22nd October 2020

Looking For Housing

If you are a student about to start looking for somewhere to live, then the following information is for you. It should guide you through the whole house hunting process and give you all the information you need to find your next home. Remember, there is a huge supply of good quality student housing in Sheffield available throughout the year and a number of accreditation and housing standards schemes which you can look out for. So take your time, be informed and make a Smart Move.

Chapters
  1. House Hunting during Covid 19 pandemic
  2. The Sheffield student housing market
  3. Deciding who to live with
  4. Deciding where to live
  5. Student housing standards
  6. Smartmove Sheffield and the University
  7. Landlords
  8. Letting agents
  9. Other places to find accommodation
  10. Viewing and choosing a property
  11. Tenant Fees
  12. Paying a deposit
  13. Finding a guarantor
  14. Proving your right to rent
  15. Signing a contract
  16. Moving in checklist

House Hunting during Covid 19 pandemic

Usually students will start House hunting around November to find a house for next academic year. Due to the current restrictions and public health concerns our message would be to delay house-hunting until next semester, when hopefully conditions will be safer. Viewing houses where other people are living risks spreading the virus and there really is no need to be doing this right now. Of course if you need to find somewhere to live immediately then it would be acceptable. Follow the moving home guidance from the Government to do safely and be aware that this could change if more stringent Covid restrictions are introduced.

Public Health Sheffield and Sheffield City Council have expressed concern about the potential risk of spreading the virus. They are issuing the following advice to landlords and we would urge students to follow the advice and ideally delay house hunting/ viewings until the conditions are safer and social distancing restrictions eased.

"To keep Sheffield safe and healthy we are asking landlords to strike a reasonable balance between safeguarding health and managing their stock effectively. We are therefore asking that landlords only carry out viewings where a property or part of a property is vacant, or where it is to fall vacant in the next 3 months."

  • Where a viewing of an occupied property is to take place, in line with government guidance, this should be done by way of virtual viewing where possible.
  • Confirm with any current occupiers whether they are isolating or shielding before arranging visits, postponing visits where any current resident is shielding or isolating until suitable arrangements can be made for the viewing to be completed safely;
  • Do not carry out viewings unless you are sure that the current occupiers have agreed to adhere to appropriate social distancing (note that you can not require tenants to follow social distancing in their own homes);
  • Don’t carry out open house viewings;
  • Make sure that the hot water supply is fully functioning and that windows can be opened and securely closed;
  • Make sure that the unit of accommodation, the shared areas and the furniture and furnishings provided are in a good, clean condition;
  • Take your own towels/paper towels/ hand gel and wash your hands thoroughly when attending the property; dispose of used tissue and masks using double bags; and ensure that those visiting to view do the same;
  • Wear a face covering; and ensure prospective tenants who view use them too;
  • Sanitise keys before and after handing to contractors or tenants.

It is likely that landlords will be offering limited or virtual viewings of properties. Again we would advise caution about agreeing to sign a contract for a property which you may not have visited in person, as there is no way of knowing that the pictures/videos reflect the actual condition of the property. Choosing where to live for up to a year is a big decision and contracts are legally binding.

Signing a contract so far in advance is always risky and the Covid 19 crisis has taught us that we do not know what is around the corner and how our circumstances can change. Many students found themselves tied into contracts they did not want or need and during the lockdown and very few landlords agreed to release student tenants. For more information see Housing and Covid 19 guidance for landlords and tenants.

If you are a first year then spend some more time getting to know potential housemates and exploring Sheffield before you worry about finding a house for next year, there is good accommodation available throughout the year.

If you are a current resident in a property and worried about viewings being undertaken in your propert unsafely here is letter you can amend and send to your landlord.

Letter from SU to landlords

The Students' Union has also written to landlords asking them to delay housie hunting and ensure that covid safety guidelines are followed, you can also download this.

Letter for Students to send to their landlords

The Sheffield student housing market

In recent years Sheffield has seen a huge growth in the supply of student housing especially in the City Centre and larger purpose built student accommodation blocks (PBSAs). In addition, there are many traditional shared houses in student areas close to the University, see the map of student areas below. In fact there is a surplus of student accommodation in Sheffield.

This should mean that rents reduce as there is an oversupply but in fact rents seem to rise year and year and the market does not work for students. A lot of the newbuild properties are en suite and expensive. They are not affordable for many students who are reliant on student finance maintenance loans. University rents are also high so this can also influence private sector rent levels.

In addition, around November each year in Sheffield, local letting agents will start aggressively marketing properties for the next academic year and the annual house hunting season begins. Most students will feel pressured into looking for a house and signing contracts. By signing a contract so early, there is little incentive for landlords to reduce rents or offer summer deals.

There really is no need to start house hunting this early and it is possible to find accommodation of a good standard and close to the University whenever you choose to start house hunting.

Most shared houses are for groups of four or five and splitting into groups of this size will offer you the widest choice of properties and could also be better for your budget. There is also a good supply throughout the year.

The supply of larger houses is more restricted so if you are in a group of seven or more you may find it necessary to start house hunting earlier. If you are in a large group it would be worth considering splitting into two smaller groups and you could even find houses on the same street or flats in the same block. You will generally pay more rent in larger properties.

Students with specific housing needs, such as students with children who want to live near particular schools, or students with a disability who might need a particular type of property, may also find it beneficial to start house hunting earlier.

Self-contained accommodation, such as one bedroom flats in the city centre, can be advertised much nearer to the contract start date and there is an oversupply of this type of accommodation so no need to rush.

If you are a single person looking for a room in shared houses you can wait until next summer to find a room as there are always spare rooms available in shared properties. See Smart Move Sheffield to find spare rooms.

Deciding who to live with

Finding the right housemates is as important as finding the right property and it is definitely your housemates who will help to make a house feel like a home.

Friendships and personal circumstances can change over the course of a year, so take your time in deciding who to live with. Don’t feel pressured into signing a contract for next year with people that you may have only known for a couple of months, make sure you are completely happy with your potential housemates before you sign a contract.

Most private sector students are offered as joint tenancies, which means you are jointly and severally liable for the rent and bills with your housemates, so this is another reason to be sure about who you want to live with.

It can also be a good idea to discuss and agree on some ground-rules on things like guests, partners, cleaning, sharing food and paying bills before you commit to a contract. But be prepared to compromise and communicate with each other.

If you later change your mind, then getting out of a contract can be tricky and you will not normally be released from a contract unless you have found a suitable replacement tenant. If you find yourself in this position, you can get advice from the Student Advice Centre. Find out more about leaving a house.

Don’t panic if you haven’t found someone to share with! Single rooms are available in larger purpose built student accommodation blocks or you can find a room advertised in a shared house with other students. You can also look for housemates on the Studentpad Message Board. It’s never too late to find a housemate!

The SU Welfare Committee holds “Housemate Finder” events during the year, where you can go either as an individual or as part of a larger group to meet people to live with next year. To find out when the next Housemate Finder is, make sure to visit the Welfare Committee on Facebook.

The Welfare Committee have created leaflets with tips and suggestions for finding housemates you’ll love living with. You can access them here:

Know Your Housemates 1 Know Your Housemates 2

Deciding where to live

Luckily all popular student areas are relatively close to the University and it shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes to walk to lectures or make your way home after a night out at the Students’ Union. There are also good public transport links.

Check out the map below for details of the different areas and typical rents you might pay.

A student housing map

Student housing standards

SNUG

Look out for SNUG certified properties and ask landlords if their properties meet the SNUG standard, if they do the SNUG logo should be advertised on their websites.

This is a student accommodation standard run by Sheffield City Council in partnership with both Universities and Students’ Unions in the city. Properties which are part of this scheme will have been inspected and assessed for fire, gas and electrical safety, security and amenity standards, repairs and maintenance. The landlord will also have to abide by a strict code of management and their tenancy agreements will have been checked for any unfair contract terms.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) are properties which have at least 5 occupants and if so they must be licensed by Sheffield City Council housing department. The properties will have to meet stringent safety and amenity standards to be issued with a licence and landlords can be fined if they let a property without a licence. If you are thinking of signing for a property which meets these criteria you can check to see if it is licensed at www.sheffield.gov.uk/hmo and you can also look at the standards which properties should meet. If the property does not have a licence, be cautious about signing a contract as it may mean the property and/or landlord is not of a good standard. The council welcomes notification of any houses not on the list. Telephone or Email hmo@sheffield.gov.uk.

This is a voluntary scheme for larger purpose built student accommodation (private halls). To become a member of the National Code they will need to meet certain property and management standards. You can check what the standards are and which developments in Sheffield are members of the code on the website. There is also a complaints procedure which student tenants can use if you feel the accommodation provider is not meeting the standards required.

Smartmove Sheffield and the University

Smart Move Sheffield is a good starting place to begin your house hunting for a property in the private sector. It is the university’s property registration scheme for private landlords and purpose built student accommodation. All properties which are advertised on Smart Move Sheffield have to meet high property, safety and management standards and will be registered with the Snug standard, as discussed in the previous section.

If you have any issues whilst living in a registered property you can also get help from the staff at Smartmove Sheffield to help sort out issues.

University Owned and Managed accommodation is an option for new and returning students. You can contact the Accommodation Office for information about University accommodation which is available.

Landlords

Some landlords will advertise, let and manage their properties directly, others use Letting Agents to let and/or manage the accommodation. Some landlords may only own a few houses others can have a large portfolio. There is not really any particular benefit of having a smaller or large landlord and there are good and bad landlords in each category. Some will be very professional and knowledgeable others may not really have much experience and perhaps let one property.

There is no mandatory management code or standard for landlords. However if they do have HMO properties and apply for a license they will need to meet a fit and proper test. Advisers at the Student Advice Centre are aware of the local landlords and letting agents, especially those who poorly manage their accommodation and so it can be worth asking for a contract check or seeking their advice. You should also check review websites such as Marks Out of tenancy, where we encourage students to leave reviews. Afterall you wouldn’t buy an expensive household item without checking out reviews and yet many students do sign legally housing contracts without checking reviews of landlords or even reading the tenancy agreement. If they are very bad, it will probably be clear from an online search. If you can, ask current tenants what their experience is but try not to do this in front of the landlord!

Letting agents

There are lots of Lettings Agencies in Sheffield, many of whom specialise in student housing. They tend to have offices close to the University, for example in Broomhill and Eccleshall Road. They will all advertise online.

An agent is someone who acts for someone else. Some landlords set up limited companies or trade under company names. This can be confusing but unless the landlord really is acting for someone else (e.g. another landlord) he or she will not count as an agent. This is important because landlords and agents have different legal responsibilities.

Some agents only deal with lettings. This can include advertising the property, taking up references, carrying out credit checks on prospective tenants, and drawing up a tenancy agreement. Once the property has been let the agent will no longer be involved. The landlord will deal with any problems which occur during the tenancy.

Some agents offer a more extensive service and manage properties for landlords. This can include collecting rents, dealing with repair problems, and processing deposit refunds. The extent to which the agent can act on the landlord’s behalf will depend on the nature of the contract between them. This can sometimes cause problems if the landlord is reluctant to spend money on the property and the agent cannot act without his or her permission.

Most agents who operate in the student housing sector in Sheffield usually manage as well as let properties but if you’re not sure, ask before you sign the agreement or hand over any money. If you pay rent to an agent, you have the right to know your landlord’s name and address. If this information is not contained in your tenancy agreement, write to the agent. Keep a copy of your letter. You should receive a reply within 21 days. Failure to comply is a criminal offence.

Most letting agents must now by law be registered with a government-approved redress scheme.

There are currently two approved schemes:

Ask your letting agent which scheme they belong to or check their website. Some letting agents display details on stickers in their windows. Alternatively, search the redress scheme websites.

If you have a complaint about a letting agent and the agent has failed to satisfactorily resolve your complaint, you can take the matter further by complaining to the relevant redress scheme and/or professional body.

There are a number of professional organisations to which letting agents can belong. These include the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the National Association of Estates Agents. Many agents are also members of the National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS). Membership of a professional organisation or NALS usually means the agent has agreed to comply with defined service standards and/or a code of practice so you can complain if the agent breaches the rules. Membership is voluntary but can include agents who are not required to belong to a redress scheme (because they only let properties they own).

Other places to find accommodation

There are also various website platforms which will advertise properties on behalf of landlords and agents. Some of these platforms will not check the quality of the properties or landlords and letting agents who use their site. Don’t assume that because it is a well known website or it looks good that all of the properties or landlords using it will meet high standards.

Some platforms will also offer additional services such as bills included deals. Whilst bills included is growing in popularity it is not always the cheapest option and don’t be afraid of setting up utility accounts. See Moving In information below.

Be aware of some sites such as Gumtree etc where we are aware that scam properties are advertised. Never transfer cash unless you are sure the property exists and the person is a real landlord.

The Student’s Union will usually hold an annual Housing Fair and Snug approved landlords and letting agents can attend, look out for information on the SU website. Due to Covid 19 restrictions and public health concerns the fair will not be going ahead in November 2020 and we are hoping that the house hunting season will be postponed until it is safer to do so.

Other students may have spare rooms or be able to recommend their landlord or letting agency so ask around your friends and course mates.

Viewing and choosing a property

Try and view a few different properties as this will give you a good idea of what is on offer and help you compare and choose the right one for you. Look at properties at different rent levels and in different locations. You may be pleasantly surprised about what you can get for your money if you venture a little further away from campus.

For your own safety, never view a property alone and preferably visit the property in daylight so you can have a good look around the outside and the area in general.

Be cautious about virtual viewings, they are not always a true reflection of the property condition though sometimes they are necessary.

If you are overseas and looking for accommodation we would advise you to secure temporary accommodation for when you arrive and then choose and view properties in person once you are here.

If you are part of a group, make sure everyone views the property and agrees that it is suitable before a contract is signed or you pay over any money such as a deposit.

Set a budget that you can afford and stick to it. Remember to factor in things like utility bills, TV licence, contents insurance, food and other living costs. Check out the University’s Money Planner which can help you work out your budget.

If you have never looked for a property before it can be daunting and you may not know what you should be looking for or asking the landlord. Here is a Viewing Checklist which you can download and should help you ask the right questions and compare properties.

Tenant Fees

Most fees charged by landlords and letting agents are banned from 1st June 2019. This applies to most private tenancies, including assured shorthold tenancies, student accommodation and lodger agreements signed after this date.

From 1st June 2019, if you start or renew a tenancy you can only be charged fees in certain circumstances. In most cases how much a landlord or letting agency can charge you is capped.

This law is new which may mean some private landlords and letting agencies might make mistakes. It is very important that you are fully aware of which charges your landlord or letting agent can make, which are banned and what you can do if you think you are being charged incorrectly. There is detailed information about permitted and banned charges on the Shelter England website. You can also get advice from the Student Advice Centre, email advice@shef.ac.uk.

Paying a deposit

If you are asked to pay a holding deposit to secure the property this should only be equivalent to one week’s rent.

Many landlords will ask you to pay a security deposit or bond when you sign the agreement. You will only get back at the end of the tenancy subject to leaving the property in good clean condition. A typical student deposit is £250 but they can charge up to 6 weeks rent.

If you have an assured shorthold tenancy the landlord must protect the deposit. Deposits paid in connection with assured shorthold contracts must be protected in a government authorised protection scheme. The time limit for doing this and for providing you with official confirmation (known as prescribed information) is 30 days from the date you make the payment.

Find out more about Shelter on the Shelter website.

They also have a good guide to Getting your deposit back. You can also get help from the Student Advice Centre.

Finding a guarantor

Some agents/landlords will require students to provide UK based guarantors, usually a parent, who will be accountable if you default on your payment. If you can’t provide this, for example if you are an international student, you may be asked to pay large advance rent payments and this can be difficult to do. The University also has a limited guarantor scheme called the Accommodation Guarantor Scheme for second and third year students who live in properties which are registered with Smart Move Sheffield.

The University and SU also endorse a company called Your Guarantor. It can provide guarantees to both International and Home students. The company is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority but there will be a fee for using this service.

Housing Hand is another company offering this service for a fee. Please check directly with these companies and make sure you read any terms and conditions carefully, the SU does not accept any liability for these companies.

Proving your right to rent

It is a legal requirement for landlords to check that someone has the right to rent and is legally resident in the UK at the point that they occupy the property. Find out more about Shelter on their website.

Purpose built student residences and University owned accommodation are exempt from RTR checks. You can also request a Right to Rent nomination letter from the University (via SSiD) to give to a private landlord. This means that the landlord does not need to carry out further RTR checks as the property will be exempt.

Landlords should ask to see everyone’s documents and not only someone they think may be ‘foreign’. They should not discriminate against you on grounds of race, colour, disability, gender or sexual orientation. If you have problems in relation to Right to Rent or you feel you have been discriminated against, please contact the Student Advice Centre for further advice.

Signing a contract

Never sign a contract unless you have read and understood it. Contracts can be confusing and full of legal jargon. Most reasonable landlords will give you a copy of a contract to look over and not rush you into signing it, for example 24 hours. The Student Advice Centre does offer a contract checking service but at busy times may not be able to respond within 24 hours. Email advice@sheffield.ac.uk.

The vast majority of student tenancies are let as fixed term Assured Shorthold Tenancies. The following checklist is for students signing assured shorthold contracts. If your contract isn’t clear or uses another title (such as assured contract or licence agreement, excluded occupier), please make an appointment to see an adviser.

  • The name and address of the landlord - If the landlord uses a managing agent, the address can be the agent’s address.
  • The name of the tenant or tenants - (If more than one person is named as tenant, the contract will probably be a joint tenancy. Joint tenants can be held responsible for each other’s rent).
  • The address of the property - (If the contract is for a room in a shared house, the address section should make this clear (eg Attic room plus shared use of kitchen, living room & bathroom, 1 University Street).
  • The length of the contract (or Term) - (Nearly all housing contracts are fixed term. This means they last for a fixed period of time, usually 6 or 12 months. With this type of contract there is usually no get out for the tenant so if you sign up and then change your mind, the landlord will expect you to find a replacement tenant before you can be released).
  • Key information about the deposit - (Amount, details of deposit protection scheme, Circumstances in which the landlord can keep the money (e.g. damage, unpaid rent).
  • Key information about the rent - Amount, Frequency of payment (eg monthly), Method of payment (eg standing order), date of first payment (this will often be before the contract actually starts).
  • Key information about bills - Are they included in rent or not. If they are look out for a cap on how much you can use before you start having to pay extra.
  • Council Tax Liability - The house will be exempt from Council Tax provided everyone is a full time student.
  • My contract has a lot of restrictions on what I can and cannot do - Do I need to be worried? Most housing contracts contain lots of clauses setting out things the tenant is expected to do (e.g. pay the rent on time) or not allowed to do (e.g. decorate without permission). You should always read these clauses carefully and talk to the landlord about anything which concerns you. If you are still worried, make an appointment to see an adviser before you sign).
  • Looking after the house - The landlord is generally the person who is responsible for repairs but tenants are expected to take care of the property (eg keep it clean, and sufficiently warm and ventilated to avoid problems with condensation). Always make sure that you tell the landlord (preferably in writing) when a repair is needed.
  • Letting the landlord in - You are required to let the landlord (or anyone authorised by them) into the property but they have to ask your permission first. For inspections and repairs, there is a legal requirement to give 24 hours’ notice. For other purposes (eg viewings) the access arrangements should be set out in the contract. The landlord is not required to give notice in an emergency.
  • Visitors - Most contracts will not allow you to let anyone else live in the property without the landlord’s permission. Having friends to visit is normally fine but you will be responsible so if they cause damage, the landlord can make you pay. Some contracts restrict how many visitors you can have and how long they can stay but clauses like this are rarely enforced (unless neighbours or housemates complain) and could be unfair.
  • Nuisance and annoyance - These clauses are mainly about noise and disturbing the neighbours. If you are very noisy and the landlord gets lots of complaints, you could be threatened with legal action to make you leave. This is rare but does happen sometimes. The University can also sometimes get involved.
  • Insurance - Most contracts say you must not do anything which invalidates the landlord’s insurance or makes it more expensive. Some contracts also say you have to insure yourself against causing damage. Some students are covered by insurance from their home address but in most cases you will need your own insurance because you will not be covered by the landlord’s policy.

The following apply even if they’re not mentioned in the contract:

  • Quiet Enjoyment - This is nothing to do with noise! It means that your landlord must allow you to live in the house without unnecessary interference.
  • Repairs - Most contracts mention Section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985. This makes landlords responsible for repairs to the structure and exterior. It also covers things like plumbing and electrics. Landlords cannot transfer responsibility for these major repairs to tenants.
  • Gas safety regulations - Landlords are required by law to have gas safety checks carried out every 12 months.
  • Furniture fire safety regulations - These regulations apply to upholstered furniture (eg sofas).

Most fees charged by landlords and letting agents are banned from 1st June 2019. For contracts signed after this date, you can only be charged fees in certain circumstances. These include:

  • Late payment of rent (capped at 3% above the Bank of England base rate).
  • Lost keys or fobs (capped at the reasonable cost of a replacement).
  • Changes to the contract requested by you (capped at £50 unless the landlord can prove it cost them more).

You can find detailed information about charges on the Shelter England website.

If your contract is an assured shorthold, your landlord should provide you with the following extra documents:

Failure to provide these documents will not invalidate your contract but it could make it more difficult for the landlord to evict you.

Moving in checklist

When you are ready to move into your new accommodation, check out our Moving In Checklist for tips on what you need to do.