10 tenancy rights every student should know
Moving into a rented property for the first time is exciting, but it's important to make sure you know your tenancy rights before you sign anything. Don't get ripped off!
Unfortunately we hear stories of landlords taking advantage of young people's lack of knowledge when it comes to their tenancy rights all the time.
We're here to arm you with the facts, so you know exactly what you do and don't have to put up with! After all, if you're clued up properly, you could save some serious money on renting.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, it's worth first clarifying the difference between a private rental and an HMO. A HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) is a larger property that houses three or more unrelated people in it – and by unrelated we mean tenants who are not part of the same ‘household' like a family would be.
This means that most student houses 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!
What are your rights as a renter?
Fire and general safety in rental properties
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 working fireplace or burning stove also needs to 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.
Can a landlord enter your property without permission?
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' notice 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.
The only time they don't need to ask for permission is in an emergency, such as during a fire, a gas leak, a flood, an incident which has caused major structural damage or when a crime has taken place on the premises.
Do landlords need to check appliances?
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 while you're living there.
Your landlord is also legally required to ensure any electrical equipment they provide is safe – including things like kettles, toasters, microwaves and vacuum cleaners.
Although it isn't a legal requirement, this is often done via PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) carried out by a qualified professional. Check with your landlord what their policy on this is.
Is it a landlord's responsibility to control pests?
Student houses often 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), it's often difficult to know who's responsible as it depends on a number of things:
• Whether it's covered in your tenancy agreement – If it states that it's your landlord's responsibility to deal with pests you can hold them to this later
• Whether the pests were there before you move in – If pests or vermin are present from the moment you move in, it's most likely your landlord's responsibility to sort them
• Whether the infestation is caused by disrepair – For example, if there's holes in the walls and floor (not caused by you) that your landlord has failed to repair, then the pests will be their responsibility
• Whether the infestation was caused by you – This is a big one for students. If you attract vermin by not getting rid of rubbish properly or leaving food out, then they're your problem.
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. They'll 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 still let your landlord know. If it was a piece of furniture provided by the landlord, then it's their responsibility to dispose of it.
Are tenants allowed to have guests?
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 want 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 to discuss it (very nicely!) with your landlord first, and take it from there. Don't hold your breath though!
Can you decorate a rented house?
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.
What repairs are landlord's responsible for?
If there are any issues with the property that could result in an accident, make sure you report it to your landlord straight away.
Your landlord is responsible for most major repairs, including any faults with:
• The structure of the property (the walls, roof, windows and doors)
• Sinks, baths and toilets
• Pipes and wiring
• Heating and hot water (including the boiler)
• The safety of gas and electrical appliances.
Minor repairs, such as changing lightbulbs and fuses, are down to the tenant. Plus, any damage caused by yourself or your guests, will have to be sorted by you.
Damp is another big problem many students face. Whether it's your landlord's responsibility or not depends on who caused it. For example, if you don't ventilate the property properly and cause condensation dampness, then this will likely be your responsibility to fix.
Most landlords will be reasonable and make any necessary changes that are their responsibility as soon as possible, but if you're having trouble getting the ball rolling, here's a repairs request template to get it in writing (which should do the trick!).
Can your landlord evict you?
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
• Refusing to the leave the property at the end of your contract.
If you receive a threat of eviction, seek legal advice immediately. If there's no court order included in your eviction notice, this is illegal. Only a bailiff with a valid warrant can evict you.
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.
If this happens you should call the police immediately.
How much notice do landlords need to give tenants to move out?
If you have signed a fixed-term tenancy (for 12 months, for instance), then your landlord cannot ask you to leave early unless you agree to this.
If you want to leave before your contract has officially ended, you'll only be able to do so unless your landlord agrees, or under certain circumstances such as your landlord breaching their responsibilities stated in the tenancy agreement. Otherwise, you'll still have to pay for your rent until the end of the contract.
If your tenancy is a periodic tenancy (it rolls over every month for an indefinite amount of time), your landlord must give at least 90 days' written notice if they want the tenancy to end.
In certain circumstances (the property has been sold and the new buyer doesn't want tenants, or the owner wants to move into the property), your landlord only has to give 42 days' written notice.
Any notice to leave must be in writing, and include the date which the tenancy is to end, as well as the signature of the person giving the notice.
Tenancy Deposit Scheme rules
Every landlord is legally obliged to place your housing deposit within a government-owned deposit scheme called a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) 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 scheme within 30 days of receiving it from you, you could be due compensation.
If you want to make sure you get your full deposit back at the end of your tenancy, follow our advice in our housing deposit guide!
What to do if your landlord doesn't comply…
If you think your landlord is breaching the terms of your contract, or is acting in a way that is illegal, contact your local Citizen's Advice Bureau for advice (or your uni accommodation office if you're living in halls).
They'll be able to help you iron out any grey areas, and advise on what your best course of action is.
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.