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Knowing your rights

What am I signing up to?

Most private student housing is let under an assured shorthold tenancy. You will have a different type of agreement if you rent from a university, or if you share accommodation with your landlord. To check what kind of agreement you have, use Shelter’s tenancy checker or contact Student Advice. The agreement will give you and your landlord certain rights and responsibilities.  The law also gives you certain rights even if these aren't written in the agreement.

 

Key points to understand about your responsibilities:

  • Many contracts are for a fixed term of 6 or 12 months.  This means you’re tied in unless there’s a “break clause” allowing you to end the agreement early.
  • Contracts can be joint or individual.  If it’s joint, you could be jointly liable for all your housemates rent.

 

Is this contract ok?

  • Many contracts can be long and some are quite difficult to understand.  But unfortunately, there’s no substitute for reading the contract carefully.  
  • Don’t feel pressured into signing before you’re ready.  Good landlords will let you take the contract and any guarantor forms away for 24 hours before you sign.

 

What does my landlord have to do legally?

The information below applies to assured shorthold tenancies or “ASTs”.  Most private student housing is let under this type of agreement.

 

What your landlord has to do:

  • Give their full name and address in writing when asked.
  • Give you and follow a written rent payment plan detailing how much rent is, when it is due, and how it should be paid. Your landlord can not increase your rent during the contract if you do not agree.
  • Keep the property in good repair, but not make improvements unless these are written into the contract.
  • Give you 24 hours’ notice of any visits, except in emergencies.
  • Show you the property’s gas safety certificate and energy performance certificate.
  • Show you the HMO license if there are five or more people over three or more floors.
  • Protect your tenancy deposit and tell you which scheme it is in.
  • Fully return your tenancy deposit or explain why they aren’t within 14 days after the tenancy ends.
  • Give you a copy of the utility bill or contract when asked if you pay him/her by usage.
  • Allow you to switch energy suppliers if you pay the supplier directly.
  • Follow the correct legal procedures until the end of the tenancy. For example, obtaining a valid warrant from a court if they want to evict you.

The law gives you these rights even if they aren’t written into the contract. The contract terms cannot remove these rights, no matter what the landlord or the contract says.

 

What is the difference between joint and individual tenancies? And why does this matter?

If you and your housemates each have separate agreements with the landlord:

  • you will have individual tenancies
  • you will only be responsible for your individual rent 

 

If you and your housemates sign one agreement at the same time: this will normally be a joint tenancy. 

  • All joint tenants are “jointly and severally liable” for all the rent.

This means that if one of your housemates moves out or doesn’t pay then your landlord can ask you and/or any of the other tenants to pay instead. If any court action is taken the landlord can take everyone to court.

 

Problems can come up if, for example:

  • Someone fails their exams and doesn’t come back to Uni
  • There are arguments in the house and someone moves out
  • Someone doesn’t like their room and wants to leave

 

Tips for avoiding problems with joint liability:

  • Take your time to decide who you want to live with.
  • Make sure everyone is happy with the property, the area, and all of the other housemates before you all sign.
  • Have you talked about who’s going to take that tiny basement room?
  • Have you talked about whether everyone can afford the rent?
  • Understand what you are signing: work out the total amount you could be liable for under the contract e.g. £68.35 per week rent x 52 weeks per year x 6 people sharing = £21,325.20
  • Make sure any guarantor forms limit your guarantor’s liability to your share of the rent only.
  • Sign together – if you sign first on one day and then others pull out, you could still be tied into the contract and left to foot the bill.
  • If you’re really unhappy with signing a joint contract, you can negotiate with the landlord to see if s/he will give you individual contracts instead. 

 

What if I change my mind after signing the contract?

Contracts are binding and fixed, meaning there’s no cooling off period after signing. Once you sign a contract, it’s often impossible to get out of it.  You will be liable for rent for the full year.  All the more reason to make sure you’re happy with the house, the landlord and your housemates before signing. 

If you need help with trying to get out of a contact, contact the Advice Centre for personalised advice on your circumstances.

 

What is a guarantor & will I need one?

A guarantor (e.g. a parent) signs an agreement to pay for any rent or damages if the tenant fails to pay up. Some landlords ask for a guarantor but not all do. 

 

Tips for avoiding problems:

  • A guarantor is taking on a potentially big risk, particularly if you are signing a joint contract e.g. if your housemate hasn’t paid their rent, your guarantor could be made to pay.  
  • Do not sign a contract that requires a guarantor form until you and your guarantors have read the form and agreed to sign. If you have already signed a contract but a guarantor refuses to sign, you might not get the keys to the property.
  • Ask the landlord to accept a limited guarantee from your guarantor e.g. just covering your rent/damages.
  • Tell your guarantor not to give too much personal information on the form e.g. NI number, bank details or passport details should not be necessary.