8 smart questions to ask about student accommodation

You’ve settled into your classes, and the new academic year is well on its way. Lectures are great, the social life is interesting, and assignments are rolling in. Everything would be just great, if only you didn’t have to go back to your noisy residence every afternoon, trudging across town to run the gauntlet between traffic and the dodgy crowd that always hangs out on the corner near the entrance.

While budgets are always tight and you most likely chose the place you’re staying because it was the cheapest you could find, there are more things to consider than finding the least expensive place to stay when you’re looking for accommodation, according to Craig McMurray, CEO of Respublica.

“It’s important to compare like for like when you’re shopping around – so if one residence is less expensive than another, make sure that they offer the same facilities,” he says. “The cheaper one may end up costing you more, once you’ve added in all the benefits that are included in what initially seemed to be the more expensive option.”

“The best student accommodation offers a good blend of personal space that’s quiet enough for you to work on your studies, as well as great communal facilities that help you integrate with your student community. The best residences help students live a balanced life with structures for group learning, supportive residence life programs that offers co-curricular activities, mentoring and tutorship support, as well as the facilities that you need to do practical things like exercise and do your laundry,” he adds.

There are a few questions you should answer when looking at the student accommodation that you are in – and make sure that you are happy with the answers. If you’re not, perhaps it’s time to start looking for a place to stay where you can invest enough time in your studies, enjoy the social life that comes as part of student life – and be safe and healthy while you’re at it.

How close is the accommodation to your place of study?
Choose a place to stay that is close to your lectures. Being able to walk or catch a short commute to classes will save you money and time. If you are going to be driving each day, make sure that the accommodation includes parking facilities – and that there’s parking where you are going to be studying.

Do the accommodation costs offer value for money?
Cheapest is not necessarily always best… A clean, well-kept environment that offers reliable WiFi internet access and a laundromat may cost a little more, but it is going to save you time, money and effort that could be better spent on studying or checking out the social scene. Unlike purpose built student accommodation, older, cheaper buildings often come with ‘character’ – which may mean irregular lights and water, they are also unlikely to include the infrastructure to support your technology needs – a vital consideration in today’s connected world.

Is it easy to eat there?
It is simple: you need to eat to survive, but it is not always fun (or easy) to plan meals, shop for them, and keep food refrigerated in residence accommodation. Look for a venue that offers meals as part of its rate, or that at the very least has a tuck shop or canteen where you can buy affordable, nutritious meals.

Is the building well managed and safe?
When many people live in a building, things are sure to need maintenance from time to time. Make sure that your accommodation of choice is managed by a professional landlord to make sure that it is clean and safe to live in at all times. A good management company will also take care of security, controlling access to make sure that residents are always safe within their own environment and be available to address your concerns 24 hours a day.

Is there a variety of student activities?
Choose a residence that has an active and involved student community. Student committees in a residence environment are a great way to meet people, make friends, and gather valuable life experience that will give you the skills you need to do everything from raising funds to planning parties. The perfect student environment gives you the best of university life, while making you feel that you’re right at home, and part of a community.

Are there quiet spaces?
As much as your social life sometimes seems to be the most important part of your tertiary education, you are actually there to study! Make sure that your chosen accommodation has quiet spaces for you to hit the books – particularly if you are going to be sharing a room or apartment.

Is there a formal agreement between the student and the landlord?
Before you move into a building, make sure that you and the landlord sign an agreement that explains what you are entitled to and your responsibilities, as well as outlining what they have to offer in return. This will make sure that you are protected by law, and that you cannot be evicted for any unfair reasons.

Are your rights as a consumer protected?
One of the elements of a formal lease agreement is that the agreement can be cancelled – if the people affected by the contract stick to its terms and conditions. If you are not happy in your place of accommodation, your lease should allow you to give one month’s notice so that you can move to another location. If your rent is paid up, the landlord should refund your deposit – while you can chat to your new landlord about waiving registration fees if you move during the year.

“Choosing a place to live for the year is a big decision, but once you’re armed with all of this information, you are well equipped to make the right choice,” says McMurray. “It’s also worth involving your parents in your decision. Even though this is one of your first opportunities to make your way as an adult, it’s worth drawing on their experience to make sure that you’ve got all the bases covered.”

Students who want to move to a better residence and who want more information about how to make the move can contact the Respublica helpline on 010 020 0262 or visit www.respubluca.co.za for more advice.