Private accommodation - some handy advice

Posted by bv39 at Jun 09, 2020 03:20 PM |
Below is some friendly and helpful advice if you're considering securing private accommodation for the upcoming term. The advice provided isn’t professional or legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

In addition to below, for top tips and FAQs around private accommodation, please visit our dedicated COVID-19 page in the private accommodation section. There is also support available from the Student Welfare team who can be contacted via email or on 0116 2231185.

Before you start

Right to rent

You will have to show you and any other adults that will be living with you have the ‘right to rent’ in the UK. Your landlord or letting agent will ask to see your immigration documents or passport when you start or renew your tenancy. They will also ask to see the documents of any other adults living with you. They do this to check you have the right to live in the UK and to rent - this is called the ‘right to rent check’. More information about the documents you can show for the right to rent check on GOV.UK

Guarantors

You might be asked to provide a guarantor, for example if you haven't rented before. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you don't – you could ask your parents or someone else in your family to do this. It is very important that any such guarantee specifically limits your guarantors financial liability to just your rent/damages. Before anyone signs, it is important that both you and your guarantor understand that if you default on rent or the cost of damage your guarantor will be responsible for making payment.

It is also important to understand that if you enter into a contract with joint liability and your guarantor signs a general guarantee, there is a significant financial risk to the guarantor. If another tenant moves out or fails to pay the rent, your guarantor could be taken to court under the terms of the guarantee, even if you have paid your rent. The advice is: don't ask a guarantor to enter into any guarantee which does not specify the limit of financial liability being guaranteed.

If you have a credit rating or a reference from a previous landlord to provide comfort to a potential new landlord, then many landlords may reconsider their request for a guarantee.

The process of renting

Negotiating with your landlord or letting agent

It’s worth trying to negotiate with your landlord or letting agent when you find a property - this can save you some money.

You can negotiate to get:

  • cheaper rent;
  • the length of your tenancy and other terms changed, for example you can ask if the rent can include any bills.

You should remember when negotiating that there is a risk that the property could be offered to someone else. Get what you agree in writing - you might need to refer back to what was said if there are problems.

Ask about all payments before taking a property so you don’t have to deal with any unexpected costs. Get a receipt from your landlord or letting agent when you pay any money - you'll need this in case there are any problems.

Deposits

You will normally be required to pay a deposit to the agent/landlord as security in case you damage the property or furnishings. It can also be used to cover unpaid bills, rent or missing items. Most agents/landlords will ask for a sum equivalent to four weeks' or a calendar month's rent but the maximum an agent/landlord can charge by law is a sixth of the annual rent payable in England and Wales and two month’s rent in Scotland. In order to ensure that you get your deposit back:

  • Ensure that you have a written statement from the landlord explaining what is covered by the deposit (this will normally be covered by a clause in the tenancy agreement). If the landlord gives a verbal explanation, write to him/her to confirm the details.
  • Ensure that you have a receipt for monies paid.
  • Ensure that you have a full inventory of furniture. Get the agent/landlord to sign it. You may wish to take photographs.
  • Take reasonable care of the house and furniture during the tenancy.
  • Towards the end of your tenancy write to the agent/landlord inviting him/her to inspect the property.
  • Settle all the bills.
  • When you leave, return all the keys to the agent/landlord and make a written request for the return of your deposit.

Since April 2007, deposits paid by tenants who have assured shorthold tenancy agreements are safeguarded by a Government sponsored scheme, which facilitates the resolution of any disputes that arise in connection with such deposits. There are two types of scheme:

  1. Custodial Scheme - a tenant pays the deposit to the landlord who in turn places it into a designated scheme account. When the scheme administrator returns the deposit to either the tenant or the landlord it is done so with interest at a rate specified by the Government. If they are not in agreement, a final court order will have to be obtained specifying the proportion of the deposit to which each is entitled.
  2. Insurance based schemes - a tenant pays the deposit to the landlord who only transfers it into a designated scheme if there is a dispute at the end of the agreement. When the landlord and tenant reach agreement or a court decides how much each party is entitled the administrator will distribute the deposit accordingly.

If an agent/landlord fails to pay the deposit to the scheme then a scheme will have adequate insurance cover to compensate the tenant in the event they are owed monies.

Within 30 days of receiving your deposit your agent/landlord must give you the relevant information regarding the scheme safeguarding your deposit. You should always check that the scheme has received your deposit.

More information on tenancy deposit protection can be found here.

Paying in advance

Paying in advance is different to a deposit. You might be asked to pay 1 to 2 month’s rent before you move in. This is called paying 'rent in advance'. The actual amount you’ll pay will depend on your landlord and your written agreement. By paying your rent in advance you'll always be paying rent for the month ahead. You might be asked to pay several months’ rent in advance if there’s a problem with your credit check, references or you do not have a guarantor.

Make sure that you have receipts for any monies paid and that you are clear as to why you are being asked to pay in advance.

Contracts

The type of contract you sign will depend on where you will be living. If you are planning on moving into a shared property, you need to be aware that your contract will make you responsible and accountable to your landlord either through joint or individual liability.

Renting from a landlord/agent
Most landlords/agents use an assured shorthold tenancy agreement. This is for a fixed term of 12 months, it has a start date and an end date. If you sign a fixed term contract you are liable to pay rent for the full period, unless there is a specific clause allowing you to give notice to quit (which is very rare). This type of agreement means that you are a tenant and have exclusive possession of the property. The landlord/agent can have access to the property (e.g. for repairs/inspections), but you should be given notice and they should only call during reasonable working hours.

Joint liability
If you have signed the same contract as your housemates and you all agree to take the property at the same time; you will be jointly and severally liable with each of your housemates for any rent arrears and/or damage to the property. So, if one tenant moves out, the landlord/agent can pursue the remaining tenants (as well as the tenant who has left) for any monies due.

Individual liability
If you have a separate agreement between you and the landlord/agent, and another tenant leaves, the landlord/agent cannot ask that you cover their rent. You would be liable for any damage to your room. The landlord/agent can make a charge for any damage to communal areas but they have to first try and find out who was responsible.

Reviewing a contract before signing

Do not sign a contract if you are not happy with the terms or there are any aspects of the agreement you don't understand. You should always be given at least 24 hours to read the contract through. Where possible always get your contract checked. Never sign on the spot. Once signed, the contract is legally binding on all parties - you do not get a chance to change your mind.

Restrictions on the terms and conditions a landlord can write into a contract
Landlords are not free to write into contracts any terms and conditions they want. They are restricted in what they can do by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999), which apply to all rented tenancies. Any clauses deemed unfair could be unenforceable. This only refers to the standard terms of a contract (not clauses that have been separately negotiated). Examples of Unfair Terms could be penalty charges, exclusion by the landlord/agent of accepting responsibility for loss or damage to personal property and ambiguous legal clauses. If you are unsure, do not sign and take advice.

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