8 things to check before you sign your tenancy agreement
After you've found the perfect student house make sure you don't sign on the dotted line until you've checked these 8 highly important things.However stressful it's been finding your perfect accommodation, never enter into a legally binding contract lightly. It's important to take your time and raise any concerns before you sign.
If you've never rented before, looking through this kind of stuff can seem like a minefield, but never fear, we've put together the most important things you need to check. Go team!
Type of contract
Student lets almost always involve an assured shorthold tenancy agreement for a fixed term of 12 months. Beyond that there are two main types of tenancy contract that a landlord might offer a group of students.
A joint tenancy agreement holds the whole group responsible for the property and collective rent payments. This also means that if any of the joint tenants decide they want to end the agreement and move out (although this can normally only happen after a previously-agreed amount of time), all tenants may be asked to leave unless they can come to an agreement with the landlord.
The other (more desirable) type is an individual contract between each tenant and the landlord. If you have the choice, ask for this type of agreement. In this case of individual contracts, if one person of the group leaves the house for any reason or pays rent late, the rest will not be liable to cover for them.
Understanding the small print
Contracts are generally long and boring things that can even make your dissertation look appealing.
But woe betide anyone who doesn't read the small print! A little bit of effort now can save you a hell of a lot of aggro in future. Here are the main key points to look out for:
• Check the start date and end date (you'd be surprised…)
• Make sure every tenant's name is on the contract as well as the landlord's
• Take a look at your obligations in detail (what you can and can't do during your time in the accommodation) and make sure you agree
• Check the rent amount as well as who is liable to pay it
• Make sure the contract allows for general wear and tear
• Check for any agreed repairs you want done before/ as soon as you move in (eg. agreed washing machine replacement)
If something looks odd to you or you want to correct part of the contract then don't be afraid to bring it up with the landlord or agent. Similarly, as mentioned in the above list, if the landlord has agreed to repair or purchase something (while you were viewing) then make sure you've got that in writing so it gets done. If you don't get it in the contract the landlord can deny that they ever promised it.
Once you've signed that pesky piece of paper there is no turning back!
Deposit Protection Schemes
One of most overlooked aspects of any tenancy agreement is the deposit. Deposits of normally around one month's rent are collected prior to the tenancy commencing in case of late rent or damage to the property during your stay.
From a student's point of view, the most important thing is to make sure you know what you're paying and that the full amount is protected for the whole time you live there.
By law, all deposits taken by landlords must be registered with a government backed deposit protection scheme within 30 days. Check that your landlord is part of a scheme and that they've submitted your deposit to be protected.
There are only three approved schemes in the UK (the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), My Deposits, and Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS)). If you are concerned that your landlord isn't playing by the rules, you can check the property is on record with one of these schemes. If it's not, your landlord is breaking the law and you are entitled to compensation (potentially up to 3x your deposit amount).
As you might already be aware, many students often miss out on a good proportion of their deposit at the end of the lease – normally due to damage but it's unfortunately true that some landlords will try to get what they can out of you.
However, you're entitled to get your money back, and there should only be deduction if the reasons and amounts are fully justified (with evidence). The deposit scheme will keep hold of your money until both landlord and tenants have come to an agreement.
Swot up early and find out how to get your full deposit back with our guide!
Most student landlords will require every student to have a guarantor. Put simply, a guarantor is someone who agrees that in a very worst case scenario they will pay your rent if you don't make the payments (usually your parents).
This is not some sort of back-up plan for you in case money is tight one month – this is basically reassurance for the landlord that they won't go short-changed if you can't pay up.
If the landlord has to chase up your guarantor for a rent payment this is bad news, and the guarantor can be taken to court! Therefore, don't ever miss a payment. If you're really struggling to pay your rent, here's what you should do.
Normally, the landlord won't require your guarantor to be there in person to sign the contract, but will ask them to sign a copy and send it back with proof of identity (passport photocopy) as well as proof or address.
It's important that you choose someone who trusts you and you should NEVER rely on them to bail you out.
Summer holiday period
Whether you're off jet-setting somewhere sunny or just heading home to work and save some pennies over summer, it's worth factoring in that most landlords will expect at least half rent during July and August if you want to secure a place.
If you feel that the house isn't one that'll be in high demand, then you might be able to get away without paying this retainer – but it's a risk you have to decide if you're willing to take.
Whatever you decide, just make sure you check the contract carefully, as it may stipulate that you cannot live in the property during the summer period due to repair work or that if you do, you may be liable to pay full rent even if there are only one or two tenants present.
Haggling your rent
Don't forget that at the end of the day, landlords are sales people and you are their customers! Have a proper discussion about the rent they're asking for, and don’t be afraid to negotiate the amount if you think a lower rate is appropriate.
Just bear in mind that if the housing situation is tight in your area and it's a decent property, it might not be worth the risk in case the landlord decides to take up another group's offer. Having said that, there's no harm in asking before you sign anything!
Never be tempted to go for a property where you're not 100% sure you can afford the rent (and other living costs) for the whole contract period. Use our rent calculator to give yourself an idea of how much rent cash you have to play with.
An inventory is basically a checklist for both the landlord and tenants to list any furniture provided by the landlord as well as any faults with the house before anyone moves in. This will ensure that tenants aren't charged for any damage that was already there, and avoids any arguments about broken or disappearing furniture from the house.
Both parties then sign the inventory off, so make sure you check all of the details thoroughly. At the end of the year, the house is checked against the itinerary and the deposit is paid back accordingly.
Normally standard practice is that the landlord will be present with you in the property to go over the inventory with you. If they don't, don’t be afraid to ask for this to be done.
It's also worth taking your own photos of rooms and make notes of any faults as well as take a photocopy of the inventory as evidence if there are any claims against you at the end of the tenancy.
Some landlords may send you the inventory to complete yourself. Although it is time consuming and a bit boring this is well worth taking the time to get this done thoroughly to save yourself cash in the future (and your future self will thank you for it).
The dreaded agency fees! Well, the good news is that agency fees for renters are on track to being scrapped next year – woohoo!!
However, until this law is officially imposed, be wary of ridiculous fees imposed by letting agencies. You'll most likely be charged anywhere between £20-£150 per person – anything over this suggests they're a company to be avoided!
For reviews on student letting agents in your city, see our new directory.
Once you've checked through all of this, you should be in a much better position to understand exactly what you're signing up for – meaning it's finally time to crack open the champers!
Most important of all though don't be rushed into signing your agreement. You can always ask for a copy of the contract in advance so you have the time to read it through properly. Make sure you keep a copy, and don't be afraid to query anything.