Summer is coming to an end and for many it will mean either starting the first year of university or returning to complete their studies.
Hunting for the perfect student accommodation can be a stressful process, but even when you’ve found the right place it’s important not to rush into signing a tenancy agreement before you’ve checked through all the details.
A tenancy agreement is a legally binding contract and if you’ve never rented before, reading through these types of documents can be confusing, and maybe even a little bit overwhelming.
We’ve broken down a typical tenancy agreement and highlighted six key things to consider before you sign on the dotted line.
1. Know your contract
Although some landlords of student tenants may be willing to offer a long-term contract, the vast majority will use a shorthold tenancy agreement for a fixed term to cover the length of your academic year.
A 12-month contract will provide you with accommodation for the whole year, including the summer months, whereas a 9- or 10-month contract will only provide accommodation for the months that you attend university, meaning you will have to vacate the property for the summer. It’s important to read your contract carefully as some landlords may allow you to pay a reduced rent fee in summer, or they may stipulate that rent must be paid in full even if there are only one or two tenants present.
For those entering into a rental agreement as part of a group of students, there would usually be two main types of tenancy contract offered by the landlord.
- A joint tenancy agreement sees all tenants as one, meaning if any of the joint tenants decide they want to end the agreement and move out, the remaining tenants may also be asked to vacate the property unless they can come to an agreement with the landlord.
- An individual contract is the more desirable option, as an agreement is signed on an individual basis between each tenant and the landlord. This means that if one person of the group decides to move out of the house, or if they fall behind on their rent payments for any reason, the rest will not be liable to cover for them.
2. Read the small print
Contracts and tenancy agreements are generally long documents and it can be easy to dismiss the legal jargon and settle with a skim-read. However, agencies and landlords can often use the small print to highlight certain allowances and restrictions of your tenancy agreement, and not acknowledging the information that’s outlined in the small print can lead to negative repercussions later down the line.
Key things to look out for in your tenancy agreement documents:
- Check that the start date and end date of your tenancy are correct
- Make sure the name of each tenant is listed, as well as the landlord’s
- Give the section which outlines your obligations a thorough read through. It’s important that you know what will be expected of you as a tenant before you go ahead and sign
- Double check that the rent amount is correct, along with the details outlining who is liable to pay it
- If the property is advertised as being fully- or part-furnished, make sure you know which appliances, pieces of furniture and accessories (if any) are included, and what your responsibilities are for maintaining and/or replacing them
- Make sure the agreement allows for general wear and tear. Many of the complications which arise as a tenancy expires are disputes relating to the condition of the property. Whilst you should make minimal changes to your living quarters (including things like hanging pictures or repainting walls), a landlord should also expect some general wear to the furniture and living space
- Make sure that any repairs you would like to be carried out prior to moving in are outlined in the contract and have been agreed to before you sign
If any of the details outlined in your contract seem incorrect, or if you have any questions or would like to amend any part of your agreement, don’t be afraid to raise the subject with your landlord or agent.
3. How a bond works – deposit protection schemes
Before your tenancy commences, you will be required to pay a deposit (or “bond”). This upfront fee usually equates to the same amount as one month’s rent, although it can sometimes be slightly more. The deposit not only secures your tenancy for the property, but it is held for the duration of your tenancy and will only be returned if the rent is fully paid and there has been no damage caused to the property when you move out.
From a student’s point of view, the most important thing is to make sure that you know how much you’re expected to pay and that the full amount is protected for the duration of your tenancy.
By law, your landlord must ensure that your deposit is registered with a government-backed deposit protection scheme within 30 days of him/her receiving the funds.
In the UK, there are only three approved deposit protection schemes: the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), My Deposits, and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS). Be sure to check that your landlord is registered with an official scheme and that your deposit has been submitted for protection after you’ve transferred the money.
What if my landlord isn’t registered with a deposit protection scheme?
If you are ever concerned that your landlord is not doing things by the book, you can check to see if the property is on record with DPS, My Deposits or TDS for yourself. If it isn’t, your landlord would be breaking the law and you could be entitled to compensation (potentially up to three times the amount of your deposit).
It is well known that many students often lose a good proportion of their deposit at the end of their tenancy. This is usually due to damage caused to the property and/or furniture, however it’s an unfortunate truth that some landlords will take advantage and try to take from you what they can.
You are entitled to get your money back at the end of a tenancy, and there should only be a deduction made from your refunded deposit if the reasons for that deduction and the amount(s) requested are fully justified, with supporting evidence. The registered deposit scheme will keep hold of your money until you and your landlord have come to an agreement.
Should you find yourself having trouble with your landlord, we offer expert legal advice and representation (when needed), helping to resolve all tenancy-related issues. An early assessment of your case will allow us to explore all possible options, whether that be solving the situation through amicable negotiations or by initiating immediate legal proceedings.
For student tenancies, most landlords will require each tenant to have a guarantor. Usually a parent or family member, a guarantor is someone who agrees that in the very worst case scenario, they will cover the cost of your rent if you can’t afford to make the payments yourself.
A guarantor isn’t someone to take advantage of or call upon lightly. The guarantor predominantly acts as a reassurance for the landlord that the rent will always be covered, even if you cannot physically cover it yourself. If the landlord has to pursue your guarantor for a rent payment one month, your guarantor can actually be taken to court, so it’s important that you only sign up for a property that you know you can afford the maintenance fees of, and that you team up with a guarantor who knows they can trust you.
Under normal circumstances, the landlord won’t require your guarantor to be present to sign the contract, and will usually accept a signed and scanned copy of the tenancy agreement along with photocopied proof of identity and proof of address.
5. Inventory – check and check again!
The inventory is something which is common to both student letting agreements and standard letting agreements, and it’s basically a checklist for both the landlord and the tenants to list any faults or damage they may have noticed in the property before anyone moves in. For fully- or part-furnished properties, your inventory should also include a list of the furniture and appliances that have been supplied by the landlord, and the condition of these should also be noted.
Completing the inventory in as much detail as possible will ensure that no tenants are charged for any damage that was already there, and will enable both parties to avoid any arguments surrounding the quantity and condition of the furniture at the end of the tenancy.
The landlord will often make sure to be present with you in the property so that you can go through the inventory together. If they haven’t said they’ll be there, don’t be afraid to ask for them to be, as having them around to discuss things will help to prevent any arguments later down the line.
It’s also a good idea to keep your own record and photos of the condition of the property and the furniture prior to moving in so that you always have extra evidence should there be any disputes at the end of the tenancy.
6. Be budget-wise
There’s a lot to think about and budget for when moving into a new property – the cost of rent each month, the deposit that you’ll need to pay upfront, the money that you’ll need to spend to furnish the property and even the cost of hiring a van or seeking out a company to help you with the big move can all add up to one big expense.
Setting a budget for the move itself is always a good idea, but the most important budget to set is one that considers the long-term responsibility of making rent payments. Although it can be easy to get carried away and splurge for the bigger apartment with the flashier kitchen and grand, city-centre location, it’s essential that you plan out your finances and set a realistic budget to ensure that your rent will always be covered.
There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when committing to your new home, but the most important thing is to make sure you’re not rushing into anything. Allowing yourself the time to properly check through your tenancy agreement will ensure that there is little confusion in the process and minimal disagreement later down the line.
DRN can help you to settle any complication you might face relating to your landlord or tenancy agreement. Get in touch to speak to an expert or click here to find out more about the services that we offer.