Accommodation: legal matters when renting a student flat / house
This page contains advice about contracts, tenancy agreements, deposits and the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords.
This page is accurate for students on courses accredited by the University of South Wales (formerly Glamorgan). It has not yet been updated to include advice for students whose courses are accredited by the University of Wales (i.e. courses based in Newport).
Once you have signed a contract, it becomes legally binding. Do not sign if you have any concerns.
- Always ensure that you read the contract carefully before signing it and paying a deposit.
- If you are not happy with it or not sure about certain parts – take it to the Accommodation Office or the Welfare Officer at the Students’ Union before you sign it- they will look through it for you.
- Don’t be pressured into signing a contract just because you think you might lose the house.
- You can’t drop out of it once you’ve signed. So, if you find a nicer house down the road, you won’t be able to get out of the contract you’ve already signed.
Types of contracts
Contracts can be written or verbal and either joint or individual.
For accommodation, there are two main types of contract: an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement and Assured Tenancy agreement. If you live in the same house as a landlord or landlady then you will have what is known as a ‘licence agreement’.
- Fixed term: means that you are guaranteed to have occupancy of the house and are committed to paying full rent for the period stated on the contract
- Joint tenants: If you and your housemates all sign the same contract at the same time, then you will become joint tenants and therefore jointly and severally liable for any rent arrears, bills and damage to the property. If one or more tenants move out, the landlord can pursue the remaining tenants (as well as the one that’s left) for any unpaid rent arrears or bills.
Get Things in Writing
What you see is what you get! Beware of promises made by landlords when you are viewing a property. For example, you may be promised a new kitchen, new beds etc. – very often substandard properties are let on this basis, only for the tenants to find that nothing has been done by the time they move in. If your landlord is genuine, s/he won’t mind writing these things into the contract.
Take the time to consider whether you would still be happy to live in the house if the promised improvements are not carried out. If not, then keep looking!
You can only leave before the end of the tenancy if the landlord agrees to release you. Most landlords will expect you to find a replacement tenant first.
This can be harder if you are a joint tenant as the new tenant must be approved by the remaining tenants as well as the landlord. While you are looking for a replacement tenant, bear in mind that you will still be responsible for paying the rent. In joint tenancies, the new tenant and the existing tenants should sign a new contract – remember to ask your landlord or letting agent about this.
Many letting agencies and landlords require a guarantor form (usually signed by your parents). This guarantees payment of the rent and any other bills that you may be liable for under the tenancy agreement.
Be careful to check the wording if you are signing a joint agreement, as your parents could find themselves liable for money owed by other tenants!
Inventory – helping you protect your deposit
Before you move your things in and start making your new place home, you should complete an inventory of everything that is in the house. You should also note any damages to items.
An inventory is a list of the contents and condition of the property, such as furniture, fixtures and fittings and other equipment. At the start of your tenancy your landlord may ask you to sign one of these. Make sure that it contains accurate information before you sign it – not just about the contents, but the condition of each item, too.
Your landlord may provide you with an inventory sheet. If not, you can download a blank Inventory. Make sure you complete if fully and get your landlord to sign it.
At the end of the tenancy, the inventory can be used as evidence to support any deduction from your deposit where there is a dispute. Photographs taken at the start and end of your tenancy can also be very useful – especially where you have cause for concern.
Your and the landlord’s rights and responsibilities
It is important that you understand that having entered into a contractual agreement, you both have legal rights and responsibilities:
Landlord’s rights and responsibilities:
Under the 1985 Landlord and Tenant Act, the landlord is responsible for:
- The structure and exterior of the property, heating and hot water systems, basins, sinks and other sanitary installations.
- Gas and electrical appliances
- Fire safety of furniture and furnishings provided.
- Repairing and keeping in good working order the water heating system.
The landlord is responsible for keeping these in good repair even if your tenancy agreement says they are not.
If you don’t have direct contact with your landlord it can be useful to have his/her details in case of any problems. You can find out the landlord’s name and address by making a request in writing to the person who last collected the rent, pointing out your right to this information under Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Make sure you keep a copy of the letter and send it by recorded delivery. If the person does not reply in writing within 21 days of receiving the letter, they are committing an offence and can be reported to the local authority’s Tenancy Relations Officer.
Landlords have the right to ‘reasonable access’ to carry out repairs. What is ‘reasonable’ depends on the nature of the repair to be carried out. Again, the landlord should give you 24 hours written notice if the repair is not urgent.
Tenant’s rights and responsibilities
- Paying the rent as agreed and taking good care of the property.
- Day to day maintenance such as changing light bulbs, housekeeping and paying bills.
- To inform the landlord of any repairs (however minor they might seem), in writing.
- You have an obligation to behave in a “tenant like” manner and comply with all terms as written in the contract.
Tenants have the right to peacefully enjoy their home. This means that the landlord needs to ask permission before entering the premises and should give 24 hours written notice before an inspection or to show prospective tenants around. This should also be at a time which is reasonable for you.
Tenancy bonds / deposits and rent payments
You usually pay a bond/deposit before you move in (as well as some rent in advance). It is usually the equivalent of one month’s rent but should not be more than two months’ worth of rent.
The deposit is a sum of money which is held against any damage or unpaid rent, bills, cleaning, or unreturned keys. Although reasonable deductions can be made from the deposit/bond, deductions should not be made for fair wear and tear. For instance, a worn carpet may be fair wear and tear, but a cigarette burn mark probably isn’t.
Typical Methods of Payment of your Bond & Rent
- Post dated cheques and other payment methods: It is still fairly common for landlords or agents to ask for the whole year’s rent in post dated cheques. . If the cheque is inadvertently presented before its due date, and you have insufficient funds in your account, you will be charged by your bank for ‘bouncing a cheque’.
- Standing Orders: We recommend that you set up a standing order instead. This is a set payment for a set date (e.g. the same date every month) into the landlord/agent’s bank account. This means you will always have evidence that you have paid your rent and the landlord can’t take the money from your account early. Just remember to keep enough funds in your account!
- Any other method: If you pay via any other method, such as a cheque each month or cash (not recommended), then make sure your landlord provides you with a proper receipt – containing the landlord’s name, your name, the address, amount paid and the date. Keep the receipts in a safe place.
Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes
Since 2007, if you have an ‘assured shorthold’ tenancy agreement, your landlord must protect it using a government authorised tenancy deposit scheme. Make sure you ask your landlord/agent about it.
The purpose of the scheme is to make sure that:
- You get the appropriate amount of deposit back, when you are entitled to it.
- Any disputes between you and your landlord/agent will be easier to resolve.
At the start of your tenancy, you pay the deposit/bond to your landlord/agent. Within 14 days, your landlord is required to give you details about how your deposit is being protected, including:
- The contact details of the tenancy deposit scheme and any reference number
- The contact details of the landlord/agent
- How to apply for the release of the deposit
- Information concerning the purpose of the deposit
- What to do if there is a dispute about the deposit
Note: In joint tenancies, Deposit schemes usually only deal with the lead name on the tenancy agreement. This person must accept responsibility as representative of the other joint tenants For further information, visit the Tenancies, deposits and rent – private renting page on the Direct.gov website.
If you are in arrears with your rent, you should first try talking to your landlord about it and see if you can come to an agreement about repayment. If you make a special arrangement or payment plan, make sure you stick to it
Failure to pay your rent may force your landlord to take legal proceedings to evict you in the form of a ‘possession order’. If you require advice on financial matters you can make an appointment to see a Student Finance Adviser at the Student Money Service. In some cases, they may be able to help you in the form of an emergency loan or grant.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore the issue.
Harassment and illegal eviction
If your landlord is entering your home more than is reasonably necessary and this makes you feel insecure and uncomfortable in your own home, this could be interpreted as a form of harassment. Generally, tenants cannot be evicted without receiving official notice to vacate the property. It is a criminal offence to evict someone without a court order or to try to make them leave by violence, intimidation or any kind of harassment.
If you feel you are a victim of harassment or are threatened with illegal eviction, contact the Tenancy Relations Officers for your area:
- Rhondda Cynon Taff: 01443 442100
- Cardiff: (029) 2053 7342
At the end of your tenancy, remember to:
- Take meter readings and inform the utility companies of your forwarding address so they can send you the final bill (many contracts contain a clause which states that all bills need to be paid in full before the bond is refunded)
- Check the condition of the property against the original inventory with your landlord (or agent) resent in order to avoid any disputes over damage.
- If you think that there may be a dispute over damage it is advisable to take photographic evidence of the property when you leave.
- If your landlord decides to withhold all or part of your bond and you do not agree, you should contact the Tenancy Deposit Scheme with whom it is protected immediately
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