Why students will need to have a lesson in housing rights – Belfast Telegraph

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As the search for accommodation gathers pace it’s important to know the downside
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Chloe Ferguson
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First it was the stampede to make sure a place at university was guaranteed. Now students, their place of study confirmed, are looking somewhere to stay — and with the search comes plenty of pitfalls.
It can quickly turn into a desperate search and the options can be a little thin on the ground.
Students entering years two and three of their studies will have already secured the best houses before the summer break. For those who could do nothing until their places were confirmed as they enter their first year at university, it could well be a case of scrabbling over the scraps that remain. And that can lead to all sorts of issues.
Many parents will also be dealing with student housing issues for the first time and this year, more than previous years, students are being warned to carefully consider what’s best for them individually, especially with the cost of living crisis impacting student finances and a limited amount of additional financial assistance available.
It can often be the small print that catches out the unsuspecting. You might not even be allowed to put posters on your walls — if you do, and paintwork is stained, there could be a financial penalty come the end of an agreement.
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Chloe Ferguson, president of NUS-USI, has seen what problems can lie in wait for young people heading into the property world for the first time — and there are more than ever to consider this year.
“We’re approaching winter and while the government refuses to tax the energy companies it’s likely that we’re all going to be hit with higher energy costs,” she said. “When you’re viewing a property consider if it’s well insulated; check for double glazed windows, no mould on the walls, no water leaks and no draughty or broken doors.
“Unfortunately, students are sometimes the victim of crime, and poorly secured houses can be a big factor. Make sure the locks on doors and windows are working, invest in some curtains or make sure the house already has them so that you can keep valuables out of sight, and if you plan to have a bike, check if there’s somewhere safe you can keep it. I would also strongly encourage all students to take out contents insurance. Paying this at the start of the year can be seriously worth it if your laptop or phone gets stolen later in the year.”
Plenty to be getting on with, and that’s before anyone decides what type of accommodation is right for them. It’s not as simple as signing a contract on the dotted line.
“There are pros and cons to both renting a private house and to staying in purpose built student accommodation (student halls),” said Chloe.
“Your rent is likely to be much cheaper in a private house but your utilities will be paid separately and with energy costs sky rocketing this year you could end up with heavy bills this winter.
“On the other hand most student halls have bills included in the rent, but that will likely take up the majority of your student loan — if not more.
“Once you sign up to a rental contract, whether privately or in student halls it can be difficult to get out of it,” she warned.
Affordability of where to stay can have a big impact on what type of student experience can be in offer.
“If you’re struggling to find a house within your price range, remember that this is not your fault,” said Chloe. “If you’re having difficulties finding somewhere to live reach out to your students’ union for support, inform your university and I suggest students also contact their local politicians.”
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