Most students will go in to halls in their first year at university, but soon in to the first term everyone will start talking about renting a private house for the following year. It can be daunting when it feels like you’ve only just arrived, don’t really know anyone that well yet and here you are taking a big step and renting your first house together.
You will often find that one person tends to take the lead – there is always a leader in a group – but whether you are the leader or not, you should make sure you understand what you are signing for when you agree to renting a house together.
Finding your property
Some landlords will advertise a property direct in the local paper or via the university accommodation office, some will use a letting agent. In university towns there are usually letting agents that specialise in student accommodation and will have lots of different properties available. It is a good idea to register with all of them local agents, letting them know how many rooms you need, your budget and any other requirements your group have for the property you are looking for.
Once you have registered, the agents will send you details of properties you can go and look at. The best ones usually get snapped up quite quickly, but it is advisable to see a few first before being rushed in to making a decision, otherwise you will not have anything to compare good and bad to.
Making an offer
Once you have decided on the property you would like to rent, you let the agents know and they will advise the landlord. Once the landlord has agreed to rent it to you, the agents should then stop showing it to other people, while you sort out the paperwork.
Understanding your tenancy agreement
There are different types of tenancy agreements. Most student lets are shorthold or short term tenancy agreements with private landlords. This means that your contract with the landlord is for a fixed term, usually 12 months, even though you won’t necessarily need the house for the whole 12 months.Within this, the tenancy will either be a joint tenancy or an individual tenancy agreement, which means that you will either all be held jointly responsible for the overall rent, or you will be held individually responsible for your own rent.
Taking a joint tenancy agreement with people you do not know particularly well can have its risks, as if one of them leaves the property and does not pay their rent, the rest of you will still be liable, or if your parents are acting as guarantors, they may find themselves liable for someone else’s unpaid rent, which might not make them too happy!
There have been plenty of horror stories of landlords taking advantage of unsuspecting students, so protect yourself before signing any agreement and make sure you bear in mind that you are the customers and you therefore have certain rights which you can exercise if your landlord does not deliver what has been agreed in the contract.
Check your contract and agreement carefully for the following things
- When it runs from and to and when you have to pay the rent. Put these dates in your diary so you don’t forget to pay. Make sure that the amount you are liable for is stated in the contract.
- How much deposit is required and the terms under which any or all of the deposit may be withheld. Check if your landlord is backed by a deposit protection scheme, which they should be by law.
- What you can and can’t do in the property – for example can you have pets, parties?
- What utilities, if any, are included in the rent and are there any caps on usage?
- What happens if you want to end your tenancy early?
- Who is responsible for what repairs? Your landlord is usually responsible for doing most repairs and for ensuring the safety of gas and electrical equipment, furnishings and asbestos.
What are your rights as a tenant?
- You do have certain rights as the tenant but you can also be evicted quite easily if you do not pay your rent or you become a nuisance to the landlord. However, in order to do this, they will have to serve you notice and get a possession order from the court. You have the right to stay in your home until the bailiffs evict you but you may find yourself paying some of the landlord’s legal costs if you stay on after the notice has expired.
- Your landlord or their agent does have the right to access your home to check any repair work needed and to carry out the repairs. Unless it’s an emergency, they must give you 24 hours’ notice.
- The landlord does not have the right to enter your home otherwise, unless you invite them.
- It is against the law for the landlord to harass you or illegally evict you.
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Do not feel pressured to sign any contract until you have read through it all and made sure you understand and are happy with all the terms of the agreement.
Letting agency fees
Although the government have announced that letting agency fees will soon be banned, at the time of writing, this has still not come in to force. This means that any agency you let your property to can charge you fees for renting a property through them.
Role of Guarantors
Most student landlords/agencies will require a guarantor. This is someone who agrees that if you default on your rent, they will pay – this is usually your parents or guardian. As most students have no references from previous landlords, this is required to ensure that if you can not or do not pay, somebody else will.
As guarantor your parents will be required to provide proof of their income and therefore proof of their ability to pay. This can be quite a worrying commitment for many parents as, even if they have the income to cover the rent, they are unlikely to have the spare cash floating around should it actually be required. However, in most cases, if one of your flatmates defaults on the rent, their parents will be chased first and taken to court for the rent before your parents end up paying. It is always worth discussing the small print and Terms and Conditions of any contract you sign with the agent or landlord to make sure you and your parents all understand what you are committing to.
Paying a deposit
In order to secure your tenancy you will be asked to pay a deposit. Bearing in mind that most student tenancies are agreed around November/December for the following year, this is money you will need to find either out of your current maintenance loan, additional part time work or the bank of Mum & Dad.
The deposit could be a month’s rent or more and will be held until the tenancy expires. The deposit is intended to cover the costs of any breakages, damage or repairs required during and after the term of the tenancy. If you are entering a shared tenancy arrangement, this means that even if one person causes a breakage, you could all be liable for paying for it out of your deposits.
Deposit Protection Scheme
Your landlord or agent are legally required to hold your deposit in a Deposit Protection Scheme. This ensures that the landlord does not spend your cash on a holiday to the Caribbean and assuming you meet all the terms of your tenancy, the money will be returned to you at the end.
When you first move in, you will be provided with an inventory. This is a list of everything that is in the accommodation and the condition it is in. Whilst it might seem like a really boring job when you are excited about moving in to your new home, it is really important to take the time to check this through and let the landlord or agency know if anything is missing or damaged.
It is also a good idea to take some photos of the condition of the property, so that when it comes to the end of the tenancy you, if they claim you have caused any damage you can compare photos of what condition you found the items in when you moved in.
Remember that anything that has been damaged during your tenancy, you and your flatmates will be liable to pay and it will come out of your deposit.