If you act early to organise your accommodation then you will have the advantage of having a wider selection of properties to choose from and more time to make the necessary arrangements. Leave it too late and then you'll be caught in the queues at the estate agents and letting offices, and the best properties will have gone. It may be to your advantage to plan ahead and sort things out before the end of your first year or before term (and the rush) starts.
Student properties are not liable for Council Tax. However, if you are living in a mixed household (of students and working people) then the household is liable – and you may be expected to contribute if it's a shared bills arrangement.
Most, if not all, landlords will ask for a deposit (usually around £750-£1,000) in advance. Any damage you (or your housemates or guests) cause to the property will be deducted from this. Also remember the size of the deposit is not the upper limit of your liability (if you do more damage than the amount of your deposit you're still likely to have to pay the difference). So it is important to note any damage or defects and bring it to the attention of the landlord BEFORE you move in (probably a good idea to take digital photos and make a room by room list).
Damage and defects could be chipped paintwork, carpet stains or jamming doors. If the property includes a garden, your contract may also require you to restore it to its original state. Also remember to cover the garden and things like sheds and garden tools in your initial damage and defects survey.
According to information on the directgov website, all deposits (for rent up to £25,000 per year) for Assured Shorthold Tenancies in England must be protected by a tenancy deposit protection scheme. It's also probably worth taking the time to ask your landlord about which scheme will be used, and doing a bit of internet research on it.
You will need a bank account to get a student loan, and for a debit card to get out cash or pay for your groceries (and it makes it easier for your parents to send you money if you live a long way away and they can afford it). As far as renting is concerned, if you're paying a deposit then a cheque provides a paper trail, and saves you having to walk around with large sums of cash.
If you're a non-smoker or asthmatic then sharing with smokers may be unpleasant and unhealthy (and they're also likely to end up smoke staining the paintwork). In the worse-case scenario they could set the place on fire.
If you have a medical condition, like insulin-dependent diabetes or potentially fatal allergy, ensure ALL your housemates are aware of your condition and know where to find your insulin or adrenalin pen (and how to use it).
As most short term tenancy agreements are only valid for 41 weeks that means you are usually expected to vacate the property during the summer months. It is worth finding out in advance arrangements if you need or want to stay in the 'closed' period – due to resits or staying on for friends or some other reason. Some landlords will not have any problem with an extra week or two (or may charge a weekly rent based on a pro rata of the 41 week rent), others may not be so understanding (the position they take is likely to be influenced on how you have behaved as a tenant).
A significant number of houses in Hatfield date back to the New Town era. This post-WWII expansion of Hatfield took place at a time when there was a shortage of building materials and an urgent need to disperse the population of London (and re-house many who had been bombed out) due to fears of the Cold War turning nuclear. Speed and scarcity have led to the walls of some terrace houses being quite thin and sound travels through easily (unless they were soundproofed at some later stage). Footsteps, let alone music, can easily be heard. In some areas the terraces are quite close to one another, so a noisy neighbour can end up disturbing the whole street.
If you're looking for peace and quiet – or even to party – then a detached (not directly connected with another), or semi-detached (usually has one shared wall) property or an end of terrace house is probably your best bet. If you're the one planning on making the noise then the fewer properties around you the better.
Properties that have double glazing and cavity wall insulation are likely to be quieter inside (residents permitting).
South facing walls tend to get the most direct sunlight during the summer months and the rooms on this side of a property can become uncomfortably hot (even after dark the absorbed heat can often be felt radiating from the brickwork). This may be even more noticeable in flat-roofed properties. So you are likely to be more comfortable in a room on the opposite side.
Picking your housemates is something to consider carefully.
Friends can be great fun but not necessarily so when you're living with them. Or they can be so much fun they won't leave you any time or energy to do not-so-fun things, like assignments and revision.
Always keep in mind why you came here, and what you hope to take away with you.
It's also worth bearing in mind that people often meet their life partners at college. So one or more members of the household may want to drop out of the agreement to share with their partners or bring them into the house (although legally there are restrictions on the number of people who can live at a property depending on its size and the number of bathrooms).
Mixed households can also end up like soap operas: great when every one is lovey-dovey but fallings out can lead to a tense atmosphere.
Similarly, clashing tastes in music; what to watch on tv – if there is one; doing or not doing any cleaning or household chores can also lead to tension (please be advised that dirty plates and cups will not clean themselves – no matter how long you leave them).
It's probably a good idea to draw up some house rules from the outset.
If you own a car then it is a legal requirement to have motor insurance – do NOT try your luck as the local police have ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) interceptor cars, which automatically flag up any vehicle that is not listed as having valid insurance.
Depending on the value of your computer, camera, i-Pod and other kit, it may be a advisable to take out a student personal insurance policy in case of theft or loss. However, check that you're not covered by an existing home contents or other insurance policy first.
Students can access the internet from the University learning resource centres or public libraries (however, these offer limited opening hours and a small number of terminals but do have free wi-fi). If in the very likely event that you want to be able to access it from your residence then you'll probably need to have set up your own wireless service (rental properties may not be wired up or have a line rental agreement with an ISP in force).
Make sure you have list of everything that comes with the house – including things like cutlery, plates and cups. You could find yourself liable if anything gets broken or goes missing (perhaps for a new set if it's from a matching set). As advised under 'Deposit', record and register any damage with your landlord to avoid any future disputes.
When the sound passes through walls often the treble gets filtered out, so your neighbours will only hear the bass track (a thump, thump...). Not too surprisingly, having what seems like someone pounding on your walls incessantly is likely to lead to frayed nerves and rising temperatures for your neighbours – and avoidable unpleasantness for you (in serious cases a formal complaint could lead to your equipment being seized and you having to appear in court).
Driving around with your sound system blaring could also draw hostile attention to yourself. People may not say anything but don't be surprised if you keep getting flat tyres.
It's a good idea to check out your neighbours before moving in.
Treat what the landlord or letting agency says about the neighbours with a degree of caution – after all, their main interest is in securing a tenant for their property. So it may be a better idea to knock on the door and introduce yourself.
Noise, litter and untidy gardens are often associated with student properties, so people may not seem overly enthusiastic or friendly when you call. Remember: it may be down to a bad experience with previous student tenants rather than anything to do with you personally.
Depending on your course and outlook (serious student or party animal) some types of people will make more suitable neighbours than others.
Noise filtering through from or to neighbouring properties has been previously mentioned under 'Houses'. And it works both ways – while students are often perceived as noisy neighbours the disturbance may be coming from the opposite side.
People with young with children, early morning risers or those who are elderly or infirm are likely to be more sensitive to noise that you make (no matter how unintentionally – car doors, creaking floorboards when you're walking around...). So these groups are likely to be unsuitable neighbours if you're planning on being a late night party animal.
As sleep deprivation is a recognised form of torture, and some people may have suffered disturbance from previous student tenants for years in silence (but built up a serious level of resentment) you could trigger a complaint to the university or a street disturbance if you (or your housemates / visitors) ignore any complaints no matter what type of person you have next door.
Most neighbours would not object to an end-of-term or end-of-course party but it is a good idea (and good manners) to give them advance notice. However, remember you are responsible for your guests' behaviour – and it would be a shame for your neighbours' last impressions of you to be negative ones (and a problem for the next group of student tenants).
For serious students living next door to a family with young children, barking dogs, fighting couples or noisy fellow students can lead to you being the one who gets disturbed.
The University has the power to revoke a degree after it has been awarded (although given the severity of the punishment it is very rarely invoked). Still, once you have completed your course and got your results please do not think you are free to tear up the town, your digs or neighbourhood. Or do anything else likely to generate negative publicity or police action.
If you haven't yet graduated expulsion is a distinct possibility (and happens more often than revocation).
Landlords are required by law to ensure property rented out meets certain standards, like having fire-retardant furniture. However, unless you're renting via the University or a recognised company it is worth asking a few searching questions as some landlords may only be interested in your money and not your welfare.
Probably the biggest threat to safety is from electrical wiring and appliances, and the gas boiler (used for central heating and providing hot water). Gas boilers should be serviced by registered Gas Safe (formerly CORGI) personnel every year. Failure to do so can lead to a build up of soot, which can lead to a build up of toxic carbon monoxide fumes – in a worse case scenario that can be fatal. You are entitled to ask to see your landlord's Gas Safe certificate (make sure it's not more than a year old).
Be wary of any exposed wiring and avoid using any appliance that does not appear to be working properly or looks unsafe. Better safe than sorry.
Even with your landlord's assurances it is still a good idea to install a combine smoke and carbon monoxide detector. But remember to test it regularly to make sure the battery still has life – otherwise it serves no purpose other than to give a false sense of security.
Make sure all windows and external doors shut properly and can be securely fastened.
It is worth remembering that if the property has been rented out before there is no telling who may have had access to the keys (particularly for multi-tenanted properties). You may want to get the locks changed but you will need to get your landlord's permission first.
No matter how secure the locks are if you are careless about leaving doors and windows open (or keys visible from the letterbox) then you are inviting unwelcome visitors.
Leaving windows open in summer months is a potential opening for opportunistic crooks – they can dive through a window or shin up a drain pipe faster than you may think possible.
Student properties are easily identified from the road by their trademark unkempt gardens, keeping yours tidy (or ensuring that your landlord does – if it's part of the rental agreement) can help keep you safe. And it may also help keep your neighbours happy.
This is the commonest form of rental agreement offered by landlords and companies (as mentioned under 'Holidays'). Usually, it covers 41-weeks and not the whole year. Although there usually is some flexibility for overseas students and those who may want to wait for friends on other courses or have to do resits.
It's not for nothing that doctors have been warning about the dangers of smoking for years, and insurance companies raise their charges for smokers (and pay out more on an annuity – as smokers are expected to live shorter lives).
If you're a non-smoker than you may want to ensure there are house rules about smoking indoors (or making sure you team up with non-smokers, and vice versa). Harmony, health and fire safety reasons aside, smoking will stain white ceilings and walls – as the nicotine staining builds up over time you probably won't notice the change but your landlord probably will.