Finding somewhere to rent is a big decision. Once you have signed a tenancy agreement it will be legally binding and you will have to continue paying the rent until the end of the tenancy. Although some tenancies may allow you to leave before the end of the tenancy period, most landlords in Durham expect students to sign a tenancy agreement for a year whether you are living there all the time or not. It is therefore essential that you consider carefully whether the property is right for you. The following questions will help you to consider the different aspects you need to take into account when looking for somewhere to live.
Can you afford it?
How much is your rent per month? Can you afford this? Does the rent include the monthly bills such as gas, electricity and water? If not, try to find out an estimate of what these will cost from the landlord, current tenants or a comparison website. If you choose a bills-inclusive option you will be paying for those bills every month, including when you are not there. Durham has a variety of rental properties with varying rent rates and it is therefore possible to pay a reasonable rent if you are prepared to consider all the options. By choosing an area that is a little further away from your department may save you money.
Can you imagine living with the flatmates you have chosen for a year? Do you get on with everyone in your chosen group? Durham Students' Union Advice Service has reported that the most common complaint received from students renting private properties is about their flatmates. If you and your flatmates sign a contract with all your names on it, you are ‘jointly and severally liable’ which means that you are all liable for the whole of the rent. It is therefore essential that you are completely happy with who you have chosen to live with before you sign a contract.
Where are you going to live?
Are you happy with the area you have chosen to live in? Durham is a very small city with many rental properties within walking distance of the centre and Durham University main Lower Mountjoy site, departments and colleges. Some areas in or near the city centre are extremely popular with undergraduate students and this is reflected in the rental prices. If you are prepared to choose other areas in and around Durham, you may find that you can save a substantial amount on your weekly rent. Many postgraduate students who live in private accommodation choose this option. An area map of Durham will help you with your search.
Before signing a contract check with the landlord whether any administration fees will be charged. The Tenant Fees Act means that you should not be charged any fees for registering with a landlord or agent, for searching for properties or administrative fees once you have found a property and are signing the contract. Fees can vary and you should find out what the fee will be before agreeing to anything.
Viewing the Property
Ensure that you are aware of what is included in the property. Some properties may not include items like crockery, utensils or larger items like microwaves and kettles. Check the advert and ask the landlord if you are in doubt. If the landlord promises that certain works will be carried out or furniture provided that are not currently in the property, ask for confirmation in writing.
Do you understand the contract?
Make sure you understand the clauses in your contract before signing it. The landlord should give you at least 24 hours’ notice for you to check your contract. A tenancy agreement is a legally binding document. It is therefore essential to be happy with the location, flatmates, rent levels of your accommodation and any other details outlined before signing a contract which can't be cancelled. In order to ensure the contract is legal and adequately protects your rights, please refer to the Durham Students' Union Advice Service webpages relating to contract checking.
Check if you will have to pay a deposit and any rent in advance. By law, security deposits must be protected and placed in a government scheme. Your landlord must provide you with information about what scheme s/he is using as well other specific information. See further information about tenancy deposit schemes.
Landlords have legal obligations to ensure the safety of tenants. The Homes Act means they must get a gas safety certificate for every appliance in the property and have this available for tenants to view, ensure furniture meet fire safety standards, as well as ensure electrical equipment provided is safe.
DON'T RUSH INTO MAKING A DECISION
Durham has a large number of Estate Agents, individual landlords and rental property available with a growing volume of accommodation for students. We would advise you not to rush in and to take your time in carefully considering all factors before signing a tenancy agreement.
More information about privately renting can be found on various government sites as well as through independent organisations like Shelter. Further information is provided through the links on the right hand side of this page.
Your landlord will ask for proof that you have the Right to Rent in the UK. More information about this regulation can be found here.
DURHAM STUDENT ASSURED HOUSING SCHEME
The Durham County Council introduced an assured housing scheme in 2015. More information can be found on their website here