10 tenancy rights every student should know
Moving into a new flat is exciting, but it’s really important to make sure you’re clued up on your tenancy rights before you sign anything. Don’t get ripped off!More often than we’re happy to admit, we hear stories of landlords taking advantage of young people’s lack of knowledge when it comes to their tenancy rights.
We’re here to arm you with the facts, so you know exactly what you do and don’t need to put up with!
Before we get into the nitty gritty, it’s worth first clarifying the difference between a private rental and an HMO. An HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) is a larger property that houses three or more unrelated people in it.
This means that most student flats will qualify as HMOs, and landlords are expected to follow extra procedures when renting their property out like this, so make sure they have everything covered!
10 tenancy rights you need to know
Fire and general safety
There are a few things that the law requires your landlord to do in terms of safety.
For one thing, there should be adequate means of fire escape in your property, and at least one smoke alarm per floor of the building.
Any room that has a fireplace (that’s in use) needs to also have a carbon monoxide detector (if your property doesn’t have one, we strongly recommend buying your own and invoicing your landlord for it).
If your place classifies as an HMO, then your landlord is also legally required to fit fire alarms, extinguishers and fire blankets on every floor.
Make sure you check who’s in charge of maintaining these alarms. If it’s you, you’ll have to ensure that they’re working and never run out of battery.
You might just be renting your pad, but contrary to popular belief, the landlord (or people acting on their behalf) cannot just walk into the property whenever they feel like it.
If they want access to the property to give a viewing or carry out repairs, they legally need to give you at least 24 hours before showing up.
If you’re not going to be able to be there when they come, but you’d prefer that someone you trust was there when they visit, you can ask for a witness.
Any gas appliances in the property must be checked yearly by a Gas Safe registered engineer, and there should be a record of every check kept at the property to prove it.
Ask to see this before signing your contract, and make sure your landlord keeps on top of things whilst you’re living there. Your life could depend on it!
Your landlord should also make sure that all electrical installations are safe. If they’re providing you with portable appliances (such as kettles or toasters), these should be checked every five years by an electrician. This is called a PAT test.
Of course, it’s not very nice to think about, but student houses have been known to play home to unwanted guests (and we’re not talking about your roommate’s one night stand, unfortunately)!
When it comes to infestations of mice, rats, bedbugs and bats (yes, bats), you’ll be glad to know that it’s your landlord’s responsibility to sort them out (as long as it’s not your fault they’re there in the first place).
If you have mice, contact your landlord immediately and they should make plans to get rid of them ASAP. If you discover you’ve got rats, inform both your landlord and the local health authority, which will make plans for a team of experts to come and deal with them as rats are a massive health and safety risk.
With bedbugs, it depends on who bought the offending piece of furniture. If you did, then unfortunately it’s your own responsibility to deal with it, but you should let your landlord know. If it was a piece of furniture that’s already there then it’s their responsibility to dispose of it.
If you’re not satisfied with the handling of the matter then you should ask to leave the property.
Most tenancy agreements won’t mention too much about having guests to stay, so it’s normally more about coming to an understanding with your housemates than anything else.
Do be mindful of those you’re sharing with, especially if your guest will be sleeping in a communal area. If your guests cause any damage, remember that you’ll be liable for it!
If you or a housemate accepts money from a guest for staying over, or if you choose to rent out any of your rooms temporarily on airbnb or something similar, this is considered sub-letting.
Sub-letting is pretty much always going to be against your tenancy agreement, so if you get caught, you could even be evicted. The only way to get round this is if you discuss it (very nicely!) with your landlord first, and take it from there. Don’t hold your breath though!
Before you start painting any walls or doing any major decorating, you’ll need to get written permission from your landlord.
Most landlords will allow you to paint the wall a different colour if you so wish, as long as you paint it back to its original colour before you leave (if you’re only going to be living there a short time, you should consider whether it’s really worth the hassle).
Sprucing up your room with photos or framed pictures is always nice, but make sure you’re not causing any damage to the walls. If you start hammering nails in or using blu-tack, you’ll probably find yourself footed with a bill when the time comes to move out.
As a general rule, the property should look the same when you move out as it did when you first moved in.
If there are any issues with the property that could result in an accident, make sure you report it to your landlord straight away.
Most landlords will be reasonable and make the necessary changes as soon as possible, but if you’re having a bit of trouble to get the ball rolling, here’s a repairs request template to get it in writing (which should do the trick!).
In fact, if the repairs are considered an ’emergency’, your landlord is legally obliged to have it repaired within 24 hours; if it’s ‘urgent’ but not an emergency, they need to repair it within four days.
This law is part of the Right to Repair scheme, which requires that any urgent and emergency repairs costing under £250 are done within this timescale. If your landlord doesn’t abide by this rule, contact Citizens Advice (you’re probably sick of hearing that now!).
There are a number of reasons why a landlord could legally evict you. These include the following:
• being at least two months late on rent payments
• having been regularly late with your payments
• breaching any of the terms of your tenancy agreement
• letting the property fall into an unacceptable state
• causing a nuisance to the neighbours
• being involved in illegal activities.
If you receive a threat of eviction, seek legal advice immediately. However, if there’s no court order included in your eviction notice, this is illegal.
Note that it’s also considered a crime for your landlord to use any harassment tactics to get you out of the property. These include:
• cutting electricity or gas supplies
• threats and physical violence
• refusing to carry out repairs
• withholding keys.
Notice to leave
If your landlord wants you to move out, they need to provide you with adequate notice. The law states that you must be given at least two months’ notice before you have to vacate the property. If they’re not abiding by this, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
If you want to leave before your contract has officially ended, you’ll only be able to do so under certain circumstances such as your landlord breaching their responsibilities from the tenancy agreement. Otherwise, you’ll still have to pay for your rent until the end of the lease.
Every landlord is legally obliged to place your housing deposit within a government-owned deposit scheme called a TDP scheme (Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme).
This ensures that both sides are equally protected in case of any disputes. If your landlord fails to put your deposit in a TDP within 30 days of receiving it from you, you could be due compensation.
Check out our extensive guide on your rights when it comes to your housing deposit here!
If all else fails…
As you may have noticed, the recurring theme here is that if in doubt, contact your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau (or your uni accommodation office if you’re living in halls).
They’ll be able to help you iron out any grey areas you have, as each individual case can require a totally different approach.
Have you ever had any problems with landlords? We’d want to hear your story. Leave a comment below or if you’d prefer, you can get in touch with us directly.
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