finding somewhere to live can be a pain, so it's important you go about it in the right way. Remember - you'll be living there for quite a while!
It's a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to look for accommodation. Don't leave it until the last minute or you may find that you have very little choice. So as soon as you know what college you are going to, contact the college accommodation services. They will have places in halls of residence, which may be limited but which are still worth applying for, and lists of approved private sector housing. Added to this many colleges run a "headleasing" scheme, whereby the college acts as a landlords' agent, which often means good quality housing at affordable rates.

Get a contract!

With all types of accommodation it is vital to ask for a written contract. The contract outlines the tenant's and the landlord's rights and responsibilities. It is legally binding, so once you have signed up it is very hard and often very expensive to break. The contract will state how much the rent is, how often it is to be paid and may contain clauses to ensure the property is well maintained.

It is always a good idea to have your contract checked by a housing advisor or students' union welfare advisor. They will be able to explain what is in the agreement and how it may affect you. A responsible landlord will understand that you want to have the contract checked before you sign. NEVER be pressurised into signing an agreement that you do not fully understand.

As well as rent you will normally be asked to pay a deposit to cover any damage to the property and any unpaid rent or bills. The landlord should pay this back at the end of the tenancy. To ensure the deposit is returned you should check the itinerary of the fixtures and fittings in the property before you both sign and date it. If there are items that are missing or damaged show the landlord and ask them to amend the itinerary. You may want to take photographs of rooms, as these can be used if there is any dispute over the property's condition when you leave.

When you want to leave you should inform the landlord in writing at least a month before the end of the tenancy and get them to inspect the property. If the landlord is satisfied with the property's condition ask for written confirmation. Once you have left and the landlord has confirmed they are happy with the state of the property you should ask in writing for your deposit to be returned. Good landlords will return the deposit within seven days. A landlord cannot withhold your deposit without good reason. If you have any problems getting your deposit back, seek advice straight away.

A quick way of finding a place to live if you have very little time is to use housing agencies. They act as agents for the landlord, finding suitable tenants, and collecting deposits and rent. However, they are expensive. Not only will you have to pay a deposit and a month's rent in advance, the agency will charge you a `finding fee'.

The landlord must by law keep their rental properties in a good condition. Most will conduct repairs quickly so inform them straight away if anything goes wrong. If the landlord does not act quickly to set right repairs contact your students' union welfare service as they can liaise with local authority housing officers who in certain circumstances have the power to prosecute unscrupulous landlords.

Sadly, disputes between student tenants and landlords may still occur, but if you find yourself worried about any housing issues contact your students union welfare service. Looking for somewhere to live can be very stressful but there is lots of advice and guidance available. By using these services you can avoid many of the pitfalls.