UK’s first rent-by-the-room apartment building launches in Manchester 

One of, if not THE UK’s most important residential building in the last decade has now officially opened its doors to residents in Manchester. Union which can be seen from across the city thanks to its prominent U+NION branding on top of the tallest tower at St John’s (adjacent to Aviva Studio’s Factory International) and promises to change the city’s rental landscape forever, thanks to unique rent-by-the-room proposition.

Finding the perfect place to live for people establishing their roots in a city has traditionally been filled with compromise, risk and in some cases fear. The choices until now, have been about navigating a raft of rental industry pitfalls, such as dodgy landlords, pushy agents and questionable flatmates to find a place which has the least compromise for their personal situation.

Traditionally shared living also includes, taking a long 12-month rental agreement with a good friend who’s hopefully at the same point in their life, with the same budget, taste in accommodation and location preference. Or surf for someone, who has a room available. Or move into one of the city’s out of town house shares with a bunch of people they’ve never met at the risk of having a torrid time in what are often less than idyllic settings. 

Union set out with the ambition to stop this treacherous rite of passage which has been a long-running gag for many a sitcom writer by creating the ultimate launch pad for anyone starting out in the city, with a customer centric and service orientated product that has a low barrier to entry and plenty of flexibility. 

Delivered under the industry term ‘co-living’ urban regeneration specialist Vita Group has created something that has never been done on this scale before across the UK, a rent-by-the-room development which totals 1,676 beds with 870 bedrooms launching in phase one, and a further 806 bedrooms opening 2025 in phase two (the largest co-living development currently in operation consists of 705 beds). 

Starting with the apartments, the building has a host of apartment types available, from studios right the way to four-bedroom apartments (Quads), but the difference here is, residents only ever rent-by-the-room. 

This means that renters could come as individuals, pairs, threes or fours and take the relevant apartment size, or choose to move into an apartment with others, but crucially, should one of their housemates move out, which is often the case, the rest of the party doesn’t feel any impact to their rent and bills when they go. They don’t have to try to find a new place to live, or a new housemate to move in, Union will help fill the room for them should they wish. Tenancies start from 1-month in studios and 6-months in shared apartments and can be any length. 

Russell Hayes, Vita Group, Director of Residential said: “For too long, the rental industry has been crying out for innovation, new products which address the needs of today’s more transient twenty-something renters starting out in a city. That’s what Union is all about, creating not just functional, but aspirational places for people who’re starting out in a city to live. For these people, we play the pivotal role of the perfect host, helping residents to forge new friendships, enabling them to come and go with ease and aligning our needs with theirs. We know there’s huge demand, and whilst there’s marketplaces servicing individuals, there isn’t a product designed which has been designed for them. It’s why we’ve created this unique rent-by-the-room model with technology which helps residents to form new social connections and find new housemates, removing many of the common stumbling points people face in their early days renting. Stumbling points which we’ve developed a really good understanding of, operating over 3,000 apartments across Manchester alone.” 

Union has invested significantly designing its SmartMatch technology, which uses algorithms to match customers based on preferences around lifestyle and living habits.  The aim, create apartments filled with flatmates who are more likely to gel. Furthermore, if it’s not working out, Union offers immense flexibility and support, facilitating movements to other apartments. Later in the year, Union will also launch a resident’s social app, helping residents to connect with residents from across the building with shared interests. The technology has been developed by Vita Group’s in-house tech team, headed up by CTO Jonathan Tizard, former head of technology at The LadBible Group and Missguided. 

Research conducted by Vita Group found that people living in houseshares were twice as likely to want to move out of the place they live than those living in traditional private rental properties. The main reason for this is the exposure to incompatible flatmates. This is despite the quality or location of the accommodation. 

Jonathan Tizard, Chief Technical Officer for Vita Group said: “We know that people will have a better time living together if they have more in common and the things which are likely to grate on them over time are kept to a minimum, that’s SmartMatch’s objective, help bring people together who’re likely to have a better chance of getting on. People in a similar stage of their life, with similar standards of cleanliness and consideration for others. As we and the technology continues to learn, we hope it will really help to improve the stickiness of our residents, helping them form life-long friendships.

“Our social app will help to build the community, we’re not looking to take on large existing platforms like Instagram or Tik Tok, for us it’s about helping to remove the first awkward hello so people can grow their network, go to in-building events together, work out as a group, and make friends to explore the city. For Union, we’re all about bringing people together, and we hope our social app will help to do just that. All of the tech we’re creating is focused on elevating interpersonal relationships and building community. If you like who you live with, you’ll be more likely to stay.” 

Another subject which can become fractious for these sharers is money, that’s why Union’s rent-by-the-room tenancy includes bills. There’s no splitting utilities at the end of the month or feeling like one person isn’t paying their way. This also allows people to come and go freely, important for those who’re in this defining phase of their life and may want to move quickly for work, love or adventure.  

The rooms have been cleverly designed by architects and interior designers to make the best use of the space and provide everything on the typical young renter’s wish list such as an ensuite bathroom, double bed, desk, and plenty of storage. And every apartment has its own kitchen, dining, and seated area, all furnished to a high standard. Crucially no one shares a bathroom.

Russell Hayes, Director of Residential for Vita Group continued: “Rooms and apartments have been designed for people to share with ease, but importantly everyone gets their own space. For example, each resident gets their own ensuite, something which is really important to this audience, each room has a desk, important for today’s hybrid workers and everyone gets their own storage space in the kitchen.” 

Union also offers its residents a first of its kind subscription service, Union Plus. Residents who subscribe Union Plus and gain access to a host of additional in-building benefits, this includes a beautifully designed resident’s lounge, superb co-working space, bookable meeting rooms, private dining rooms, a state-of-the-art gym, and a movie room. Union Plus members also gain access to a host of other perks such as free laundry and exclusive events. This helps to ensure that against a backdrop of record high rents across the city, starting rents can be lower, and residents only need to pay for what they use. 

Union is situated in Manchester’s rapidly evolving neighbourhood, St John’s, which boasts a host notable new openings such as Fenix, Factory International and Side Street Studios and has a raft of others set to open later this year including Soho House. Rooms at this unrivalled location include bills (utilities, council tax, Wi-Fi). Residents can upgrade their tenancy adding all the benefits of the Union Plus membership.

Russell Hayes, Director of Residential for Vita Group said: “We’re so excited to welcome residents into the building and showcasing everything we have to offer. Union is all about making living in a city easier for people who’re starting out, bringing people together to make new friendships and taking the stress out of living together. It’s a place residents can be proud to call home and one which responds to them in a way, no other can or will.”