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Where to live

Where you live during your time at the RCA can have a big impact on your overall student experience. With this in mind, please keep reading for our top tips on securing accommodation in London.

Before you start searching for accommodation, there are important things to consider.

What is your monthly budget?

Think carefully about what you can afford, and remember to include the cost of bills if you are renting privately.

Where in London would you like to live?

Greater London and its surrounding areas is split into 9 zones. Generally speaking, the price of rent tends to reduce as you move out of the inner zones. Spend some time researching locations suitable for you. If you would like to live closer to the RCA campuses, the more affordable areas are considered to be Hammersmith, Shepherd’s Bush, Clapham and Battersea. 

How do I travel to campus and around London?

There are a lot of public transport options in London that run throughout the day and night. Many people use the underground tube to travel in London as it is affordable and tends to be quicker than the city’s busy roads.

You can use the Transport for London tube map to see the different tube and rail stations, and the zones they are in. You can also download the Citymapper app onto your mobile phone or device. This will show you the different transport options between locations and the associated costs.

Do you need some additional help with the above?

Download and use the University of London Housing Services (UoLHS) Private Housing Guide to help you every step of the way, you can search the guide by pressing ‘ctrl & f’ and entering the key word/s.

Options available when looking for somewhere to live

Private renting

This is where you either live on your own, or with a group of other people, in a property rented from a landlord or estate agent. This is the most common housing option, and often the best when considering cost and availability. 

You will pay a deposit and rent directly to your landlord, however, you will need to pay your bills (water, gas, electricity, internet) separately. 

You may have to have a guarantor, and in some cases pay rent in advance. This can sometimes be up to six months' rent, so be aware you will need to ensure you have enough money to make these payments before signing a contract. 

Your contract will usually be for a minimum of 12 months, however, in some cases, you can leave before this if you find someone to replace you.

Where to look

We would recommend you start your search using the University of London Housing Service website. You can search for accommodation through vetted landlords and agencies, and they have links to accommodation all across London. You can also use their tenancy checking service.

You can also look to different letting agencies and estate agencies to help find private accommodation. They work on behalf of private landlords to advertise and manage properties in their local area. They will often be able to help you find multiple properties and will manage the deposit and tenancy process. 

Zoopla and Rightmove are good websites for looking at properties available at different letting agencies across London.

Please note: When renting any of the above you should check if they will come furnished, part-furnished or unfurnished. Part-furnished and unfurnished will end up costing you more as you will need to buy furniture and household items.

Lettings Agents must join one of the two government-approved redress schemes, so it is recommended that you look at their websites before you go with a Letting Agent:

The Property Ombudsman (TPO)

The Property Redress Scheme

More information can be found on the Shelter website.

Private student residence or hostel

Although the RCA doesn’t have any of its own student accommodation, there are a large number of privately managed student halls of residence across London.

You will have the option of living on your own, or with other students in properties ranging from flats with shared kitchens and bathrooms, to en-suite rooms, to even your own self-contained studio flat.

These are often more expensive than private rented accommodation, however will usually have all bills included in the rent. The prices vary quite significantly, so it is worth taking some time to research your options. 

Their rules on guarantors can be different from private rented accommodation, so this can be a good option for international students. Additionally, many of the contracts are only nine months long, to coincide with the school year, meaning you would not be required to pay rent over summer if you were planning on returning to your home country. 

These can often be booked well in advance of coming to the UK, and some can be cancelled after signing if you are unable to come and study in the UK for any reason. 

Where to look

You can find further information and links on the University of London Housing Website here.

Brittania Students (various locations)

Downing Students (The Lyra - North Acton)

Urbanest (Battersea)

Urbanest (Kings Cross)

Urbanest (St Pancras)

Yara Central (Holland Park)

Optivo (various locations)

Hostels, hotels and home stays

If you want a short-term option when you first arrive in the UK, you may wish to look at staying in a hostel or hotel. Alternatively, you can lodge with a family group, renting out a room in a house as a lodger, which can be a cheaper option. 

While these are less secure as long-term options, this can be a good way to see the city before you decide where you want to live long-term. 

Where to look

Hostels can be a very affordable way to stay in London for a short period. This is generally shared accommodation, however many hostels do offer private rooms.

For homestays you can look at the following sites:

Viewing a property

You should never pay money to a landlord or letting agent to view a property, or be asked to show evidence of a money transfer. If someone asks you to do this, you should not contact them again and look elsewhere.

It is a good idea to take someone with you when you go to look at a place. It is safer and also less easy for a householder or agent to pressurise you into taking it. Two people are also more likely to spot potential problems.

You should also try to talk to current tenants or other neighbours away from the agent. Ask them what the place and area are like, how much the bills are and if there is anything else you need to know.

For more detailed information about viewing a property, please go to the Private Housing Guide.

Tenancy agreements

When I have found somewhere to live, what should I check?

When you have found a suitable property and are thinking about signing a tenancy agreement, you should check the following: 

  • How much you will be expected to pay upfront
  • That you fully understand the terms and conditions of the contract
  • That the deposit will be protected in a Tenancy Deposit Scheme

You should also ensure that you are provided with the following:

  • Receipts of all financial transactions
  • A copy of the signed contract
  • The name and address of the landlord/letting agent
  • Written confirmation of any verbal agreements
  • A list of contents, also known as an inventory

Please note: It is your responsibility to return the property in the same condition as when it was let to you, allowing for fair wear and tear. When moving in it is a good idea to record the condition of the property, taking photographs of any existing damage.

Signing a tenancy

Once you have found somewhere to live you will usually be asked to sign a tenancy agreement. The following information should be included:

  • Name and address of the landlord or letting agent
  • The dates of the fixed tenancy
  • The amount of rent payable and the date on each month that it should be paid
  • Your responsibilities as a tenant (i.e. you must not damage property, annoy the neighbours etc)

If you are unsure about an agreement in any way, please DO NOT SIGN IT. Student Support can help with initial enquiries and can refer you to the University of London Housing Service.  

Please see here for the University of London Housing Service 'Contract checking guide' for more information.  

Period of notice/break clauses

You should make sure that you are clear about the period of notice on any contract you sign. Notice periods are usually one or two months.

Some contracts may have a break clause in them that allows you to terminate your contract early. For example, a 12-month contract may have a break clause after six months, meaning that you can give notice after this point.

Please note: If you do not have a break clause in your agreement and you try to leave early you may lose money.


You will usually have to pay a deposit to cover any possible damage to the property or breaches of contract. This cannot legally be more than the equivalent of five weeks' rent, excluding some exceptional circumstances. 

Provided that you have kept to your tenancy agreement the deposit should be returned to you in full once you have vacated the property and an inspection has taken place.

Tenancy Deposit Scheme

In order to safeguard your deposit, you should ensure that your landlord or letting agent puts your deposit into a tenancy deposit scheme – TDS (this was made a legal requirement in April 2007).

Information on tenancy deposit schemes can be found on the Shelter website.

Once you move into your property, your landlord or letting agent should supply you with the following information on how your deposit is being protected within a certain time frame: 

  • The contact details of the tenancy deposit scheme
  • The contact details of the landlord or letting agent
  • How to apply for release of the deposit, and
  • What to do if there is a dispute of the deposit.

If you do not get this information you should request it from your landlord or letting agent. If they still refuse to give you this information you can apply to your local county court to either get the deposit paid back or make your landlord/letting agent put the deposit in one of the schemes.

The Student Support Office can help with initial enquiries and can refer you to the University of London Housing Service

Agency fees

From the 1 June 2019 most tenancy related fees are now banned by law. This includes things like references, administration, credit and immigration checks, and renewing your tenancy when your fixed-term contract ends. 

If you are asked to pay a fee please speak with the Student Support Office or the University of London Housing Service.

Dealing with disputes

What if something goes wrong during my tenancy? 

Unfortunately, students can experience difficulties when renting accommodation. The types of problems students encounter include:

  • Disputes in getting deposits back
  • Problems with landlords (i.e. not carrying out essential maintenance work)
  • Mice or other pests
  • Noisy neighbours or noise complaints

If you encounter any of the above or have any other difficulties you may wish to seek expert advice as to what are your rights as a tenant. The following organisations will be able to assist:

University of London Housing Service
Citizens Advice Bureau
Queen Mary's Legal Advice Centre

Information and advice can also be found on the gov.uk website.

What is a guarantor?

What do I need to consider when looking for somewhere to live? 

You might need a guarantor when you rent a place to live. A guarantor is a person who agrees to pay the rent if you fail to do so; usually parents or a close relative. If you fail to pay your rent and the guarantor is unable to pay it for you the landlord could take your guarantor to Court, so it's essential that they agree to the terms and conditions and understand the risks. 

Before a landlord accepts a guarantor they will usually want to check that they have the means of payment in the case of them having to step in; this is called a credit check. This part of the requirements usually rule out guarantors who are not based in the UK. 

It is a legal obligation for a guarantor agreement to be in writing. You can find out more on the Citizens Advice Bureau website

Additional support available

We have a schedule of events to support you. Attend as many as you can, so you can be well informed when it comes to searching and signing for a property and make the best accommodation decisions for you.

Finally, once your RCA email address is set up, you can can create a login to access RCA’s Students Union online noticeboard and join this Facebook group. Use these platforms to connect with other students to find accommodation and start discussions. Whilst we hope you find them useful, please note that we do not take responsibility or monitor exchanges carried out between participants.

Don't rush!

Looking for accommodation can be overwhelming, especially if you are moving to a new country. Do not panic - we have many students arrive in London with short term accommodation booked for a few weeks, so they can search and see the property they sign for long term in person, and there are many benefits to this.

Our International Student Advisor and former international RCA student, Bernadette, shares her experience with you:

“I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived, even though I had visited London in the past. I decided to stay in a short let accommodation for a couple of months, which was slightly more expensive than I hoped but allowed me time to get comfortable with the area and visit prospective flats. I also realised the distances seem greater on the map compared to seeing them in person and it wasn't necessary to live as near the campus as I originally thought. Sometimes the images online are very different to the actual accommodation but, by giving myself extra time, I was much more satisfied and felt safer signing the lease after viewing each property in person.”

Bernadette International Student Advisor and former international RCA student

Contact us

Get in touch if you'd like to find out more about studying at the RCA.

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