By Hannah Briscoe
- Going to University almost certainly means you’re going to be renting at some point. Not many of us really know what we’re doing and what laws protect the first time renting student. Here’s a quick summary of things you really need to know.
Research your potential landlord first. This is a big one, and something I wish I had done. If you can go with a university recommended landlord then do, most universities have a list available for the surrounding area. Don’t trust the landlord’s word. Anyone can say they are so make sure. Also double check if they are accredited with the National Landlords Association, only a member will have a membership card and if they don’t have it on them they will be able to tell you their name/membership number so you can look them up on the website. It’s not a legal requirement to be a member but it does show that they are dedicated to their role as a landlord.
So you’ve found a landlord and they are showing you some properties. Other than being punctual to the meeting, you don’t what to get things off on the wrong foot, be honest. Is £150 a week too expensive for you? Do you want something with bigger rooms? Tell them. Obviously be polite about it, but there’s no point wasting your time on a property you know you’re not going to live in.
Ask questions, a lot if you need to. When’s the rent due? How much is it and how is payment set up? How long is the tenancy? Are you only able to stay there during term time? What happens to your things during holidays if you plan to stay there afterwards? How should you contact them in case of repairs and maintenance? (Landlords are responsible for the maintenance of their properties.) How quickly do they aim to respond to the problems? Is there a garden? Are you responsible for it or is the landlord? Do all the rooms have double glazing? Has the roof been fully insulated? Can they provide the Energy Performance Certificate? (These are valid for ten years and are legally required for a ‘to let’ property). Can they provide the Gas Safety Certificate? (A copy of this must be available to the tenants by law). Could they make a house inventory?
You’ve chosen your new home from home and need to put a deposit down. That’s fine, but where is it being kept? All tenant deposits must be kept in a rent deposit scheme that’s backed by the government by law. In England and Wales there are three schemes the deposit can be held with: Deposit Protection Service (Custodial and Insured), MyDeposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme. Your landlord has to put your deposit into a scheme within 30 days of receiving the money. It doesn’t matter if you or someone else has paid it, it needs to be protected. Make sure you find out which scheme has your deposit and when the landlord protected it. Legally your landlord has to tell you the name and contact details of the deposit scheme your money is protected in as well as the information for the resolution service if something goes wrong. If they don’t place the deposit in a scheme, you may have to take legal action against them. It also might be a good idea to take time stamped photos of the condition you received the property as proof in case you are later held responsible for damages that were already there.
You’ve decided to leave the house at the end of your contract. Make sure you leave the house in the best state possible. It should be clean and tidy. Also remember to take time stamped photos of the condition you’ve left the property in as further proof in case you are questioned about any damages. The landlord should inspect the property and contact you if they want to take anything out of your deposit and why, and then send you your money, all within 30 days. However, if you have a dispute over not receiving your full deposit you will need to contact the resolution centre of your deposit protection scheme (The before and after photos should help to prove who is in the right.) Double check your contract. Does it say reasonable wear and tear is allowed? Bare in mind not all do, but if so you can argue that being charged £20 for chipped paint is within reasonable wear and tear. If you don’t hear from your landlord, can’t get hold of them or are constantly being ‘fobbed off’ and told that they will call you back or they will call the lead tenant when they have checked out the house, contact your deposit protection scheme on the 30th day. Don’t wait around. If you wait too long the scheme won’t be able to help you get your money back and legally they should have sorted everything out by the 30th day anyway. You’re doing nothing wrong.
There are plenty of genuine landlords out there but there are also those who will take advantage, especially of students who have little experience. Know your rights and know the law. If you need extra help the charity Shelter deal with landlord situations and can give you free help and advice on their website and by calling.
Find advice on choosing the right university here.