A Guide To Student Tenancy Agreements

Heading off to university and living away from your parents is an exciting step in life. It can be easy to get carried away with it all. However, it’s important that you understand your rights as a tenant. Whether you are staying in student accommodation in London, private housing, or really anywhere at all, it’s important that you read and understand the contract before signing. In this guide we’ll go through the basics of a student tenancy agreement, so you know what is expected of you, and your accommodation provider. We’ll also point out things you should check for before signing.

Why Do You Need A Student Accommodation Tenancy Agreement?

A tenancy agreement is a legally binding document that sets out each party’s rights and responsibilities. You need this as it protects both you and your landlord. Each of you will have certain rights within law once the document is signed.

The tenancy agreement is likely to be different depending on your student accommodation provider if you are in a private room or in a shared house. If you are renting privately in a shared house, it is likely that it’ll be classed as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). A HMO has extra procedures that landlords are expected to follow, but there are some basics that all student tenancy agreements should cover, regardless of whether they are a shared house or not.

Types of Student Tenancy Agreements

Normally, a student will have a shorthold tenancy agreement. This is normally a tenancy of twelve months with a six month “fixed period”. During the “fixed period” you can not be removed unless specific terms of the tenancy agreement have been broken.

However, most student halls have a fixed term agreement. Normally this means that your have agreed to rent your accommodation for the fixed term of the academic year.

Regardless of the type of agreement, there are two types of contracts that you may be offered:

Joint Tenancy Agreement

As joint tenants in one house, a landlord my ask you to sign a joint tenancy agreement. This means that the whole group is responsible for the property and collective payments. If one tenant moves out, the rest of the joint tenants are responsible for their rent. The landlord may also ask the rest of you to move out unless a new agreement can be met between the remaining tenants and landlord.

Individual Contract

This is a more desirable contract for a tenant, as each contract is between each individual tenant and the landlord. So if one person moves out, the rest of the tenants are not responsible for their rent.

With an individual contract you are also responsible solely for any damages to your room, but not for any one else’s. If damage occurs in communal areas you may have to chip in, but if a responsible culprit is discovered it will be their responsibility.

In student halls this is the contract you are most likely going to have.

Legal Requirements for Student Accommodation

No matter what accommodation you are in, your landlord or accommodation provider is required to ensure that your new home is suitable and safe. There are basic requirements expected from a landlord:

Health and Safety Responsibilities

Your accommodation provider is responsible for ensuring that the property is safe for student tenants. This includes:

  • Ensuring there are smoke alarms on every floor
  • Having a carbon monoxide detector if there is a working fireplace or burning stove
  • Ensuring there is an adequate way to escape fire in the property
  • Each floor having a fire extinguisher if the property is a HMO
  • Having any gas appliances maintained and annually checked
  • Making sure any electrical equipment is safe, many landlords will have them PAT tested, though this is not a legal requirement

Energy Performance Certificates

All rental properties, whether it has student tenants or not, must display a valid Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). This certificate shows the energy efficiency rating and environmental impact of the property. Efficiency will impact the running costs of a property. The property must reach an EPC rating of at least E.

Looking After Your Deposit

Most student accommodation providers will take a deposit, this is usually one months rent. However, they can’t just do what they like with the deposit, it is there for protection against damages. They must now register the deposit within 30 days to a government-backed deposit scheme.

If you cause damage to the property your landlord will take the bill out of your deposit. However, anything they take out of your deposit must be justified with evidence. The deposit remains in the scheme until tenants and landlords have come to an agreement.

Major Repairs

Landlords are responsible for most major repairs in the property, so be sure to report any issues as soon as possible. Faults they are likely to be responsible for include:

  • Pipes
  • Wiring
  • Structure of the property (walls, window, roof, doors etc.)
  • Heating and hot water
  • Drains

Giving You Notice of A Visit

Unless it is an emergency, landlords and accommodation providers can not visit the property without giving at least 24 hours notice. This includes if they want to give viewings or carry out repairs.

If you are not going to be around when they visit, you have the right to ask for a witness too.

Student Responsibilities

With a student tenancy agreement, it is not just the landlord that must adhere to certain requirements, but also the student tenant. The agreement is for the protection of both parties. Your responsibilities include:

Paying Rent

An obvious one, but your tenancy agreement will state that you must pay your rent. Different properties will require different payment methods, so be sure to know what and when you need to pay.

Before signing also check that the rent is the price agreed on. You’ll also need to check if the rent includes bills or not. Another thing to check here is if there are charges for a late payment and what actually counts as a late payment.

Supplying A Guarantor

As a student, you will likely not be earning. Therefore, your accommodation provider may ask for a guarantor. Most students have their parents as a guarantor, this means that they are responsible if you do not pay your rent. They may also be responsible for damages that you cause.

Remember, your guarantor is not a back-up plan. If you fail to pay your rent and your landlord has to chase them for rent, your guarantor can be taken to court. So, although you will likely need to supply one, do not rely on them to pay your rent.

Maintaining the Property

As you are living in the property, you are responsible for the day-to-day upkeep. This includes cleaning and maintenance. Little things like clearing the gutters, keeping the place clean and tidy are easy to keep on top of.

If you leave the property a mess when you move out, you’ll probably be provided with a hefty fee for the cleaning of the property.

Minor Repairs and Damages

Small repairs are normally the tenant’s responsibility. So, don’t go ringing your landlord if you need to change a light bulb, that is down to you.

Any damages that you cause will have to come out of your pocket too. This also includes damages caused by any guests you have round. Even if the repair would normally be the landlord’s responsibility, if it was your fault then you must pay for it. This includes any furniture and fixtures.

Being Neighbourly

If you are in a student area, this isn’t too much of a worry. But if your housing is surrounded by non-students you need to be on good terms with your neighbours. Although you may want parties, being to noisy could lead to a complaint. A landlord can evict you for antisocial behaviour like this, so you must be considerate to others in your neighbourhood.

Things to Check in Your Student Tenancy Agreement

Although the above are the basics of what should be in a student tenancy agreement, there are a few extra bits you should be aware of and look out for before you sign:

Responsibility for Certain Conditions

Although anything you break and minor repairs are the tenants’ responsibility, and major repairs are the landlord’s responsibility, there are a few conditions that can fall through the cracks here.

For example, pests can be tricky. If you discover mice or rats, this could be either party’s responsibility, unless stated in the contract. So, look out for this.

Damp is another common issue that falls through the cracks. Make sure you check for any damp when you move in, or before. If damp appears after you’ve moved in, it could be your responsibility, especially if you have not been ventilating the property.

Check your contract for mentions of specific conditions and if it states who the responsibility lies with.

Can You Decorate?

Most students want to make their room feel like their own and put their mark on it. However, you may have to be careful here. Even just putting up posters can cause issues as hammering nails or using Blu Tack can leave traces, landing you with a bill.

When it comes to painting, you may need written permission from the landlord. Though most have the condition that the room will need to be painted back to its original colour when you leave, so there’s not much point if you’re only there short term.

As a general rule, the property should look the same and be in the same condition when you move out as it was when you moved in. As long as there is no trace of your decorations when you leave, you can spruce up your room and make it more homely.

What Happens During the Summer Holidays?

During the long summer holidays, you may want to move back to your parents and spend some time with family. Normally, student halls give you a contract for the academic year only, so you have to leave at the start of the holidays. However, this is not usually the same if you rent privately.

When renting privately, your landlord will expect the house to be occupied for the full year. Some landlords may allow you to just pay half rent and not be living in the property. Be sure to check what happens over the summer holidays and that you can afford it.

If you are in a joint tenancy agreement you all need to agree on the terms regarding summer.

Check the Inventory

Before you move in, there should be an inventory for you to check. This is a list of any furniture provided by the landlord, as well as any faults present, before you move in.

It’s important that you check the inventory and check it carefully. This will protect you from being charged for damage that was already there and avoids arguments about broken furniture.

As you check the inventory, it’s also a good idea to take pictures of your room, communal areas, and any damages. It’s also worth taking a photocopy of the inventory.

You landlord may go through the inventory with you in person, or send it to you for you to check on your own. Either way, it’s an important (if boring) thing to do so that you avoid arguments and potential charges in the future.

Break Clause

If you have signed a fixed-term tenancy agreement, your landlord cannot ask you to leave early unless there is a break clause in the contract. A break clause will allow you or the landlord to end the tenancy early so long as certain conditions are met (usually a defined notice period). Without a break clause you can not leave early unless your landlord is breaching contractual responsibilities (and vice versa).

It’s important that you check if there’s a break clause in the contract, and that you understand it fully.

If you have a periodic tenancy, then this is different, as the tenancy rolls over for an indefinite amount of time. Usually this means you have a stated notice period that you must give (or be given).

Check the Small Print

Although going over the small print with a fine-toothed comb is a boring and daunting task, it’s important that you do. Some points you really want to be sure of include:

  • The term start and end date of the tenancy
  • Ensure every tenants’ name is on the agreement
  • Check the rent is the amount agreed on, and if it includes bills
  • Be sure to check and fully understand your obligations as a student tenant
  • Check for agreed repairs that you want doing before or as soon as you move in
  • Ensure the contract allows for general wear and tear of the property

Student Tenancy Agreements are designed to protect both the landlord and the student, ensuring that everything is a fair as possible. Both parties have a responsibility to the other.

Whether you are staying in uni halls or private accommodation, you will need to sign a tenancy agreement. It’s important that you go through the agreement and fully understand it before signing. Make sure you’re not rushed into signing and if anything doesn’t seem right, question it. Once signed, take a copy of the agreement, so that you have it at hand if any issues arise.
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