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Student Tenants – A guide to renting a house or flat while at university

There’s a lot you will need to know if you are going to rent a house or flat as a student. What sort of rent can you afford? Do you know your rights as a tenant? What can you expect from your landlord? What about your deposit?

This might seem like a lot to take in but don’t worry – Law on the Web’s guide to tenancy is here to help.

Choosing a Property

Different accommodation options

Private renting

Living in private accommodation, like a shared house or flat, has a lot of positives – it’s a lot more flexible, giving you more options as to where you want to live. It’s also a good option if other university accommodation has no spaces left.

On the downside, you will probably have to deal with your own energy, water and internet bills. You might also end up in a house that is further from campus.

You could also find yourself living with people who aren’t students, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If you want to live with other students, your university may have its own listings for private accommodation.

University accommodation

Either on campus or elsewhere, accommodation can be found via the university and local accommodation websites.

Living on campus is more convenient – you won’t have to commute for your lectures or anything else happening on campus. Even if the accommodation isn’t on campus, it should still be within walking distance or have a bus service going directly to the campus.

You’ll be living with other students, so it’s a great way to get to know other people. You also won’t have to worry about bills – all costs will be included in your rent.

On the other hand, you won’t be able to choose who you live with, so if you are ill at ease living with other people you don’t know (particularly students who might be messy and rowdy), staying on campus might not be for you. (Although, of course, this isn’t exclusive to living on campus.)

You may have the option of living in private student halls off campus – these are run by private companies, but are otherwise similar to accommodation on campus.

Different private halls vary in price and facilities, so do some research to find what different places offer.

Living at home

If staying at home during your studies is a viable option, it’s a great way to save money (not to mention avoid doing any cleaning!) Even if you have to spend money to commute every day, you will probably still spend less than you would have on rent, bills and food.

However, if your parents don’t live in the same city as your campus, this arrangement may quickly become tiresome. Having to travel for an hour or more to get to or from university could make things difficult, both for your studies and your ability to meet and socialise with fellow students.

Budgeting – are bills included?

An important thing to consider when looking at a property is whether or not you can actually afford to live there.

This is easier to work out when looking at university accommodation or anywhere else that has bills included in the rent.

However, with most private accommodation, you’ll have to factor in the cost of bills, including:

  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Water
  • Phone and internet
  • TV licence

You should ask your landlord how much you should expect for these – they should have an idea of how much the previous tenants were or are paying.

Better still, if the current tenants are still there, you could ask them.

Council tax

Full-time students generally don’t have to pay council tax, so if there are only full-time students living in the property, you won’t have to pay council tax.

You are generally considered a full-time student for these purposes if:

  • Your course lasts for at least one year, and
  • It involves at least 21 hours of study per week (including private study time).

However, if there is at least one non-student or part-time student in the property, the property will be liable for council tax, albeit at only 75% of the normal rate. You may need to contact the council to inform them that you are due the reduced rate.

How this is paid is up to you and your would-be housemates – for example, if you are the only student in a house of professionals, they might be happy for you to be exempt from paying any council tax. However, they don’t have to agree to this.

If you are going to be living with anyone who doesn’t qualify as a full-time student, you should come to an agreement on this before you move in. Make sure you get any agreement you have reached in writing, just in case there is a dispute in the future.

9-month or 12-month

Generally, a fixed-term tenancy will last for 12 months – this can be inconvenient for you if your course ends in June and you want to go home or somewhere else over the summer.

However, some landlords will let their property under a 9-month agreement for students, meaning that you won’t have to pay rent on an empty room over the summer, so it’s worth finding out if your prospective landlord can offer this.

Checking the condition of the property

You should have a good look at the state of the property before you commit to anything, and look for any nasty surprises.

If there are any unpleasant things hidden away in the property, you may have to live with them for the next 9 to 12 months. If the landlord was unwilling to fix these problems before the previous tenants moved out, they are unlikely to be prepared to fix them for you.

You may also find yourself blamed for any problems with the property when it comes time to move out, even if they were there when you moved in – the last thing you want is to have a portion of your deposit deducted for damage that you didn’t do.

To minimise problems or disputes over the condition of the property when you move out, you should take a detailed account of the condition of the property, including photographs and video before you move in.

Look for signs of damp

There are a number of different signs that the house you are looking at contains damp – it’s common for it to show up in the form of dark mould on the wall or ceiling, or as condensation on these surfaces. It can also be detected as an unpleasant smell.

As well as being unsightly, damp can cause health problems if left to rage unchecked, causing respiratory and other health problems, particularly for people who have eczema or asthma.

If you see furniture arranged in a strange or illogical way, it would be a good idea to pull it out and peer at the wall behind – it may have been craftily arranged like this to cover up evidence of damp.

Damp could be an indication that there is a leak somewhere too.

Check that the roof is in good repair

Chances are, if you’re looking for somewhere to live for university, you are looking in the summer, when a suspect roof is unlikely to be an issue.

However, if there are any problems with the roof, better to find out before you sign a contract than in the middle of winter when wind and rain arrive to buffet your home.

You should bring this up with the landlord, and ask them how recently the roof has been inspected.

If you can, you could climb up to the roof (using a ladder) and have a look for yourself. Alternatively, if the property has an attic, you could ask to have a look in there.

Look for signs of mice in the property

Mice and other unwelcome rodent guests can be a real nuisance and a health hazard. They can chew through things and spread disease, as well as being generally unpleasant to have around.

Mice tend to avoid humans tramping through the property, so you wouldn’t necessarily spot any while the landlord is showing you around, no matter how much cheese you drop. Instead, look for signs of mouse or rat droppings on the carpet.

You could also look for signs that furniture or pipes have been gnawed on by rats.

Check if the heating system is going to be adequate in the winter

As with the roof, you want to catch any problems with the heating before the freezing depths of winter.

Make sure that the heating works fine, and that it covers all of the rooms – after all, the heating could be working fine in the lounge and elsewhere in the house, but that won’t be of much comfort if the radiator in your bedroom is broken.

Check that lights are working and that there are no loose wires

This is an easy one to forget, unless you are viewing the property at night. You should test the lights in all of the rooms to make sure they work – if there are any that don’t work, ask the landlord why.

It may turn out that a light which doesn’t appear to work simply needs a new bulb – however, if you don’t discover this until after you move in, you might have to replace it at your own expense.

Malfunctioning lights could also be indicative of electrical faults or more dangerous problems, as could any exposed wires. If you notice any problems like these, our advice would be to look for somewhere else.

Switch on appliances to ensure that they work

As with the lights, this is the sort of thing you might overlook – however, you can easily check if something is working by switching it off and on.

Major appliances such as the fridge, oven and washing machine should be checked, as well as smaller appliances like the kettle and toaster.

If any of these appliances don’t work, you should seek assurances from the landlord that they will be fixed before you move in.

Failing to notice problems with appliances at this point means that you will have to wait to have them fixed after you have moved in – or worse still, have your landlord accuse you of breaking them and demand that you pay to have them fixed or replaced.

Check furniture is in good condition

The sofa, chairs and beds may look fine, but you might find that they crumple when you sit on them.

This is particularly important for your bed – you don’t want to spend your first year at university propping up your bed with textbooks, and with bedsprings digging into your back.

Make sure locks are secure

This is pretty important, assuming that you don’t want all of your things stolen.

As well as checking the doors, you should also check that the windows lock properly. If the bedrooms have locks, make sure that these are in good condition too. If these locks don’t work, it could have implications for your contents insurance.

Make sure that pots, pans, plates and cutlery are usable

Not all properties come with these, so you might need to bring your own kitchen equipment.

However, if they are provided, you should find out how many are provided, and what sort of condition they are in. If it turns out that the promised kitchen supplies amount to a couple of plates and a pan covered in burnt-on grease, you should make plans to bring your own (and consider whether this landlord may have cut corners elsewhere).

Contracts

Before you move into a rented property, you will probably sign a contract. The contract between you and your landlord is known as a tenancy agreement.

Joint tenancy agreement or individual contract?

If you are renting with one or more other people, you will likely either be bound together under a joint tenancy agreement, or under separate individual contracts.

Under a joint tenancy agreement, you and the other tenants will be renting the property as a group, meaning you will all have equal responsibility for the whole property.

While this might inspire a greater sense of unity between yourself and your fellow tenants, it also means you are also jointly responsible for paying the rent and maintaining the property.

This means that if one flatmate fails to pay the rent, the rest of you might have to cover it.

Having separate individual contracts is generally preferable – you will only be responsible for your own rent and room.

However, there are some disadvantages with this set-up – the landlord can have freer access to communal areas of the property, such as the bathroom and kitchen, than they would if the property was let under a joint agreement.

If you and the other tenants watch live television on separate TVs or devices, then you will also need separate TV licences.

What should be in the tenancy agreement

Here are a few things that should be in any tenancy agreement:

  • The names of all tenants included in the tenancy
  • The dates of the beginning and end of the tenancy
  • The address of the property
  • How much rent you are paying
  • When the rent is due (e.g. monthly or weekly)
  • How you will pay the rent
  • What bills you will have to pay, if any
  • The amount you will pay for a deposit
  • How your deposit will be protected, and when the landlord can deduct money from it
  • Rules on terminating the tenancy (e.g. notice requirement)
  • The agreement should also mention any specific rights, responsibilities or restrictions in the tenancy.

It might seem obvious, but the agreement shouldn’t include anything which breaks the law or runs contrary to your rights as a tenant – for example, if the agreement includes a clause requiring you to give your landlord access without any notice.

Even if you sign a contract containing such terms, they will not be enforceable (although the inclusion of such terms might be a sign that a landlord is not worth dealing with in the first place).

Precautions to take before signing the contract

Read it. Check that what the landlord has told you about the tenancy is reflected in the contract (such as the beginning and end dates of the tenancy, the rent amount and what repairs they will cover).

If there is anything in the contract that doesn’t match up with what the landlord has told you, raise it with them BEFORE you sign.

You should also look for other rights and responsibilities you will have in the contract – for example, whether the landlord will allow for general wear and tear. If this isn’t mentioned in the contract, you may find the cost of wear and tear coming out of your deposit at the end of the year.

What happens when one of your housemates backs out?

If you and your housemates are under individual contracts, this shouldn’t affect you – the exiting housemate will only be ending or breaking their own contract.

If you are renting under a joint tenancy agreement, things become more complicated. As you are all jointly responsible for the rent, the landlord could just make the rest of you cover the rent of the departing tenant.

You and your remaining housemates have two main options in this situation – you can either get a new housemate to replace the departing one, or you can agree to each pay extra rent to cover the landlord’s shortfall. You may also be able to pursue the departing tenant for the increase in your share of the rent.

Alternatively, you may be able to convince the landlord to end the tenancy early, meaning that you would all need to leave.

What happens if you need to terminate your contract part way through the year?

Some tenancy agreements include a break clause at the half-way point – this allows you or the landlord to end the agreement half-way through.

However, if you are under a fixed-term tenancy agreement that doesn’t include a break clause, you will only be able to get out of the tenancy if the landlord agrees to it. If they do not agree, you will still be liable for the rent, whether you are living there or not.

If the landlord does agree, they might insist that you find a tenant to replace you, or that you pay them an amount to compensate for the cost of finding a new tenant.

Renting without a written contract

It is possible to rent a property without a written contract. However, having a written agreement is vastly preferable, as having clearly defined terms in writing will make things much easier if you and the landlord end up in dispute.

However, a written agreement isn’t a requirement for a tenancy – once you are living in the property and paying rent, you will most likely have a tenancy, whether or not you have actually signed anything.

The landlord will not be able to evict you without a possession order, but they may be able to make deductions from your deposit.

They will still also be required to carry out repairs and keep the property in line with gas and fire safety regulations.

However, it is better to have a written tenancy agreement.

Guarantors

A guarantor is an individual who agrees to cover the cost of your rent if you are unable to pay.

This is a common inclusion for student tenants – one of your parents should suffice, but another friend or family member can also do this, provided they are over 18. They will need to sign a guarantor agreement.

Being a guarantor is potentially risky – if you don’t pay your rent, the guarantor may be taken to court for it. However, as long as you always pay your rent on time, it shouldn’t cause your guarantor any problems.

Can the guarantor cover other costs?

Depending on the terms of the agreement, the guarantor may be held financially responsible for damage done to the property, or even court costs incurred by the landlord from any legal action they have had to take against you.

If the guarantor is going to be responsible for more than just rent, this should be explained in the guarantee agreement. However, if this has been communicated to the guarantor verbally and they have agreed, this may also be considered binding.

If you and your fellow tenants are renting under a joint tenancy agreement, you are all equally liable for each other’s share of the rent – as a result, if one of your housemates fails to pay the rent one month, your guarantor may have to foot the bill.

Checks on the guarantor

The landlord may request a credit check on your guarantor – this is quite normal. However, if your guarantor has a poor credit history, you may have to ask someone else.

What if I can’t get a guarantor?

If you have no one who can act as a guarantor, you may have to look for somewhere else to live.

However, you may be able to negotiate a different solution with your landlord. You could offer to pay a higher security deposit, or pay a number of months’ rent in advance.

Alternatively, you could offer to pay for the landlord to get rent guarantee insurance – this will cover the landlord for lost income if you are unable to pay the rent.

Deposits

Most tenancy agreements will require you to put down a deposit – this is a sum of money from which the landlord can deduct the cost of repairs and other costs at the end of your tenancy.

How much will the deposit cost?

A deposit will typically cost about the same as a month’s rent. However, there aren’t any restrictions on how much a deposit can be, so it could be a bit more or less.

What can the landlord deduct?

The tenancy agreement should specify exactly what the landlord can deduct for. Usually this will include:

  • Repair or replacement to any damaged furnishings
  • Repairs to damage to the structure of the property (walls, ceilings, etc.)
  • Replacement of any lost or broken plates, pots, pans and eating utensils
  • The cost of getting carpets, windows and other parts of the property cleaned
  • The cost of disposing of any of your rubbish or recycling.

Most tenancy agreements will allow for “general wear and tear”, meaning that you will only be penalised for damage caused by negligence or carelessness, rather than damage that happens from general usage.

However, not all agreements will allow for this – check your tenancy agreement to see if it mentions this.

Protecting your deposit

The landlord is legally required to place your deposit into a tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme. These schemes are designed to prevent the landlord from unfairly withholding your deposit at the end of the tenancy.

As long as you pay your rent in full, don’t damage the property and comply with the tenancy agreement, you should receive the deposit back in full. If you and the landlord have a dispute over the deposit at the end of the tenancy, you can use the scheme’s free dispute resolution service to settle it.

Your deposit should be protected under one of the following schemes:

If you think that your landlord hasn’t protected the deposit, you can take them to court. You can make an application to court using a Part 8 claim form, also known as form N208. We would recommend that you seek legal advice on this matter before issuing a claim.

If the court finds that the deposit hasn’t been protected, they can order the landlord to either pay it into a TDP or pay it back to you.

The court can go further than this – they may rule that the landlord should pay you as much as three times the value of the deposit or that you can stay at the property beyond the end of your tenancy.

Getting your deposit back

The landlord must return your deposit within ten days of you both agreeing on the amount to be refunded. If they are deducting any part of it, they must tell you why.

If the landlord refuses to send the deposit back, or you disagree with any deductions they have made, you can dispute this with them.

The best way to do this is by using the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service offered by your TDP scheme. If you still can’t reach an agreement with the landlord, or you or your landlord don’t want to use this scheme, you can take them to court. However, if you use the ADR service, the decisions are generally final and cannot be appealed.

Taking an inventory at the beginning of tenancy

The landlord should take an inventory of what is in the property when you move in. Check this inventory when you move in – if there is anything which is missing or broken, tell your landlord and make sure it is reflected in the inventory. There should be at least some kind of written record of this.

It is advisable that you take photographs and video of the condition of the property, including photographs of the walls, ceiling, doors, carpets, appliances and any furniture.

Advice on ensuring you get the full deposit back

The simple answer to this is to just leave the place in as good a condition as you can. You can do that by:

  • Making sure everything is clean
  • Checking the inventory and replacing any lost or broken items
  • Getting the garden in good condition (removing weeds, etc.)

If you break or lose something, it may be less expensive to just replace the items yourself, rather than leave it for the landlord to do it and charge you later.

The same goes for cleaning – if you can give everything a good scrub before you leave, the landlord won’t have to deduct the cost of hiring a cleaner from your deposit.

Tenants’ rights and responsibilities

Your rights and responsibilities as a tenant will vary based on what sort of property you are living in and what the tenancy agreement says.

However, there are a few rights and responsibilities which most, if not all, tenants have.

Rights to entry

The landlord usually needs to get your permission before entering your home – for example, if they want to inspect the property or give a viewing to a prospective future tenant, they should give you at least 24 hours’ notice. You should also check the tenancy agreement as it’s not unusual for the agreement to include a section dealing with the landlord’s rights to enter the property.

Also, they should enter the property at a reasonable time – entering the property for an inspection at 3am would be unreasonable, regardless of how much notice the landlord gave.

The landlord can only enter without notice if there is a potential emergency – for example, if they smell gas coming from the property, if there is structural damage that needs to be fixed urgently, or if they suspect that a criminal incident has happened or is happening inside.

Freedom from harassment

It might go without saying, but it is illegal for your landlord to harass you in any way.

Harassment can come in many forms, including:

  • inappropriate sexual or racial comments
  • violence
  • taking or interfering with your stuff
  • cutting off your electricity
  • entering the property without your permission
  • threatening to do any of these things.

If your landlord or someone representing them is harassing you, you should keep a written record of what happens, with any other evidence you can gather (photos, videos, etc.).

You should contact your landlord in writing to request that they stop and threaten to take them to court if they don’t.

If they don’t stop, you can contact your council for advice – if you are forced to leave the property because of the harassment, they can set you up with emergency accommodation.

You can also take the landlord to court to get an injunction against them.

If you are being threatened with physical violence or the harassment continues, you should call the police.

Landlord rights and responsibilities

Repairs

Your landlord will be responsible for most of the repairs on the property, including:

  • Damaged pipes and electrical wiring
  • Issues with the heating and hot water
  • The structure of the building (walls, ceilings, etc.)
  • Damage to sinks, baths and showers.

You should contact your landlord if the property needs repair, particularly if the damage is dangerous or may lead to further damage (exposed wires or a leaking pipe, for example).

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO)

If you are renting a house or flat with more than two other individuals, your home is most likely a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

A property becomes an HMO when:

  • There are three or more people living there
  • There are at least 2 separate “households”
  • The tenants share basic amenities, such as the bathroom and the kitchen

A household can either be a single person or a group of people from the same family (including unmarried partners). For example, if you are sharing a room with your girlfriend or boyfriend, you would make up a single household – if you live with another individual or couple, they would form another household.

An HMO has to comply with some extra rules.

Gas safety checks

The property and all gas appliances within must undergo an annual gas safety check. You should be given a gas safety certificate when you move in.

Electric safety checks

The electrics in the property must be inspected at least every five years – the landlord should have a certificate to prove this.

Fire safety standards

The property should have a working fire alarm, and should have a clear escape route. The landlord may also provide a fire extinguisher, although this is not a legal requirement.

Overcrowding

HMOs have some specific rules about overcrowding. Your house may be considered to be overcrowded if:

  • you have to share a room with someone of the opposite sex (unless they are your partner)
  • you share a room with someone else, and the area of the room is less than 110 square feet.

If the house seems to be overcrowded, you should contact your local council.

You might think that the landlord can come and do what they want with the property – after all, they own it. However, as the tenant, you have rights too.

Eviction

A landlord does have rights to retake their property if their tenant is failing to pay the rent, take care of the property or comply with the tenancy agreement.

However, they can’t just evict you when they feel like it – they have to take steps to make sure they are evicting you legally.

If your landlord is attempting or threatening to evict you, you should get legal advice – you can read more about this at www.lawontheweb.co.uk.

Alternatively, you can contact your local council or Citizens Advice.

When a landlord can and can’t evict>

Even if the landlord is justified in wanting to evict you, there are restrictions on how they can do it.

If you are on a periodic tenancy (which usually runs month-to-month), the landlord can evict you at any time, as long as they give you two months’ notice.

However, if you are a student, you are likely to be on a fixed-term tenancy for 9 or 12 months. On this sort of tenancy, the landlord can only evict you at the end of the term, or if they can prove you have broken the terms of the tenancy agreement.

In this case, they can use Section 8 of the Housing Act to evict you.

What you can be evicted for

The Housing Act gives a number of grounds for landlords to evict a tenant. If the landlord can prove one of these to a county court, they can obtain a possession order to have you removed from the property.

The most common reason is for non-payment of rent. However, the landlord can’t kick you out as soon as you are behind on rent – you usually must be in arrears by a specific amount before the landlord can get a mandatory possession order.

If, like most renters, you pay your rent monthly, the landlord can seek repossession of the property if you owe two months’ or more rent to them.

If the landlord applies for a possession order when you owe less than two months’ rent, it is up to the court whether or not you should be evicted.

They can also apply to have you evicted if you have repeatedly been late on paying the rent, even if you are not in arrears at the time.

There are other grounds that the landlord can use to evict you. For example:

  • You have breached a term of the tenancy agreement
  • You or a visitor have been convicted of using the property for illegal purposes
  • The property or furniture in the property has deteriorated due to the neglect of a tenant
  • The tenancy was granted under false pretences (i.e. you lied to convince the landlord to let the property to you).

Even if one or more of these grounds applies to you, the landlord must follow proper procedure to have you evicted.

When an eviction is illegal

When the landlord wants to evict you, they must give you written notice and seek a possession order from a court before they can have you removed. For a Section 8 eviction, they will usually need to give at least two weeks’ notice.

Once they have a possession order, if you don’t leave they must apply to the court for bailiffs to come and evict you.

It is illegal for a landlord to evict you by doing any of the following:

  • Changing the locks while you are out without following the eviction procedure
  • Threatening or harassing you until you leave
  • Physically removing you from the property
  • Evicting you before the notice period is up.

If you have been evicted illegally, you should contact the council as soon as possible. They may be able to help you re-enter your home, provide emergency accommodation, and help you get legal advice for the situation.

If the landlord has harassed you or been violent towards you, you should call the police.

Insurance

Now that you are living on your own, you will most likely need insurance to cover you in case your possessions are lost or damaged.

Here’s a look at what will already be covered, and what you will need to get covered.

What landlord’s insurance covers

The landlord will probably have buildings insurance, which covers damage to the actual building, such as damage to the walls, doors and ceilings.

This means you shouldn’t have to worry about the cost of fixing damage to the building (provided that you didn’t do the damage yourself).

If the property comes furnished, the landlord may also have contents insurance to cover damage to the furniture, kitchen appliances, and any other furnishings.

What insurance students need

The landlord’s insurance is unlikely to cover your own possessions, so you will need your own contents insurance to cover your things from damage (from fire, flooding, and other hazards) and loss or theft.

Here are a few things you might want to protect:

  • Your laptop
  • Your mobile phone, tablet, or other devices
  • Your bike.

The average contents insurance policy will cover damage and loss from most typical sources – fire, flood, theft in a break-in, etc. You should consider the following before taking out a policy:

  • Will it cover items lost or stolen outside the home? If you take your phone and laptop with you to a lecture or the library, you could be walking around with at least £1,000 worth of electronics on you.
  • Will it cover extra items, such as your guitar or bike? Not all policies cover musical instruments or other expensive items by default – check that they are covered.
  • Does the insurance only cover forced entry? If you are living in a shared house with people you don’t know that well, an unscrupulous housemate or friend of a housemate could steal something valuable of yours without needing to force entry. If this is a concern, make sure your insurance covers this.
  • Is accidental damage covered? No matter how careful you are, there’s always a chance that you or a new acquaintance could drop or spill something. See if your insurance can cover this.

If your parents have their own contents insurance, it’s possible that it will cover your own property while you are away at university. Check this before you buy your own insurance – make sure it will cover everything you need.

If the house or flat is furnished, you may be required under the terms of the tenancy to cover the furnishings with your own insurance. Read the tenancy agreement and check with the landlord whether this is the case.