A guide to renting student accommodation privately

There are plenty of private accommodation options in and around Kingston, so make sure you include them in your search for your perfect student home!

On this page you will find information to help you before you start your search as well as tips on where to look for a property, what to consider when viewing a property and what you need to remember when signing the contract to protect your money – all to ensure you can move into your rented property without delay in time for the start of term. 

Please note

Be extremely careful when seeking accommodation on the internet as cases of fraud are common. Never pay any money or sign documents before arriving in the UK and seeing the property in person.

Before you start your search

Here you will find information on what to consider before you begin your search for a rented property.

Getting started

From shared student houses through local estate agents to private halls of residence companies, rented accommodation offers an accessible student living experience outside of University-owned properties. There are plenty of benefits when it comes to renting privately. You can:

  • choose your own flatmates
  • find a property that suits your budget
  • pay rent monthly
  • choose your facilities (especially useful for couples and families).

Private accommodation is also good for international students wishing to live with their partner or their family, as our University halls of residence are for single occupancy only.

Before you start looking for a property you need to think about:

  • Type of accommodation – How would you like to live? In a house, flat or a studio?
  • With whom – Do you want to live on your own, with friends, with a resident landlord or in a shared family home?
  • Location – In which area wold you like to live? Don't limit yourself to the immediate area as rents can be cheaper further away.
  • Cost – How much are you prepared to pay? Rents vary depending on facilities, condition of the property and area. Make allowances for gas, electricity, water, insurance, TV licence, internet and phone costs.
  • Commute – How far is it from the University and how much will it cost to commute? How long will it take to get to campus? How heavy is the traffic? Is it a safe route?

Remember, you're likely to incur extra costs before you move into a property, including:

  • Holding deposit – Maximum one week's rent. Paid to secure the property after it has been viewed.
  • Tenancy deposit – Up to five weeks' rent. Often paid on the first day of the tenancy or when the contract is signed.
  • One month's rent in advance – Often paid on the first day of the tenancy or when the contract is signed.

Types of rented accommodation

Shared houses/flats

This is where you rent a room in a house/flat and share the kitchen, lounge (if there is one), bathroom and toilet with other residents.

Studio flats

Typically studio flats are one room with a kitchen and separate bathroom. These are usually more expensive.

Many private providers have built blocks of studio flats specifically for students. The advantage of these developments is that you will have a measure of independence but will also be surrounded by other students. To help ensure that you don't feel isolated you should ask the provider what attempts they make to foster a sense of community within the building.

If you don't like the idea of renting a studio flat in a block with other students, you may want to rent directly from a private landlord. This will usually be cheaper and you may get a larger room than the studio flats in purpose-built blocks. However, consider that utility bills will be exclusive.

Bedsits

A bedsit is a room which contains some form of self-contained amenity, normally a small kitchen or separate washing facility. Bathrooms and toilets are usually shared with other residents that also live in the same building.

Resident landlord/family home

This is where you live in a house with the owner. This can be the cheapest option as bills are included in the rent. The provision of meals and who you share with varies. House rules and regimes can also vary considerably, so talk to the resident owner/occupier about what they would expect of you before you view or commit to anything.

There is no such thing as a typical resident landlord. Some are young professionals or recent graduates, others are middle-aged couples and some are retired. Some have young families, whilst others have children who have grown up and left home. Although most students' first preference may be to share with other students, it is worth considering the advantages of this arrangement as well as the disadvantages.

  • Advantages: Contracts are often shorter and more flexible. Lodgings are affordable and don't require a large deposit.
  • Disadvantages: It's not your home and you don't have exclusive use of the communal space. You are living by someone else's rules which can sometimes result in less freedom.

Group dynamics

Would you be better off renting as part of a group or alone?

In general the more people you share with, the cheaper it is. Therefore, someone living in a two-bedroom flat will pay more for their room than someone living in an equivalent four-bedroom house. In any case, most owners offer their properties to students who are in groups. You should, however, be aware of the implications of signing a joint contract before you commit yourself.

Furthermore, before your group goes house hunting you should have a frank discussion about expectations – such as rules about guests, cleaning, washing-up, sharing food, payment of bills and when the heating should be on. Spending time discussing these matters now will prevent serious problems and disagreements developing later on.

If you opt to live in a shared house or flat, what's the best number to share with?

Choosing how many to share with is important. Houses for two, and for six or more, are in short supply.

If you're in a large group and there are no houses big enough on offer, it's worth thinking about splitting into two groups and looking for two houses close to each other.

Larger groups often find it more difficult to manage themselves. Frequently, larger groups have to sacrifice the communal area/lounge for the extra bedroom. Issues can also arise when bills need paying or when sorting out personality clashes. Another reason why smaller groups are often a better idea is that with larger groups (ie five or more) the cleanliness in the house can be more difficult to maintain.

Are there any particular pitfalls to living in a shared house?

There are many people whose company you'd enjoy in the students' union bar. However, living with them is an entirely different proposition. Successfully sharing a house with someone requires a completely different set of skills from enjoying a good night out with them or even living in the same halls of residence.

It's important when hunting for a shared house to be clear about your own 'wants' and 'don't wants' and others' preferences. If you're not clear from the outset, difficulties can emerge during the tenancy.

There is a theory that mixed gender houses work better than single-sex households.

If you decide that you do not, after all, want to live with the people you agreed to share with, say so before signing a contract. It will spare you real problems in the long run.

What about sharing with my partner?

Some students decide to live with a partner in which case a large bedsit, studio or a small house would be the best choice.

Studio flats are the most expensive form of accommodation. However, if two people are paying the rent, studio flats can actually be cheaper than renting a room in a shared house.

In signing any fixed-term agreement it is important to take a realistic view about the nature of your relationship with your partner and the legal commitment you will be making in sharing a flat – will your relationship last longer than your contract?

In addition, if your partner is not a student, they will be liable for council tax. A house/flat is only exempt from paying council tax if all occupants are full time enrolled students.

Tips and advice

  • Take your time.
  • Do not feel pressured to choose whom you live with.
  • If you have any doubts or unanswered questions it is best to wait.
  • There is nothing wrong in choosing to live by yourself if that is what you prefer.

Tenants Fee Act

The Tenants Fee Act came in to force in the UK in 2019. Its goal is to protect tenants from being overcharged by landlords and letting agents.

Here are a few key points to be aware of during your housing search:

  • If you have a suitable guarantor and reference checks, your tenancy deposit should not be more that five weeks' rent.
  • If you do not have a suitable guarantor and reference checks, the landlord or letting agent can ask for a large sum of rent up-front.
  • A UK rent guarantor is someone who has agreed to cover your rent if you cannot pay it. In some cases, the rent guarantor also agrees to cover damages to the property. This individual must be a UK resident.
  • Landlords and letting agents are within their rights to request a holding deposit. However, this cannot exceed one week's rent.

Where to look for a property

There is a strong private rented sector in Kingston and the surrounding areas, with a good range of properties available. Please contact our accommodation officers if you have queries or need help to find a place to rent. 

KU Student Homes

KU Student Homes is a free service that advertises student homes, rooms and lodgings in Kingston and the surrounding area. The listings are updated on a regular basis so we recommend you check it often if you are looking for a property.

Rents range from £100 to £200 per person per week excluding bills. Remember to also allow at least £15 per person per week for utilities (gas, electricity, water, insurance, TV licence and internet/telephone connection). Landlords will expect up to five weeks' rent as a deposit plus a further month's rent in advance.

Landlord contact details will be linked to their advert and all you need to do is contact them to arrange property viewings, contract signings and deposit and rent payments.

Please note: Kingston University ensures that each property advertised on the KU Student Homes platform is compliant with all property certification. However, the contract is often between yourself and the landlord directly and the University are not involved unless it is a Headed Tenancy Property.

Visit the KU Student Homes website

Letting agents

Letting agents may be a more expensive option so ask for a list of their charges before you register with them. The Tenants Fee Act restricts the charges letting agents can implement, so make sure you double check before agreeing to anything.

Agents will usually ask for up to five weeks' rent as a deposit, plus a further month's rent in advance.

One way of choosing which agents to use is to check whether they're a member of a professional body or not. Three of the most reputable are:

Details of their members can be found on their websites.

Online letting services

Useful places to look online include:

You can also contact our accommodation team if you need information about local lettings agents who can help you find accommodation in the Kingston area.

Please note: Kingston University does not work alongside or partner with any of the above platforms. Proceed with caution when exploring various housing options.

Viewing a property

It's extremely important to view a property before you commit to it. If you're part of a group, arrange a viewing when you can all visit together. When you have viewed a number of properties, feel free to ask for a second viewing on your first choice to make sure you/everyone is happy to proceed.

Be careful

Never sign anything or pay any money before viewing and do not be pressured into making a decision quickly. If you have any doubts, walk away.

Ask to see a copy of the contract – usually an assured shorthold tenancy – to take away to read thoroughly before you sign and pay the deposit. You can read examples of model assured shorthold tenancy agreements here.

If the viewing is conducted by a private landlord ask them for proof of ownership and identification. If you have any concerns over an arrangement made with a private landlord or agent, please contact the accommodation team for advice.

If you meet current tenants ask about their experiences with the property, the landlord/managing company, the area and the utility costs.

Potential maintenance issues

Many problems that students run into with their rented housing could be avoided if they knew to check the property for potential defects before committing to a tenancy agreement. This section is designed to alert you to checking for the most obvious potential problems. Running through the following checklist will give you a reasonably thorough survey of any house, flat or room you are thinking of renting.

If you look for housing over the summer, remember to consider what the property will be like when it is cold, dark, and raining. How insulated is the property from the elements?

For guidance when viewing, please use the Viewing Information Sheet (Word).

Checklist

Gas and electricity

  • Is the heating in the house adequate?
  • Are there electric storage heaters?
  • Is there gas central heating? 
  • Are there radiators in every room?
  • Do the electric/gas fires work?
  • Does the cooker work?
  • Is there a valid gas safety certificate by a Gas Safe Register registered engineer?
  • Does the gas certificate correspond with the gas appliances in the property?
  • Are the electric fittings safe?
  • Are there loose wires, sockets coming off walls, burn marks on/around plugs?

Plumbing

  • Have you tried all the taps?
  • Do the sinks drain?
  • Does the toilet flush or leak?
  • Is there clean and undamaged sealant around bath or shower?
  • Is there mould or damp in the kitchen, bathroom or other areas of the property?
  • Is there a musty smell?
  • Can you see any damp marks on kitchen worktops, floors, ceilings or ceiling under the bathroom?
  • Is there hot water and how do you pay for it?

Security

  • Are all the external doors solid?
  • Have all external doors been fitted with a sturdy lock?
  • Do all ground floor windows have security catches?
  • Are there any security lights outside?
  • Is there a burglar alarm that works?
  • In the event of a fire can you easily escape via windows?

Furniture

  • Has the house got enough furniture for the occupants?
  • Is there sufficient space in the kitchen to store and prepare food?
  • Is any of the furniture the property of existing tenants?
  • Is all the furniture in good condition?
  • Is the furniture fire retardant?

Services

  • What services is the owner providing for you, if any?
  • What are the arrangements for window cleaning, gardening and lighting of common areas?

Owner

  • Do you know your owner's name and address?
  • Do they live locally to the property?

Outside the property

  • Does the roof look sound? (You can check for damp from the inside of the house too.)
  • Have the gutters got plants growing out of them?
  • Are the drains clear?
  • Is any of the woodwork rotting or unsafe?

Cleaning

  • Will the house be professionally cleaned before your tenancy starts?

Safety

  • In the event of fire in the main access passageways of the house, could you get out of the house?
  • Are smoke detectors or fire alarms fitted?
  • Has the house got any fire doors?

Repairs

  • Are there any repairs that need to be done?
  • If there are any problems insist on a written assurance that it will be fixed before the start of your tenancy.

Decorating

  • Does any decorating need doing?
  • If so, who is doing it and who is paying?
  • Has the owner set a cost limit if you are decorating the house yourself? Make sure you get confirmation in writing.

Build quality

  • If you are in a flat, what is the sound insulation like between your flat and those of your neighbours?
  • Are the partition walls so thin that you can hear everything from the room next door?
  • Is there double glazing?

Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) and licensing

Landlords must ensure that Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which have three or more storeys and five or more tenants are licensed with the local authority and that they have a licence certificate.

To receive a licence the landlord has to be a fit and proper person and meet a number of minimum legal standards. These legal requirements mainly apply to the physical condition of the property and the amount of amenity and space available and can be found easily on local authority websites by searching for 'HMO licensing'.

If you are living in a property that is an HMO and you have any concerns about its safety, you will be able to check with your local authority that the landlord holds a valid licence for the property.

Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)

Energy Performance Certificates include a rating for the energy efficiency of a home – applying a standard energy and carbon emission efficiency grade from A to G, where A is the most efficient.

You should not rent any property with an Energy Efficiency grade lower than E.

An EPC for a rented property is valid for 10 years.

See an example of an Energy Performance Certificate (PDF).

Signing the contract and protecting your money

You need to be absolutely clear about the terms, conditions and financial obligations you enter into when renting a property. Don't feel pressure to commit quickly. If you have queries, please contact our Accommodation Officers

Alternatively, if you have any concerns regarding your housing agreement, our Housing and Money Advisers can look through your contract to ensure everything is correct!

Contracts

A contract is a legal document, which sets out the terms upon which a tenant can occupy a property. It is commonly referred to as a contract/tenancy agreement/assured shorthold tenancy (AST).

Do not sign a contract if you aren't happy with the terms or there are any aspects of the agreement you don't understand.

A contract should include the:

  • length of the tenancy, showing the start and finish dates
  • names of all the tenants who will be living at the property
  • period of notice required
  • full contact details of the landlord/agent.

View an example contract

If you are renting via an agency make sure that 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.

You will also need to be absolutely clear about the terms and conditions. These will include details of what you are and are not allowed to do with regards to the property. These can be quite detailed and may include conditions such as paying the required bills and not causing noise disturbance or damaging the property.

You must ensure you read all contractual documentation very carefully and you understand your liability as an individual as well as you obligations and liability as a group.

You should always be given at least 24 hours to read the contract through. Never sign on the spot. Once the contract is signed it is legally binding on all parties – you do not get a chance to change your mind.

Contact the accommodation team for advice if there are specific clauses which you are unsure about.

References

We know that you will be a good tenant, but you have to prove this to your landlord.

If you can, provide references from previous landlords. If you have been living at home, you can provide the landlord with a character reference (not from a family member) and an employer reference. Check with the landlord what is acceptable.

The landlord/agent may also require written proof that you are or will be an enrolled student.

Guarantors

Guarantor agreements give the landlord a measure of financial security.

You may be asked to get your parents, or another family member, friend of the family or guardian to act as guarantor for your rent. This means they are prepared to pay your rent, if you don't pay it. Before signing any agreement it is important that both you and your guarantor understand that if you default on rent or the cost of damage, your guarantor will be responsible for making the payment.

The guarantor agreement should state that it will only last for a set period of time and should set a limit on how much the guarantor can be asked to pay.

Please note: If you enter into a contract with joint liability and your guarantor signs a general guarantor form, there is a significant financial risk to your guarantor. If another tenant moves out or fails to pay the rent, your guarantor could be taken to court under the terms of the guarantor form, even if you have paid your rent. Don't ask your guarantor to enter into any guarantor agreement which does not specify the limit of financial liability.

Landlords or agents require that the guarantor is based in the UK and a homeowner. If you are not able to offer a UK-based guarantor, you may be asked to pay three or six months' rent in advance.

Kingston University cannot act as your guarantor.

Holding deposits

Landlords or lettings agents may request a holding deposit. This is a binding agreement on their part, subject to conditions (such as taking up references). The property should not be shown to other prospective tenants once a holding deposit has been taken.

Do not hand over a holding deposit unless you or your whole group has seen and agreed to take the property. Holding deposit should not be more that one week's rent.

The holding deposit should be transferred to rent or used towards the tenancy deposit when the tenancy agreement has been signed.

Remember:  It is vital that you get in writing whether or not the holding deposit is refundable.

Tenancy deposits

A tenancy deposit is usually payable at the time you sign a tenancy agreement. It is the landlord's insurance against you causing damage to the property or breaching the contract in some other way. It usually covers:

  • damage to the property or the fittings
  • the cost of cleaning to return the property to a lettable condition if necessary
  • damage to décor
  • the cost of removing large amounts of rubbish from the property
  • the cost of replacing locks or keys if keys are not promptly returned
  • any outstanding rent

The deposit cannot be used to cover reasonable wear and tear.

The deposit should not be more than five weeks' rent.

You will need to ensure, with your landlord or letting agent, that your tenancy deposit is covered by a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme (TDP).

Moving in to a rented property

Find out what you need to do when you begin living at your new home, in order to avoid unexpected problems later on.

Inventory

An inventory is a written list of all fixtures, fittings and furniture in the property with an indication of their condition.

It is extremely important to carry out an inventory on the date your contract starts. Whilst in most cases a tenancy will end without dispute, the inventory will be an invaluable tool when it comes to the return of your deposit. 

Wherever you live, if you pay a deposit, you need a detailed record of the condition of the property/room/furniture at the beginning of the contract. This inventory is used when looking at the condition of the property at the end of the letting agreement. Some deterioration is allowed (such as fair wear and tear) but if the walls are covered in Blu-Tack stains at the end of the contract, unless the inventory shows that those stains were also there at the beginning, you could get charged for repainting.

If a landlord does not provide an inventory make your own. Every item down to the last teaspoon should be ticked off on the inventory. If something does not work, note that as well and ask for the landlord to repair it. Note on the inventory general cleanliness and condition – marks on walls, carpets, mattresses, knife cuts on kitchen worktops etc. In addition we recommend you take photos as evidence of condition and contents (provided that they are dated and labelled).

It is a very good idea to check that the heating works when you first move in, in preparation for the winter.

You should all agree that the inventory is an accurate record of the property's contents and condition. All tenants need to sign the inventory. Keep your copy safe and send a copy of the signed inventory to the landlord. Ensure you have a 'proof of posting' (free) from the Post Office. Request, in writing, a copy of the landlord's signed inventory.

Insurance

Don't try and save money by avoiding contents insurance. It is essential to have a valid contents insurance for your rented property.

You should insure your own possessions against theft, damage and accident.

Parents are sometimes able to put you on their own household insurance, so do check. Otherwise look online for specialist student insurance companies to insure your valuable items such as computers, cameras, bikes, televisions, music players and jewellery.

It is not advisable to bring extremely valuable items with you when you move in.

Utility companies

When you move into the property, you will need to arrange for the supply of electricity, gas, water and telephone to be transferred into your names.

You will need to inform the utility companies of:

  • your names
  • the date that your tenancy started
  • the meter readings on that date.

This is a relatively straightforward process. For the gas, electricity and possibly water, you will simply need to give details of the current meter readings to the suppliers.

Remember to keep a copy of the meter readings for reference.

Council Tax

Council Tax is a charge made by local authorities on residential properties to pay for local public services. However, all full-time university students are exempt from paying Council Tax.

You will need a council tax exemption certificate which states that you are a full-time student and which you should send to your local authority (keep a copy). You can get a council tax exemption certificate from the information point in the University library once you have enrolled on your course.

It gets a little complicated when as a full-time student you are living with non-students (such as working professionals) or a spouse/partner. You can find out about your local authority rules in more detail on the GOV.UK website.

TV licence

Your parents' TV licence will not cover you away from home.

You will need a TV licence if you watch TV programmes on any device – including TV, desktop/laptop computer, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box and DVD/VHS recorder. Anyone without a valid TV licence, who watches or records television programmes broadcast in the UK, risks prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.

If you share a house with other students but watch TV programmes in you room, you will need your own TV licence. 

Any questions?

Please get in touch if you have any queries for the accommodation team at Kingston University.