemSoc’s values—which include pro-active feminism, intersectionality, and inclusivity—are fundamental to making campus life safer and more enjoyable for all staff and students.
  2. Original perspectives: University is all about learning new perspectives to enrich your understanding of the world around you, so why not come to a feminist debate and listen to some challenging ideas? (Plus, free snacks and drinks are such blessings.)
  3. Community: One of the biggest benefits of joining FemSoc is that you meet students who all believe in one essential ideology: the support for women’s rights. Who in the world doesn’t want friends that are feminists?

If you would like further information regarding the Reading University FemSoc, please click here for a link to their Facebook page.

Thanks guys, have a lovely day!

Organising rented accommodation for second year

If you’re looking at accommodation for the next academic year right now, student Taz has some advice to consider!

Having only just settled into your first-year student accommodation, the thought of organising a house for second year might seem a little strange. However, when it comes to finding student housing beyond first year, there are many housing preferences shared by students that make the task a competitive one. For example, houses with the following qualities are often most popular and taken off the market the quickest:

  • Multiple bedrooms (5+ tenant houses)
  • Large bedrooms (especially rooms with double bed )
  • Convenient location (Houses based in ‘student areas’ or close to shops/uni)
  • Large communal rooms
  • Clean!

 

Know where to look

The most important thing to know when organising your rented accommodation is who you can go to for advice at University. The University’s Essentials webpages offer a large scope of advice on all things about university life, including accommodation. Here you’ll find tips on things including estate agents, to bills and council tax.

 

Look around

Whilst it may feel like you’re in competition with other large groups of students when looking for 5+ bedroom houses, you need to ensure that you look at a couple of houses before making your decision. There’s a range of houses on the market, all with different positive and negative aspects to them. It’s also advised to consider the most important accommodation features for all tenants before opting to go with a house. Do you want to be near to campus? Town? The Gym? How many of you will bring cars?

 

Check the contract

The contract is often considered the scariest part of the accommodation process. Yes, it’s a pretty long document that you’ll want to sign and get off your chest as quick as possible, but it’s something that you need to go through with a highlighter or notepad to ensure that you don’t miss out on anything that needs attention or may cost you money. It’s also good idea to ask a couple of parents to read through the contract, before you sign it, to check for anything unusual. Equally, always be sure to keep a copy of these documents in the possession of your lead tenant.

 

Be prepared for charges

Typically, landlords and estate agents will ask for a payment to secure the house as soon as you’ve made your decision. You’ll usually be asked for a charge of around £100 pp. to take the house off of the market, and then given a period of up to a month before you will need to pay a deposit for the house which is often the first month’s rent.

These are some of the key things to know when searching and securing your student house, nonetheless not the only things. Other aspects such as utility bills, deposit fees and furniture are things that can be looked at nearer the time. You can find advice for all these things on the University’s webpages.  

Happy house hunting!