The Advice & Representation Centre can look through your housing contract/tenancy agreement and explain the terms and conditions to you so that you are clear about what your responsibilities are. Just pop into the Advice & Representation Centre on Level 3 of the Student Centre to have an advisor look over it for you.
Types of contracts
There are two types of contract, depending on the circumstances of your living arrangements:
- License Agreement - resident landlord/lady i.e. you live in the same house or flat as your landlord/lady.
- Assured Shorthold Tenancy - sole possession of your house or flat. This is the most common and will be fixed term.
Fixed Term means that you are guaranteed to have occupancy of the property, and are committed to paying full rent for the period stated on the contract. This must be a minimum of 6 months, and landlords/ladies should not be offering a fixed term of any less than 6 months. This means that tenants cannot move out and stop paying rent (they can move out but are still committed to paying rent). This guarantee is only valid providing that the tenants and the landlord/lady remain within the terms and conditions of the contract. For example, if a tenant(s) fails to pay rent, then the contract is breached, and this can be a justified reason for a landlord/ lady to have the property vacated. Similarly if the landlord/lady fails to uphold their obligations as set out in the contract, then the tenant(s) are within their right to leave the property before the defined term has expired.
Joint and Several Liability
If all the tenants sign the same contract then the contract automatically becomes joint and several. This means that all the tenants are equally liable for the full rent of the property. The consequence of this is that if a tenant moves out, the remaining tenants must pay the rent of the person who left. It's important to consider this carefully when signing a tenancy particularly if you're signing early. You don't want to be landed with an extra load of rent to pay on top of your own.
Signing a contract
Once you are satisfied with the accommodation you have found make some extra checks:
- Are you able to afford the rent?
- Will you be able to afford bills?
- Are you happy with the state of the accommodation?
- Has the landlord/ lady made any promises to refurbish or renovate any part of the property and are you happy with this?
If you are renting a house through an agency your contract must still be with the landlord/ lady of the house and not with the agency. Check this.
Once you put your signature onto a document such as a housing contract, you are committing yourself to the terms and conditions set out in it.
Make sure that you understand what you are committing yourself to!
You can get your contracts checked at the Advice and Representation Centre for free. Having your contract checked involves having it explained to you. We are happy to explain terms and conditions in contracts and point out possible pitfalls.
You are the person responsible for the contract once you have signed it, and no one else can take this responsbility for you. If problems are highlighted with a contract when they are checked then it is up to you to do something about it and follow any advice that may have been given to you.
If in doubt about a contract, do not sign it!
Paying the rent
Your contract will probably have a section on how the rent is to be paid. There are several ways of paying rent:
- by cheque each month
- by direct debit
- by post-dated cheque given to the landlord when siging the contract
We recommend that you pay by standing order. This is a standing order that you set up with your bank or building society that allows you to make a set payment each month into someone else's bank account, without the need for you to do anything. This is a safe way of paying your rent. Just remember to cancel it after you move out!
Post-dated cheques are more risky because they can be cashed before the date written on it. If you do not cross your cheque, it can also be cashed by someone else.
Whichever way you decide, make sure that you have sufficient funds in your account to cover payments.
What is a deposit?
A deposit is a security payment. It is very common to pay a deposit when signing a contract, it should not be any greater than the equivalent of two months rent, although most commonly deposits tend to be one months rent. Deposits should be returned to you in full unless the landlord/lady has a reasonable claim to withhold it. When you pay your deposit, make sure you get a receipt for it. A landlord/ lady may keep part or all of it to:
- replace or repair damaged articles clean the premises in order to restore them to a lettable condition
- replace locks or keys if they are not returned on time
- remove any large amounts of rubbish left in the property
- cover non-payment of bills or rent
Landlords cannot keep deposits to cover fair wear and tear. All property declines through use and it is impossible to prevent this.
Tenancy deposit law was introduced on 6th April 2007 and provides protection for tenants by preventing landlords and letting agents from unfairly withholding a deposit. The scheme protects all Assured Shorthold Tenancies in England and Wales (covering most tenancies since 1997).
The Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme aims to:
- Ensure you get all or part of your deposit back, when you are entitled to it.
- Ensure any disputes between yourself and your landlord/letting agency regarding your deposit are easily sorted.
- Ensure that any landlords/letting agencies who fail to protect their tenants deposits are required to give back 3 times the amount of the deposit to the tenant.
How does it work?
You pay your deposit to your landlord/letting agent as normal.
Within 14 days of paying your deposit your landlord/letting agent is required to give you details of how your deposit is being protected, including:
- the contact details of the deposit scheme used
- the contact details of the landlord/letting agent
- how to apply to have your deposit released
- information explaining the purpose of a deposit
- what to do if there is a dispute regarding the deposit you receive back
Getting your deposit back
At the end of your tenancy make sure everything is left how you found it, you have compensated the landlord for any damage to the property and you have paid all your rent and utility bills up to the end of the tenancy. Agree with your landlord how much of your deposit you should receive back. Within 10 days you should have your agreed sum back.
For more information about the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme, details of the different schemes available, what to do if you have a dispute go to the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme website.
What is a guarantor?
A guarantor is someone who agrees to cover a tenant against non-payment of rent. It is not necessary to have a guarantor when you rent a property, but some landlords/ ladies may ask for one. It is important that whoever agrees to be guarantor is clear about what it is they are agreeing to. If you are sharing a house with other people, make sure that each tenant has their own guarantor, if there is only one guarantor then that person will be held responsible for the full rent for all the tenants in the property. It is worth noting that if you are signing a joint and several contract your guarantor is also joint and severally liable and therefore is guaranteeing the entire rental amount not just your share.