8 things to check before signing a tenancy agreement
Once you've found the perfect student house, make sure you don't sign on the dotted line until you've checked these very important things...
However stressful it's been finding your perfect accommodation, you should never enter into a legally binding contract lightly. It's important to take your time and raise any concerns and queries before you sign.
If you've never rented before, tenancy agreements can initially seem quite confusing. But never fear – we've put together a list of the most important things you need to check.
Tenancy agreement checklist
These are the eight things to look out for when you're preparing to sign a tenancy agreement:
Type of tenancy contract
Student lets almost always involve an assured shorthold tenancy agreement. The usual student housing contract length is 12 months, often from 1st July to 30th June. Beyond that, there are two main types of tenancy contracts that a landlord might offer a group of students.
The (more desirable) type is an individual contract between each tenant and the landlord.
If you have the choice, ask for this type of agreement. With individual contracts, if one person leaves the house for any reason or pays rent late, the rest will not be liable to cover for them.
A joint tenancy agreement holds the whole group responsible for the property and collective rent payments.
This means that if any of the joint tenants decide they want to end the agreement and move out, all tenants may be asked to leave unless they can come to an agreement with the landlord. Although this can normally only happen after a previously agreed amount of time, you don't want to find yourself homeless halfway through the year.
Listen to the Housing Horror Stories episode of our podcast to find out how signing a joint tenancy agreement did not turn out well for one of us.
Tenancy agreement small print
Contracts are generally long and boring reads that can make even your longest essays look appealing.
But it's always(!) important to read the small print. A little bit of effort here can save you a lot of hassle in the future. Here are the main key points to look out for.
Things to look out for in a tenancy agreement
- Check the start date and end date of your tenancy
- 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 of the property
- Check for any agreed repairs you want your landlord to do before/as soon as you move in (e.g. washing machine replacement, fixing leaky taps and so on).
If something looks odd to you, or you want to correct or add to the contract, don't be afraid to bring it up with the landlord or agent.
For example, if while you were viewing the property the landlord agreed to repair or purchase something, then make sure you've got the specifics in writing. If it's not in the contract, it's harder to prove it was agreed if the landlord 'forgets'.
Once you've signed it, there's no turning back.
I once moved into a flat which hadn't been properly cleaned before we moved in. However, when I checked the contract it said we had to have it professionally cleaned when we left.*
I immediately called the estate agent and asked that they either arrange for it to be professionally cleaned straight away, or change the contract so we just had to leave the property as it was when we moved in.
They decided to do the latter, which saved us having to pay for professional cleaners (usually well over £100!) when we eventually moved out.
In short: read your tenancy agreement carefully – it could end up saving you some serious money!
Tom Allingham, Head of Communications at Save the Student
* This happened in January 2018, but it's now illegal for landlords in England to insist that tenants hire professional cleaners before moving out. As a general rule, you need to leave the property cleaned to the same standard it was when you moved in.
Deposit Protection Schemes
One of the most overlooked aspects of any tenancy agreement is the deposit. Deposits usually amount to around one month's rent (sometimes a little bit more, like five weeks' worth) and are collected prior to the tenancy commencing, in case of late rent or damage to the property during your stay.
Make sure that you know what you're paying and that the full amount is protected for the whole time you live there. You should never be asked to pay a deposit before signing the contract unless it's a holding deposit.
By law, all deposits taken by landlords must be registered with a government-backed deposit protection scheme within 30 days.
Here are the approved schemes in the UK:
- England and Wales – The Deposit Protection Service (DPS), mydeposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS)
- Scotland – Letting Protection Service Scotland (LPS), Safe Deposits Scotland and mydeposits Scotland
- Northern Ireland – Tenancy Deposit Scheme Northern Ireland (TDS) and mydeposits Northern Ireland.
Check that your landlord is part of a scheme and that they've submitted your deposit to be protected.
If you're concerned that your landlord isn't playing by the rules, you can check if the property is on record with the schemes mentioned above. If it's not, your landlord is breaking the law and you are entitled to compensation (potentially up to three times 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. This is normally due to damage but, unfortunately, it's also 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 a deduction if the reasons and amounts are fully justified (with evidence). The deposit scheme will keep hold of your money until the 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 landlords will require every student tenant to have a guarantor. Put simply, guarantors (usually your parents) are people who agree to pay your rent if you can't make the payments.
It reassures the landlord that they won't go short-changed if you reach a point where you can't keep up with rent.
If the landlord has to chase up your guarantor for a rent payment, it is really bad news. In the worst case, your guarantor can be taken to court – so don't ever miss a payment. If you're struggling to pay rent because your Student Loan is late, our guide will talk you through some of your options.
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 (usually just a passport photocopy) as well as proof of 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
Maybe you've booked cheap flights to somewhere sunny, or you're just heading home to work and save some money over the summer. Either way, remember 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 won't be in high demand, then you might be able to get away with not paying this retainer. However, you'll have to decide whether it's a risk you're willing to take.
Whatever you decide, check the contract carefully. It may stipulate that you can't live at the property during the summer period due to repair work. Or that if you want to live there over the summer, you will be liable to pay full rent, even if there are only one or two tenants present.
Haggling down rent
Don't forget that, essentially, landlords are salespeople 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 it's a decent property and the housing situation is tight in your area, it might not be worth the risk of the landlord deciding 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 get an idea of how much rent cash you have to play with.
Unable to haggle the rent down? Don't worry – there are loads of other ways to save money on rent.
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 avoid any arguments about broken or disappearing furniture from the house.
Both parties sign off on the inventory, 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 repaid accordingly.
Nowadays it's common for an independent company to carry out the inventory check. This is a great step forward, as it means the person carrying out the check is unbiased. They have nothing to gain by favouring the tenant or the landlord, so they're much more likely to be fair and honest in their assessment.
Often the landlord will also be present with you in the property to go over the inventory with you. If they aren't (or they haven't said they will be), don't be afraid to ask for them to be there. Having them around to talk things through will prevent any disputes further down the line.
It's also worth taking your own photos of rooms and making notes of any faults, as well as taking a photocopy of the inventory. This acts as extra 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's time-consuming and a bit boring, this is well worth taking the time to do thoroughly to save yourself some cash in the future (and your future self will thank you for it, too).
Thankfully, tenancy fees are now banned in England, Scotland and Wales. So, for most of us, gone are the days of getting charged ridiculous fees for reference checks, check-outs and more.
Our 2019 news piece about the ban goes through what landlords can and can't charge you for. Have a read of it to make sure you're not being charged for anything illegally.
In Northern Ireland, a letting agent is not allowed to charge a tenant any fees that benefit the landlord. However, there is no ban on a landlord charging you fees directly if you rent privately.
So, if you're charged fees by lettings agents which you feel are unfair, or even unlawful, you may be entitled to claim them back. Housing Rights have a handy template letter you can use to request a refund of your fees.
Let's hope Northern Ireland brings in a similar ban to the rest of the UK soon.
It's worth noting that one fee estate agents can charge is a holding deposit, capped at one week's rent. This deposit 'reserves' the property until the final tenancy agreement is signed.
Requirements for holding deposits
If an estate agent asks you to pay a holding deposit, they must:
- Charge no more than one week's rent
- Stop advertising the property once the deposit's been paid
- Only take one holding deposit for the property at any one time – there can't be multiple people reserving the property at once
- Never discriminate against you based on your disability, sex, religion/belief, gender reassignment, pregnancy/maternity, race or sexuality
- Not waste your time.
While the estate agent could keep the holding deposit if you withdraw your offer, you are well within your rights to expect it back if they breach the above conditions.
If you don't think the agents have acted as they should have after you paid a holding deposit, complain to them first. If you think you are entitled to a refund, you should request the money back.
Then, if you're unhappy with their response, find out whether they are registered as a member of The Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme. These organisations can help to resolve your issues with the estate agents.
Of course, if the holding deposit is handled fairly, you should either get it back when everything's finalised or it'll be put towards your first month of rent.
Once you've checked your way through these eight points, you should be in a much better position to understand exactly what you're signing up for. So you can finally crack open the champers.
Most important of all is not to be rushed into signing your agreement. You can always ask for a copy of the contract in advance so you have time to read through it properly.
After signing the contract, make sure you keep a copy throughout your tenancy so you can refer back to it.
Thoroughly checking the tenancy agreement is just one of our many ways to save money on rent.