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Student renting guide

Whether you're a UK national or from overseas, check out our guide to student renting.

Guest Author
Words by: Annabel Dixon


If you're planning to go to university or college later this year, one thing on your "to do" list will be to sort out accommodation.

You may be heading for university digs, such as halls of residence. But if your plan is to rent a home from a private landlord, then this guide is for you.

We'll walk you through the process of renting student digs, from start to finish. 

  1. Choose the right area and property

  2. Decide on the length of tenancy

  3. Agree the contract

  4. Pay the deposit

  5. Draw up the inventory

  6. Sort out the bills

  7. Health and safety (Important!)

  8. International students

  9. Arranging viewings safely

1. Choose the right area and property

When deciding where to live, there are a number of factors to take into consideration, including:

  • Distance to university or college

  • Transport links and costs

  • Proximity to shops and other local amenities

  • Living in a student-friendly community

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Because university campuses can be quite large or dispersed around town, it’s worth working out what your actual day-to-day movements will be, rather than just checking an online map.

If the majority of your time is spent in your faculty, then you might want to rent nearby. Alternatively, you might relish the headspace of having a bit of travel time every morning and evening.

You’ll also need to think about the type of home you want to rent. Renting a room in shared accommodation is likely to be more cost-effective compared to letting a one-bedroom flat, for example.

Make a checklist of the things you’re looking for and tick them off on your property viewing. For example, will you need a furnished or non-furnished home? 

You can stock homes relatively cheaply using websites such a freecycle, checking social media groups and asking friends and family.

Another advantage of this over a furnished home is that you lessen the risk of not having your full deposit returned should the landlord complain that more than usual wear and tear has taken place and individual items have been damaged.

However, remember that you’ll also need to move your belongings when the tenancy is over.

Start your search on Zoopla’s ‘To rent’ section, where you can refine it by area, property type, number of rooms, budget and more.

Another port of call is your university’s accommodation office. It should be able point you in the right direction of reputable landlords, letting agents and other sources.

A good accommodation office will be used to welcoming students moving away from home for the first time and should help simplify the process and allay your – very natural – trepidation.

Once you’ve pinpointed a suitable home to rent, try to speak with the current or previous tenants to gain a good idea of what it’s like to live there.

2. Decide how long to rent for

Rental tenancy agreements usually last for 12 months, which is out of kilter with the normal nine-month academic year.

Factor this in. You might want to try and negotiate a shorter contract, or you might want to weigh up the cost of renting privately to the that of being in halls during term time only. 

If you have little choice – and many universities cannot provide enough dedicated accommodation – speak to the landlord regarding the summer months when you might be absent. Although no guarantees, there may be a chance to let it elsewhere and recoup some of your outlay.

On the flipside, if you want a longer tenancy to match your course length, there’s no harm in pushing for this too. 

3. Agree the contract

Typically, you will be required to sign a tenancy agreement (normally an assured shorthold tenancy agreement). This is a legal contract outlining the arrangement between you and the landlord or letting agent so fully understand it before signing. Always, always read the small print.

If you sign a joint tenancy agreement, be aware that all the people named on the contract are liable. That means that if one of your flatmates fails to pay their share of their rent, you’ll have to plug the gap.

It’s just another reason to carefully consider who you choose to rent with. If your housemate decides to drop out of their course within a few weeks, the rent still needs to be paid – and you might be faced living with an ‘unknown’ tenant.

The landlord or letting agent will want to run various checks and character references on you. You’ll need to provide, among other things, three months of bank statements.

Given that you’ll probably have limited or no regular income, you’ll need parent or guardian to act as guarantor. They’ll take legal and financial responsibility on your behalf.

In England and Wales, the landlord or letting agent are currently legally obliged to check your right to rent, and live, in the UK.

However, this arrangement has been challenged in the High Court as a breach of the Human Rights act and while the Home Office has been granted the right of appeal, the situation may change.

For now though, expect to be asked for a copy of your passport or other documents demonstrating your eligibility to rent in the UK. This will be the case whether you are from the UK or are an international student renting from overseas.

Here are the details on the Right to Rent checks.

On signing the contract, you’ll pay a deposit (for more, see below) and normally the first month’s rent in advance.

Traditionally there was a series of administrative costs to fork out for, ranging from credit check to referencing fees. But the good news is that, since June 1, 2019, fees to tenants have been banned.

Whether you are dealing with a letting agent or a landlord direct, it is against the law for them to charge you upfront fees.

Find out more about the tenant fees ban here.

4. Pay the deposit

You will need to put down a deposit to secure the property. 

Since June 1, 2019, deposits must be capped at five weeks' rent. Although, on the off chance you rent costs more than £50,000 a year, the cap will be set at six week' rent.

In England and Wales, your landlord or letting agent is legally obliged to put the money into one of three government approved schemes within 14 days of taking it and provide you with a receipt and details of the scheme.

The deposit will be returned to you at the end of the tenancy if you have left the property in the same condition that you first rented it, allowing for fair wear and tear.

If you and the landlord or letting agent cannot agree on how much of the deposit is withheld, there is a free disputes service available.

For more details on the schemes, read our Deposit protection scheme guide.

There are similar schemes running in Scotland and Northern Ireland

5. Draw up the inventory

Make sure that the landlord or letting agent draws up a detailed itinerary of the contents and condition of the property.

It can be in written form, by an audio or video recording and by taking photographs. But it should always be signed and dated by you and the landlord or letting agent when you move in.

The inventory will also serve as evidence if there is a dispute over the deposit at the end of the tenancy.

Any changes to contents and furniture in the property during your tenancy should be agreed in writing, signed and dated by the landlord or letting agent.

6. Sort out the bills

Rent is just the start of the monthly expenses you will need to budget for.

You’ll need to pay utility bills and factor in other costs such as a TV licence.

If you have a joint tenancy agreement you only need one TV licence, but if you have individual tenancy agreements, each tenant requires one. You can find out more with our guide: Do I need a TV licence?.

To avoid being lumbered with the responsibility for footing the bills on behalf of your flatmates, ensure that all names are registered for each utility.

As tenants, you are also able to switch utility providers. Zoopla partner uSwitch can help you compare deals to see how much you can save by swapping gas and electricity suppliers as well as broadband, mobile phone, car and home insurance, credit cards deals, and more.

Students are usually exempt from paying council tax but, if there is a housemate who is not a full-time student, there may be a bill. Find more details, search the Government website

7. Keep health and safety on the agenda

It is a legal requirement that your landlord or letting agent must have all gas appliances checked every 12 months and within 28 days of the annual test provide you with a copy of the latest Gas Safety Certificate.

Fire alarms should be fitted on every floor of the property, and carbon monoxide detectors must be in any room where solid fuel, such as wood or charcoal, is used.

Meanwhile, the property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) must be rated at least ‘E’.

What is an Energy Performance Certificate?

Finally, make sure your rental property is secure and has effective locks. And have good insurance cover in place. It’s also worth checking to see whether your parents’ insurance cover can be extended to your belongings.

8. International students

Coming from overseas? The information above will serve you just the same as if you were a student native to the UK. However, there are some extra points to consider:


Once you've been offered a place on a course, you'll need to find out whether you require a visa to study in the UK

If you use a Swiss, EEA (European Economic Area) or EU passport (this includes a list of 30 countries including Bulgaria, Malta, Norway and Spain), you will not require a visa to study in the UK. 

If your passport is from outside any of these areas, you will need to apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa. This visa requires that you are over 16, plan to stay in the UK for more than six months and have funds to support yourself and pay for the course. The cost of application is £348.

The earliest you can apply for a visa is three months prior to your course starting and it typically takes three weeks to get a decision.


It pays to start doing your research on areas and looking for rental homes online as soon as possible. You may not be able to finalise anything until your course place is secured and your visa agreed, but this research will give you a firm idea of where to rent and how much to pay.

How early you can secure accommodation varies from university to university. Some institutions provide rental options far in advance, others may be limited in the support they offer and you'll need to turn to the private rental market.

With a quick turnover of rental properties in cities such as London, this can mean only securing your accommodation weeks before your course starts. The key is not to panic and be as prepared as possible.

If you are renting privately and looking for flatmates, find out what support your university can offer such as online message boards for international flatmates. Many international students also use social media.

Draw up a finite list of rental possibilities and book in as many viewings as you can during a short trip to the UK prior to the start of your course. Try to keep the last day free in case of any last-minute changes or new property prospects.

Letting agents

If you are renting privately for the first time in the UK, it's a good idea to use a letting agent that you'll find on Zoopla rather than a single landlord, as you will be reducing your risk in an unfamiliar territory. 

However, if you are looking for rental property in England or Northern Ireland, there is currently no mandatory regulation of letting agents.

In this case, check the agent is signed up to a voluntary scheme such as ARLAPropertymark. Member agents need to adhere to certain standards and offer a set complaints procedure if those standards are not met.

Letting agents are regulated in Scotland and Wales.

Right to Rent

All potential tenants must currently go through Right to Rent checks, whether they are UK nationals or not.

However, if you are from outside the EEA, EU or Switzerland, you will have 'time-limited' Right to Rent to suit the purpose of your stay, rather than 'unlimited' Right to Rent.

As mentioned above, Right to Rent checks have been challenged as a human rights breach in the High Court, so this situation may change.

9. Arranging viewings safely

When arranging viewings, it’s sensible to follow a few safety principles.

It’s always a good idea to take someone with you to a viewing. After all, it’s handy to have a second opinion, right?

Let a friend or relative know where you are, what you’re doing and that you’ll give them a quick call when you’re done. You can use certain apps, such as WhatsApp, to share your location for extra peace of mind.

If you’re worried an advertiser isn’t who they say they are, share your concerns with us straight away via our Help Centre .

If you're looking at a room share, ask to meet everyone who lives/will be living at the property. This will help you get to know all of your potential flatmates, and gives you a sense of their characters. 

Remember if you feel at all uncomfortable, you can leave the viewing at any time. Always trust your instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, it’s time to go.

Looking for a new rental home?

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We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.