12 Things You Should Look Out For With U.K. Student Housing Contracts

There was a time when I actually thought life would get a bit quieter once our son is enrolled at university. Should have known better as we know, when situations change, so do the demands.

During his first year at the University of Nottingham, he has room and board. For the second year (starting September 2013), he has to find his own private housing arrangement.

Sure enough, 10 days ago, I got a phone call, asking to send money for a down payment and retainer as he and his friends were going to look at a house for rent. When I asked him what a retainer was, he was not sure either. But in order to secure a reservation, he had to have the money for it.

Of course, he was told to pay by cheque the same day, which is very unlikely going from a German bank to a British institution. I made a direct deposit into his postal account instead and we has able to make a cash payment.

Our son then sent us the guarantor form and rental contract. After looking both forms over, I decided to send them to a friend who is an expert in the field of renting/letting in the U.K.

He pointed out the following things to watch out for when renting student housing:

1. Make sure your prospective landlord offers you a Unipol standard contract. The best landlords in Nottingham are Unipol registered, which is designed to protect the student from rogue landlord demands.

2. The amount of 250 pounds for a down payment is normal. Make sure you receive e-mail confirmation from the Deposit Protection Scheme (DPS) within 14 days of paying the deposit to the landlord. If not, the landlord is forced to refund the money to you.

3. The charge of a retainer (my friend has no idea what this is…) is neither required, nor acceptable under Unipol contracts. If they want to charge you for a retainer, find out what it is, why it is required, and when it is returned. Get this in writing.

4. This is a joint agreement, i.e. each person can be accountable for the WHOLE rent if someone pulls out. Student tenants each agree to be jointly accountable for all the rent. Harsh, but normal.

5. Make sure the amount of utilities (gas/electric/water) are included in the contract. Watch out for the costs on a weekly basis to avoid shocks. As a guideline, one person’s electric bill share should be about 5 pounds and gas should run about 6-8 pounds a week.

6. Make sure all defects are noted and agreed at the beginning of the contract, i.e. before you move in. If not, take photos, note the defects on a check-in sheet (make one yourself) and have the landlord sign it. This is for your protection.

7. Insist on a minimum of 24-hour notice for access, i.e. when the landlord wants to show the house to prospective tenants.

8. Reputable landlords do NOT advertise until 21 January, the official start of Nottingham house hunting. If advertised earlier, then watch out.

9. Watch out for the interest fee charged for late rental payments. Ours said 8% if the rental fee is 14 days late. Again, this kind of interest fee is not allowed under Unipol and is a clear warning sign of a tough landlord.

10. Make sure to get the completion date noted if your housing rental is still under construction. Clarify this before you sign. Living in an unfinished house, with construction workers in and out, while paying full rent, is not right.

11. Quoted from our contract:

“PROVIDED that if the rent or any instalment or part thereof shall be in arrears for at least 14 days after the same shall have become due (whether legally demanded or not) or if there shall be a breach of any of the agreements by the Tenants, the Landlord may re-enter the Property (subject to any statutory restrictions on his power so to do) and immediately thereupon the tenancy shall absolute determine without prejudice to the other rights and remedies of the Landlord.”

This is illegal. There is a legal procedure to reclaim a property, but this clause is not permitted.

12. If you decide to rent with a landlord who isn’t registered with Unipol, then insure the following:

– Ask to see the House of Multiple Occupation licence (HMO), which will demonstrate that safety standards or some kind are met. If the landlord is not in possession of such HMO licence, the landlord can only legally rent to two people in the house and risk big fines if the tenants report him.

– Ask to see the Gas Safety Certificate. This is critical and needs to be valid at all times of the tenancy.

– Ask for a CO2 monitor. The cost is about 20 pounds and will detect CO2 if released.

– Ask to see the Fire Certificate/Working alarm system. There MUST be a working fire alarm system in the house.


Last, but not least, take your time and look at various buildings with your friends. In regards to Nottingham, there are 4000 more bed than students, so there is no need to rush. The university told you to take your time, and so do I.

Free Education and Teaching Music in France

The Go Overseas recent post, How to Study in France for Free, written by Allison Lounes, caught my attention. Many  had read my earlier post about Germany the Land of Free Education, and as a matter of fact, it still ranks number one in the statistics. Getting a free university degree, while learning a foreign language and supplementing your income at the same time,  is one of the great advantages of studying in a socialistic country.

Ms. Lounes describes how to study for free at a French university, while also making a living. Some of her pointers are really useful and I would like to add one myself.

I’ve been told the following by an Asian student, whose aunt lives and works as a music teacher in Paris:

In France, being enrolled for a degree in music at university for at least one year qualifies one to becoming a private music teacher. The French also do not require a finished degree to have you give private lessons to their children or adults.

This would be a good way to supplement your income while studying at university. Ms. Lounes had already pointed out teaching English at various schools, but no mention was made of giving lessons in piano, cello, violin, guitar, etc.

The Joys of Teaching

For our forthcoming trip to Korea and Japan, I’ve gotten a lot us useful advice from my Korean students in regards to our two-day stay in Seoul.

1) Do not take the subway. So I have asked some of my former students to have our reunion at the hotel we are staying. Seoul has many eating and drinking places everywhere, so we plan on doing everything from there in walking distance.

2) Take sunglasses. As of now, the Yellow Dust (HwangSa) from China is sweeping over the peninsula, so we need to protect our eyes and we might have to buy some surgical masks as well.

3) Beware of pickpockets. Sounds like any big city in Europe, where we also need to travel with caution.

4) Beware of counterfeit. In order to learn to recognize counterfeit, I was given a lesson by a fourth-grader. He brought all kinds of Korean bills with him, pointing out the watermarks, the silver stripe in some of them, raised textures on some, and more details almost too tiny to see with one’s eyes.

Last, but not least, my local bank had told me I could not buy Korean currency in Germany. This I will have to do with euro cash at the Incheon Airport bank.

That same fourth-grader was also concerned I might go hungry, when I arrive in Seoul without Korean money in my wallet. So he gave me this bill below, so I could buy myself two lunches in Seoul.

Korean Won currency

His concern for me was the nicest present I have ever been given by a student. I offered him euro in exchange, but he wouldn’t have it. All I had to do in return was my promise to him to have a good time.

Quote of the Day

If children’s prayer had any effect, there wouldn’t be a single teacher alive.

– Persian –

University Alumni Groups in Germany

During English class, while reading the International Herald Tribune’s article End Bonuses for Bankers, my student and I both questioned the plural form of bonus.

We reviewed the common form of nouns ending with -us getting the plural form of -i, e.g. cactus (cacti), octopus (octopi), alumnus (alumni), and we both confirmed the German plural of Bonus as being Boni. From bonuses in English, we then proceeded to the German translation for alumnus, where I had to pass.

Strange, I thought. It sometimes happens that I can’t even remember a word in my own mother tongue, but this one went further. Was there a word for alumnus in German? If so, what significance did it carry in the world of German academia?

First, I consulted the online dictionary, Leo. The result was a lot of ehemalige (former) student, co-worker, school, college student and also graduate.

In most countries, alumnus stands for having attended the same university, but the meaning in German is a bit broader.

I then went on to search in German for alumni groups around Germany with two results coming up. There are 40 university student alumni groups in Germany (source: wikipedia), with many other old orders, about 900,  either of a religious, political or drinking fraternity kind.

The Allies, after WWII, prohibited student alumni groups due to their sometimes pro-Nazi position. This ban was lifted in West Germany in the late 1940s, but remained in East Germany. Studentenverbindungen (college student alumni groups) were often associated with revolt.

On bdvb (network for economics majors), I learned that the act of former university students setting up alumni group (without any political attachment) was reestablished in Germany in the late 1980s.

Quoting from their page:

Im angelsächsischem Raum sind “Alumni”-Organisationen seit fast 200 Jahren fester Bestandteil vieler Universitäten. In Deutschland etablieren sich Ehemaligen-Netzwerke seit Ende der 80er Jahre des vergangenen Jahrhunderts.

Absolventinnen und Absolventen haben so die Möglichkeit, die während des Studiums gewonnenen Kontakte zu Kommilitonen und zur Hochschule zu halten und auszubauen.

“In Anglo-Saxon countries, alumni groups have been an integral part of universities for almost 200 years. In Germany, alumni networks got set up in the late 80s of the previous century.

Graduates have the opportunity to keep and develop contacts to other alumni and their university.”

Networking is a fairly new idea to most university graduates. Why, you might wonder. In my opinion, attending university free of tuition charge leaves students without feeling any kind of commitment. A certain sense of entitlement to free education is prevalent and further contact has not been seen of much value to one’s career. Of course, students remain friends over the years, but since most universities are state-run, there really is no need for any alumni groups to help support the university.

My husband, on the other hand, gets frequent mail from his former university in the U.S. Most often it is asking for donations to help build something new on campus. Tell that to a German: Please give money to help finance your university facilities. This idea actually makes me smile as I ponder the reaction.

Another fact is the relaxed attitude of repaying student loans (BAföG). Two good friends of mine have never even attempted to repay the loan. One offered me the solution of how to get away with it – just never make your first payment. The mistake of making a first payment results in having to pay everything back. I was saddened to recognize this lack of dignity on her behalf. Then again, some Germans feel wholly entitled to most benefits.

A life of tuition free university education and the chance of defaulting your student loan leaves little room for appreciating your college education.



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