Guide to private accommodation

Moving into privately owned accommodation can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time. This handy guide will help you spot any pitfalls so you can find a safe and comfortable home.

Shared accommodation is a popular student housing option as it’s often good value for money. Moving into a shared house with your friends can be exciting, or it can be a great way to meet new people if you move in on your own.

There’s loads of private properties suitable for students in London, so you’ll have plenty of choice. You may have been told that you’ll miss out if you don’t book early, but this simply isn’t true. Be organised and don’t leave it to the last minute, but there’s no need to rush the process.

Before you search for private accommodation, you should:

  • Think about the type of accommodation you’re looking for. Do you want a shared house? Or would you prefer a flat? Perhaps dedicated student accommodation is more up your street?
  • Decide who you want to live with. If you plan on sharing private accommodation, you and your housemates are going to be jointly responsible for the bills. So make sure you know who you’re moving in with and be confident that you can trust them. You also need to know how many bedrooms you need – you don’t want to end up sleeping on the sofa!
  • Research the locations you’d like to live in. Find out about the local areas in and around London. Work out how easy it will be to travel to Uni and think about what amenities you need nearby.
  • Work out how much you can afford to spend. Budgeting is vital. You need to make sure you’re not overspending, so work out exactly what your monthly outgoings are likely to be, including bills, food, and socialising. Our student support services can assist you with this.
  • Be prepared to view plenty of different properties. Seeing a variety of properties will help you get a feel for value for money and understand what factors are most important when choosing your accommodation.

Choosing affordable accommodation in a good location is important, but don’t forget to look into the finer details too. Nobody wants the added stress of dealing with housing issues while you’re studying, so consider the below factors before signing a contract.

If you feel that any of these areas need addressing, you should discuss them with the landlord before signing the contract. Make sure that any changes the landlord has agreed to are written into the contract with the dates clearly specified.


  • Is there a burglar alarm?
  • Is there adequate outside lighting?
  • Are there door and window locks? Are they good quality and in working order?

Fixtures and fittings

  • Does the property come with furniture? Is the furniture in good condition? If not, will it be replaced before you move in?
  • Does the accommodation need decorating? If so, will this be done before you move in?
  • Does the property come with all the appliances you need, such as a washing machine? If not, is there easy access to a launderette?
  • Is the property sufficiently double-glazed and heated?

Rent and deposit

  • How long is the contract for? Make sure it fits your needs.
  • Do you know how much the deposit is? It’s normal for a deposit to be equal to four-to-six weeks of rent.
  • Work out how much rent you will pay over the whole contract period so you know how much you are committing to paying.
  • Avoid paying in cash and always get a receipt.


  • Heating and electricity: in the private sector, rent normally doesn’t cover gas and electricity bills. Having the right energy provider can make a big difference to your monthly outgoings. You may be able to choose another provider if the landlord allows it.
  • Water: some landlords include water charges in the rent, but others do not. This then becomes the responsibility of the tenants. If it’s unclear what bills you are expected to pay as a tenant, ask.
  • Gas safety: if the property has a gas supply, it is a legal requirement that all gas equipment is checked by a Gas Safe Register. Ask the letting agent or landlord to supply you with a current copy of the gas safety certificate. Properties must have a current gas safety certificate to be advertised on our website.
  • Internet and phone lines: private accommodation sometimes includes internet, but in most cases you will have to set up and pay for it separately. Phone lines are almost never included in rent.

Council Tax

  • Students may or may not be liable to pay Council Tax, depending on their status. If in doubt, you should seek advice from your local Council Tax office or your Students’ Union Welfare Office.

Once you’ve found where you want to live, there are a few things to remember to ensure the process runs smoothly:

  • Use a reputable letting agent
  • Insurance: when you’re ready to move in, you may want to consider contents insurance for your peace of mind. Remember to specify all items that you might need covering, such as a bicycle, and add accidental cover if you want to protect your contents against unexpected mishaps at home. Also, be mindful that phones and laptops taken outside of a locked room or house aren’t usually covered unless you take out Personal Possessions cover. For further information on student contents insurance, please visit the Endsleigh website.

Jargon buster

You’ll come across all sorts of jargon when searching for a new place to live. This can be confusing even if you’ve been through the process before, so always ask if you’re unsure what something means, especially before signing anything.

This guide will help you to understand some of the common terms used by letting agents and landlords.

  • A sum of money, no more than four-to-six weeks of the rent, that’s paid to the landlord, owner or agent of a property before you move. This amount covers any damage that may have been caused during your tenancy, or any cleaning services required once you vacate the property.
  • A deposit should not be used to cover normal wear and tear, and should be returned to you within four weeks of the end of the tenancy. Specific reasons should be given for any deductions, which you may be able to dispute.
  • For assured shorthold tenancies, any deposit you pay must be protected by one of the three government backed tenancy deposit schemes within 30 days of you making payment. You should also receive your deposit back within 10 days under the tenancy deposit scheme.
  • The full list of fees that the landlord or agent can charge can be found in the Tenant Fees Act 2019.

For assured shorthold tenancies in which you are required to pay a deposit, your landlord must put your deposit in a tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days of them taking the payment. Your landlord must say which scheme your money is deposited in and how your deposit is protected. Always ask for a receipt from the landlord.

  • This is a non-returnable amount of money which is used to reserve the accommodation until your contract begins. For example, if you booked a room for the start of the academic year before the summer, you may be asked to pay a retainer to hold the room over the summer.
  • A retainer does not give you the right to live in the property during this period.
  • A refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) should be capped at no more than one weeks rent.

The contract should include the full contact details of the landlord/agent. If you are renting via an agency, make sure you also have the landlord’s full contact details. You are legally entitled to this information. If you have just a name and telephone number, it could be very difficult to pursue the landlord/agent should a dispute arise. The contract should also make clear what rent payments are due and when. It should also be clear who is responsible for paying utility bills.

Before you sign a contract, check that the advertised rent is what is stated on the contract. Errors do occur and if you sign the contract, it may be difficult to argue later. Once a contract has been signed, the terms and conditions cannot be altered unless both parties agree.

  • If you and your housemates sign just one tenancy agreement between you, you are likely to be joint tenants. This means you are all liable for all the rent, bills and deposits.
  • For example, if one tenant can’t or won’t pay their share of the rent, one or all of the others will be legally liable to pay. And if one person damages something in the property, the others may lose some of their deposits to cover the costs.
  • If you and all other tenants sign individual contracts with the landlord, you are likely to be individual tenants. This means you are only liable for rent on your room and cannot be charged if any of your housemates don’t pay the rent or leave before the end of the contract.
  • You will be liable for any damage to your room and communal damage if the person responsible does not accept responsibility.
  • Signing a contract for a fixed period means that you must adhere to the terms and conditions and pay rent for the entire duration of the agreement. You are required to pay rent even when you are not staying in the property, for example during the Christmas or Easter breaks. Some landlords make special arrangements to reduce rent over the summer, but they are not legally obliged to. Make sure any arrangement is confirmed in writing.
  • If you choose to move out during the tenancy period, you will probably still be liable for rent.
  • Occasionally, the contract contains a break clause that enables you to hand in your notice before the tenancy has ended. However, this is rare.
  • If you wish to move out, and your tenancy does not contain a break clause, then you will probably have to try and negotiate a new agreement with your landlord. Often the landlord will allow you to leave, if you can find someone to replace you.
  • If an agreement is not reached, and you decide to move out anyway, then the landlord may take court action to retrieve the unpaid rent for the remainder of the tenancy.

This is a scheme for large student housing developments which house over 15 students in one building. The most obvious reason for choosing to live in a development covered by one of the ANUK/Unipol National Codes is that they provide reassurance: Reassurance that the accommodation is safe and well managed; and reassurance that, should any problems arise, there exists a mechanism to help get them resolved.

For more information about the scheme visit the national code website.

If you need any further information, get in touch by email or call the Accommodation team at NTU on +44 (0)115 848 2894