10 tenancy rights every student should know
It's easy to get lost in the excitement of moving into a new rented place, but it's vital to know your tenancy rights before you sign anything. Use this guide to make sure you don't get ripped off.
All too often, 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 have to put up with. After all, if you're clued up properly, you could save some serious money on renting.
Whether you're moving into your first privately rented flat, or you're already painfully familiar with the house-rental scene, you'll need to know your rights as a tenant.
What is an HMO?
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of your rights as a private renter, we'll clarify the meaning of HMO (House in Multiple Occupation).
An HMO is a larger property that's home to three or more unrelated people who are sharing toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities. And, by 'unrelated', we mean tenants who are not part of the same 'household' (i.e. family).
Most student houses will qualify as HMOs, and when renting out properties like this, landlords are expected to follow extra procedures (which we'll explain as we go through).
What are your rights as a renter?
Here are your rights as a student in shared or single accommodation:
Fire safety in rental properties
There are a few things that your landlord is required by law to do to ensure you're protected against fire hazards in your property.
Firstly, there should be adequate means of fire escape in your property, and at least one smoke alarm on every floor of the building which is used as living accommodation.
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 property is classed as an HMO, then your landlord is also legally required to fit a fire extinguisher on each 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. However, it's worth noting that the landlord must make sure the alarms are working at the start of each new tenancy.As well as getting protected against the risk of fire, find out how to make your house safe from burglars in our guide.
Can your landlord enter your property?
You may just be renting your house, but contrary to popular belief, the landlord, estate agent or people acting on their behalf cannot visit the property without prior warning.
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 give 24 hours' notice 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?
All gas appliances in the property must be safely installed, maintained and annually checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer. 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 cookers, 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.
If you're hoping to update your kitchen products, this will be at your expense unless the electrical ones provided by your landlord are unsafe. And before splashing out on anything, check out the best kitchen gadgets for students.
For any equipment you do buy, it's worth looking into contents insurance deals.
Are landlords responsible for pest control?
Student houses often play home to unwanted guests (and we don't mean your housemate's annoying other-half, FYI).
When it comes to infestations of mice, rats, bedbugs and bats (yep, even bats), it's often difficult to know who's responsible as it depends on a number of things.
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's a little more complicated. Essentially it comes down to whose 'fault' it is that the property has bedbugs – something that can be pretty difficult to determine.
If bedbugs were present when you moved in, or the infestation was down to some kind of defect in the property or its contents, it's the landlord's responsibility to resolve it. If they turned up after you moved in and were down to negligence on your part (e.g. poor hygiene or not cleaning regularly), chances are it'll be your job to get rid of the bedbugs.
In short, there are some basic things to consider if you have a pest problem:
What you need to know if you get a pest infestation
Nobody wants to find a pest infestation when they move in – but that was just the tip of the iceberg for these students.
- Is it covered in your tenancy agreement? If your contract states that it's your landlord's responsibility to deal with pests, you can hold them to this.
- Were the pests there when you moved in? If pests or vermin are present from the moment you move in, it's most likely your landlord's responsibility to handle them.
- Was the infestation caused by disrepair? For example, if there are holes in the walls and floor (not caused by you) that your landlord has failed to repair, then the pests will be their responsibility.
- Was the infestation caused by you? A big one for some students. If you attract vermin by not getting rid of rubbish properly or leaving food out, then they're your problem.
Are tenants allowed to have guests or sublet?
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. It's times like this that it definitely helps to live with friends.
But, if anyone does object to you having guests, our guide to dealing with tricky housemates can help.
Whether you're living with friends or not, it always helps be mindful of those you're sharing with – especially if your guest will be sleeping in a communal area. And 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 subletting.
Subletting 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 around this is to ask your landlord (very nicely!) for permission first and take it from there. Don't hold your breath, though...
Can you decorate a rented house?
Before you start painting your walls or doing any major redecorating, you'll need to get written permission from your landlord.
Some landlords will let you paint the walls if you'd like, sometimes with the caveat that you'll need to paint it back to its original colour before you leave (so if you're only going to be living there a short time, you should consider whether it's really worth it).
If you're not able to paint your walls, you could instead spruce up your room with things like cushions, rugs and photos in cute frames. Just be careful to not damage the walls – if you hammer in nails or use Blu Tack, you could end up with a hefty bill when it's time to move out.
As a general rule, the property should look the same when you move out as it did when you moved in – if you're mindful of this while making yourself at home, you can't really go wrong!
What repairs are landlords responsible for?
If there are any issues with the property that could result in an accident, make sure you report them 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 usually down to the tenant. Plus, any damage caused by yourself or your guests will have to be sorted by you.
Problems with damp affect a lot of student tenants. 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 (it should do the trick!).
Can your landlord evict you?
There are a number of reasons why a landlord could legally evict you, including the following:
- Being at least two months late on rent payments
- Being regularly late with your payments
- Breaching any of the terms of your tenancy agreement
- Letting the property fall into an unacceptable state
- Subletting a room without permission
- Causing serious nuisance to the neighbours
- Using the property for illegal purposes, such as dealing drugs
- Refusing to leave the property at the end of your contract.
It's worth noting that during the coronavirus pandemic, the government has banned evictions.
In England and Wales, this originally ran from 26th March – 25th June 2020, but has since been extended to run until 23rd August.
In Northern Ireland, the notice period for starting eviction proceedings has been extended to 12 weeks, applying to eviction notices served after 5th May 2020.
In Scotland, this is running for six months from 7th April 2020 (although evictions are allowed in the case of antisocial or criminal behaviour).
What to do if your landlord wants you to leave
Seek legal advice immediately if your landlord threatens to evict you. If there's no court order included in your eviction notice, this is illegal. Only a bailiff with a valid warrant can evict you.
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 you need before you move out?
When you sign a fixed-term tenancy (for 12 months, for example), your landlord cannot ask you to leave early unless the tenancy agreement specifically allows them to end the contract early.
To do this, there will need to be a break clause in the contract – this means that either you or the landlord can end the tenancy early after the specified period, as long as notice is given in writing (e.g. you can break the contract with two months' notice at any point after six months in).
Without a break clause, you'll only be able to end your tenancy early if your landlord agrees (this is more likely if you can find a new tenant to replace you), or under certain circumstances like your landlord breaching their contractual responsibilities. Otherwise, you'll still have to pay for your rent until the end of the contract.
For a periodic tenancy (when it rolls over every week or month for an indefinite amount of time), things are a little different – check out this info from Shelter for more details.
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.
Moving out of student accommodation due to coronavirus
Following the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, students across the UK left their university accommodation early to spend lockdown in their family homes.
However, despite not living in their properties, most students in privately-rented accommodation (i.e. not university halls) still had to pay their rent in full as they weren't able to get out of their accommodation contract.
Now, with most universities planning to hold at least some in-person lectures in the 2020/21 academic year, chances are you'll be looking to move back to uni in September.
However, as there's a chance that the UK could be hit by a second wave of coronavirus, we would strongly advise that you try to get a break clause in your tenancy agreement. This way, should universities revert to online lectures only, you can end your contract earlier and save money on rent.
Landlords wouldn't usually be willing to offer such generous terms to students, but it's worth noting that with the expected drop in international student numbers and overall anxiety about coronavirus, you hold some power, too.
Letting to tenants who want a break clause is better than letting to nobody at all, so bear this in mind when looking for a place to live – especially if you're in a town where the majority of renters are students, and this is the landlord's main opportunity to secure tenants for the year.
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 tenancy deposit back at the end of your tenancy, check out the advice in our guide.
What to do if your landlord breaches the contract
If you think your landlord is breaching the terms of your tenancy agreement, 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 issues, and advise on what your best course of action is.
Good news: tenancy fees are now banned in most of the UK! But there are some exceptions – find out if you'll need to pay them.