That Old Flat Business

A short guide to what to expect when looking for a new flat.

The time of year to flat hunt for the next studying period has begun. For many first years, this is first time you will be experiencing finding your own place. For the rest of us looking to get in to somewhere new, we still need to keep on our toes as those dastardly landlords and letting companies may be out there to pull the wool over our eyes.

The majority of the landlords out there have good intentions, but it is inevitable that there will be a few cheeky wankers who are just looking to fill their pockets. This brief overview will hopefully give you a few tips when looking around for a new flat and also finalising the details in order to move in.

The first business is checking the HMO licensing. Most of us returning tenants will be aware of what this is, but for those who are not this is the multiple occupation law which was passed in 2006. Flats or houses must have these if three or more tenants are looking to occupy them.

If you are on the fence between living with three or more flat mates, just ensure that you discuss having an HMO licence. It may be the case that the landlord does not have one, which is not catastrophic if you are looking to save a few pennies, but this could mean that if you do move in and something goes wrong, they may be reluctant to fix it as they simply don’t need to. In this case ring up the council and university to seek further advice. It will also put the shits up your landlord as well.

The next topic is viewings and payments. Group viewings are a nightmare and there is sometimes no way to avoid it if you are living with five or more people. The way to go about it is ensure you take your time in the flat, ask about every appliance and any niggles that have occurred in the past six months. The letting agency want to sweep you around the flat as fast as possible, make you panic with the volume of people looking and demand you slap down that deposit as soon as you leave the door. Don’t let them have their bacon – saunter about, scrutinize the bastard and get as much detail as you need to make a formal decision between you and your future flatmates.

Let’s face it, once those pound signs start ringing in the landlord’s ear, they suddenly turn into this ravenous mythical creature with the traits of a four year old begging for a lolly. The deposit scheme has changed over the past year so be aware of how much they ask for in order to take the flat/house off of the market. Your deposits should be lodged with the council from now on but still be cautious of how much you are handing over.

Credit checks are illegal for first time buyers and students, initial deposit payments for work in flats should be withheld until you see the evidence, and anything above two months’ worth of rent is ridiculous. If the likes of Castle Residence come along and ask for this type of money (which they are notorious for), tell them to shove it and fuck off. You may be desperate to get a flat, but in the long term you will be ruing the day you signed that lease.

I have one friend who was very unfortunate with his flat. He put down a deposit which was about worth two months rent, moved into his flat and it turned out his landlord was a dirty old conman, taking the deposits of several people for the same flat. They all tried to move in to the same flat without knowing what had gone on.  If this situation happens, don’t panic, you have done nothing wrong and all you can do is get in touch with the police and university as soon as possible. Sometimes in this shite stain of a dog-eat-dog market this can’t be avoided.

In these situations, you have to be completely honest with yourself as well. It is not a simple decision and it is one what will possibly determine your living quarters for the next three years. Lay down your budget, discuss this with your possible flat mates and take precautions. It can be a lot of fun and exciting if you are all on the same wavelength.

[Arron Cockell]

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