Moving out of halls of residence into a shared house should be full of fun. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief after swapping restrictive rules for true independence and have the chance to make the house feel more like your own. It’s no wonder that during term-time, 38% of university students choose to live in a privately rented house or flat.
However, for every brilliant outcome, there are plenty of pitfalls too. Everyone’s heard the horror stories of vile landlords screwing students over on their deposit while they freeze in mouldy, mice-ridden rooms. Or what about the best friend who suddenly turns into the housemate from hell because of their terrible hygiene and insistence on urinating directly out of their bedroom window? It’s nearly enough to make you put your name down for an extra year in halls.
When you have a degree or post-grad course to study for, and possibly a part-time job to hold-down too, then it really is vital that you have a homely place for study, rest, relaxation, romance and friendships. The last thing you need is for it to cause you undue stress.
Luckily, a little planning and thought is all it takes to avoid most major hiccups in shared rental accommodation. Here’s how to enjoy it and make it work:
1 Before you sign on the dotted line, do your homework
Firstly, consider the worst case scenarios and take a couple of steps to prevent them from happening. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau is often the place people end up when in crisis with a litigious landlord or a dispute with housemates over unpaid bills or theft or damage of personal belongings.
You can be one step ahead by reading their guide to the different rental agreements. This explains the best ways of setting up a sharing arrangement ensuring, for example, that if a housemate fails to pay the rent it doesn’t jeopardise your position or make you accountable for the unpaid share.
2 Love your landlord (well, sort of)
They aren’t all bad, honest! But the quickest way to get on the wrong side of yours is to make late payments, upset the neighbours or sublet the property without permission. The Studentastic website explains the intricacies of subletting if this is a money-saving route you want or need to consider.
You’ll also need to take reasonable care with the place – easier said than done, for sure, as you won’t always have control over who visits. As long as you have not damaged the property (beyond normal wear and tear) you are entitled to your deposit back – it is your money after all. You can increase the chances of this going smoothly by double-checking your money has been put in a Deposit Protection Scheme, taking photos of the property when you move in and agreeing an inventory of items. This will protect you in case of any disagreement.
It can work both ways too. If you are a good tenant, the landlord will look after you and fix any problems quickly, although how quickly can vary from landlord to landlord especially if they have multiple properties and dozens of tenants to attend to. Indeed, many landlords are happy to negotiate cheaper rent if you won’t be using the property over the summer months – this is ideal if you plan to enjoy home comforts and get mum to deal with that massive bag of dirty laundry.
Alternatively, you might want to stay put and enjoy your digs without your housemates under foot. Whatever your preference, make sure you know what the deal is regarding out-of-term rent before you sign the contract. Having to pay an extra month or two’s rent isn’t a shock you want just before you leave for the holidays or if your finances are already stretched to the limit.
3 Make it your own
It actually takes very little effort to make a place feel welcoming and cosy, rather than anonymous and boring. Try shopping for household items, such as cushions, bed linen and small items of furniture in the sales and on eBay or Gumtree. Parents and grandparents are often delighted to chip in and buy practical items too. They will make the transition easier because there’s nothing worse than moving to a new house in a new town without your creature comforts in place. Plus, if you end up in unfurnished accommodation after university, you’ll have bought the basics already.
4 Travel and storing your stuff out of term
There’s no need to be put off accumulating items by the dread of dragging them all home in the holidays, either by car or even worse, public transport. Storing your possessions is the sensible option, and absolutely vital for those with lots of stuff or an international journey ahead. There are plenty of good storage providers out there.
Similarly, if you’re planning a year abroad as part of your course – or a gap year travelling - then storing your stuff will be vital. Once your parents have sent you off to uni, they won’t be too impressed if you arrive on the doorstep at the end of term with all your clobber only for you to jet off and leave them to store it.
Deciding what to do with personal possessions is particularly important if you’re an international student because you might not know whether you’ll be staying in the UK after your degree. The existing rules are still supposed to be in play but who knows what might happen in the next six months after the Brexit vote. So placing everything in secure storage will buy you time, and your things can easily be sent abroad if needed.
5 House rules rule the house
Getting on with your housemates is a big deal. It can make or break your experience of uni. We’ve all come from different backgrounds with our own idea of what “normal” is. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, so the saying goes. It’s well worth sitting down with future housemates and checking you all agree, although “house-mate meetings” themselves can be a bone of contention: these are meant to be your wild and free years after all. But if things really aren’t working out, avoid passive aggressive behaviour at all costs if you can because it just leads to resentment and misunderstandings. If you suddenly notice lots of post-it notes with a dozen angry exclamation marks appearing on stacks of dirty plates or the fridge door, it’s time to get the kettle on and have a proper chat.
6 Running riot
One of the pleasures and pains of student shares is of course the parties. Chances are you will have at least one, but make sure all housemates are informed and involved and avoid key exam or assignment deadline dates for each other. It’s no fun pulling an all-nighter at the computer when everyone else is having raucous fun through paper-thin walls. Being a student isn’t about losing respect for other people and ignoring their needs, it’s about finding yourself and enjoying the ride but not at someone else’s expense.
7 Uninvited lovers
Chat about partners too. You may all start off single but after that legendary party… The quickest way to annoy your housemates (and potentially your landlord too) is for your partner to become an unofficial, free-loading member of the household. It’s all about being upfront and deciding what is reasonable in advance of an issue.
Now you’ve got the serious stuff out of the way, you can focus on enjoying yourself… and working out how to solve the ultimate of First World problems…who keeps stealing your hummus?