Most landlords and agents will ask you to sign a tenancy agreement.
This is a legally binding document setting out each party’s rights and responsibilities. By signing it, both you and the landlord have certain rights protected in law, which cannot be overwritten by the contract. Before you sign make sure that you understand all clauses, so there can be no nasty surprises after you've signed.
We would always recommend seeking advice regarding your contract before you sign it. If your landlord will not allow you to take a copy of the contract away to be checked, you should not sign it.
Your legal obligations and rights are different if you live in University accommodation or share a property with your landlord. Please contact your local Advice Centre for further information on this issue.
If asked to sign an agreement, it is likely to be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement and will normally last for at least six months, after which the tenancy can run on a monthly basis. However, many tenancies run for a fixed term, i.e. July 1st 2013 to June 30th 2014. In this case make sure that you are happy with the length of the contract as it is very unlikely that you will be able to end the tenancy early.
The tenancy agreement should also state the following:
- How much the rent is and when and how it should be paid (check that the rent adds up and that there are no extra charges).
- The landlord's and tenants’ names and address of the property being let.
- The date the tenancy began and its duration.
- Who is responsible for the fuel bills, water rates and council tax.
- Details of whether other people are allowed the use of all or part of the property, and if so, which part.
- Whether the landlord will provide any services (i.e. laundry, cleaning), and whether there are service charges for these.
- The length of notice which the landlord or the tenant need to give, if the tenancy is to be ended. (There are statutory rules regarding this dependent on the type of tenancy and usually you cannot give notice to end a tenancy early).
- The landlord's and tenant's repair obligations. (Again there are statutory rules regarding this).
- The landlord's right of access, which should be at a reasonable time and after 24 hours notice.
The terms of the agreement must be in plain, intelligible language and fair. For example any clause allowing the tenancy agreement to be ended early (known as a break clause) must apply to both landlord and tenant - a clause just allowing the landlord to end early will be invalid, and tenants should not be subject to unreasonable rent increases or held to unreasonable penalty clauses (for example, extortionate charges for late payment of rent).
Tenancies will be either ‘joint’ or ‘individual’. If you sign a joint tenancy, i.e. all the names on one contract, you are jointly and severally responsible for the payment of rent and the ‘well-being’ of the property. For example, if your housemate doesn’t pay their rent, the landlord is legally entitled to demand it from the other tenants. Individual tenants still have joint responsibility for damage to communal areas.
Read the small print of a tenancy agreement. Most student accommodation contracts are for a fixed period of time. It is unlikely that there will be a ‘get out’ clause in your tenancy agreement, so you need to be 100% sure it is the place you want to live in and the people you want to live with. A landlord or agent may consider releasing you if you have a suitable replacement tenant to take over your room. In the past some considerate landlords and agents have released tenants if they have been kicked off their courses or have left University for health or financial reasons – but they don’t have to if they don’t want to. If a landlord or agent won’t release you, you will usually be responsible for the rent for the rest of the tenancy period..
Most things that you agree to in a tenancy agreement you will have to stick to. For example, if you agree not to use blue tack on the walls, you cannot use blue tack on the walls (and if you do, you will probably have to pay for the walls to be re-decorated when you leave).
Here are certain legal obligations that apply to student housing regardless of most tenancy agreements. For example:
- The landlord must carry out some basic repairs, and is responsible for the structure and exterior of the property.
- The landlord must keep the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation and heating in good working order.
- The tenant has a right to live peaceably in the accommodation without interference from the landlord.
- The tenant should take proper care of and not damage the accommodation.
- The tenant should be supplied with the name and address of the landlord, and the address to which notices should be sent (for example, notices requiring repairs to be carried out).
- For an assured short-hold tenancy created on or after 28th February 1997, the landlord must provide basic written terms of the agreement within 28 days of the tenant requesting this in writing.
- The landlord should give 24 hours written notice to enter the property. For example, to undertake repairs or view the property with prospective tenants.
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