The search for university accommodation starts early, so getting an understanding of the different types of tenancy that are available and how these may affect you is a good idea. Contracts and their terms and conditions can seem daunting and confusing, especially if it’s your first time living away from home. But we have put together a guide to teach you all you need to know before you take the plunge and sign on the dotted line.
The Golden Rule
ALWAYS read the contract before signing! It may be tedious going, but its highly recommended that you read it in full as the contract does end up being rather important. You should always be given at least 24 hours to read it through, and you should never feel pressured to sign there and then. So, feel free to take it away, read it through properly, and sign one you are happy to do so. If there are parts of the agreement you don’t understand, need clarification on, or don’t agree with then speak to your landlord or letting agent about it in the first instance. There may be some negotiation that can be done, or the clause you are unhappy with/unsure about may be in there for a good reason that can be explained to you. Your university may also be able to give some good advice as they know what to look out for. If you still aren’t satisfied with the contract, or can’t come to an agreement with your landlord, then this accommodation may not be the one for you. Remember once you sign the contract it becomes legally binding, so make sure you are happy, comfortable and understand what you are signing up to.
Types of Contracts
Depending on who you will be renting from will dictate what type of contract you are offered.
Private Renting – Landlord or Letting Agent
The most common type of contract used by landlords and letting agents is an assured shorthold tenancy agreement, commonly referred to as an ‘AST’. This will generally be for a fixed term, and you will have the sole possession and enjoyment of the property for that duration of time. You will be responsible for the property and paying the rent for the duration of the contract and will not be able to end the fixed term early (unless in the rare circumstance where the AST may include a special clause allowing you too), whether you’re living in the property or not. It is less common, but you could also be offered a periodic AST, where the duration has no set end-date. The tenancy continues to roll on from month to month until either you or the landlord give the required notice period. In both instances, your landlord will be responsible for repairs, and are only allowed to enter the property if they’ve given you a fair amount of notice (usually at least 24 hours).
The typical contract will be for a fixed term for the duration of the academic year, meaning you again will not be able to give notice to quit before the end date of the contract. You will have the right to occupy specific rooms on the accommodation (bedroom), along with the common areas such as kitchen, living room and bathroom etc. for the duration. People sent on behalf of the accommodation such as cleaners or maintenance people can enter shared spaces whenever necessary, but will need to give you prior notice to enter any private spaces.
You may find yourself renting a spare room with the owner of the house, and in this case, you will usually be given one of two types of contracts. The first will determine you to be a licensee which means the owner can have unrestricted access to the entire dwelling, including your room. The other will refer to you as an excluded tenant, meaning you are able to lock your private spaces, and your landlord cannot access without your consent, however all other shared living spaces either of you can enter at any time. Both types can either be for a fixed period, or a rolling agreement.
Joint & Several liability
Common in student accommodation, joint and several liability means that you, as a named tenant, are responsible for your own, and all joint tenants’ obligations in regard to the tenancy agreement – this includes rent and any potential damages. All tenants, and guarantors, need to be aware that they may be pursued for any obligation that is not fulfilled under the tenancy. Therefore, we recommend that you make sure you are happy with who you are planning on living with before you enter into any contract with them.
Individual liability on the other hand is when you enter into a contract on your own, and even if you live with housemates, you will all have sperate contracts. In this type of contract each tenant will solely be responsible for their own room and rent. If there are any shared spaces in the property then they will usually be the shared responsibility of all the people living there.
Most students will be asked to supply a guarantor who is someone who agrees to act for the Tenant should the Tenant fail to meet any obligations named in the Tenancy Agreement. They will usually be asked to sign a deed of guarantor and more often than not will need to be UK based (if you’re renting in the UK).
Under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations Act (1999), landlords and letting agents cannot just write anything they want to into a contract, they must abide by certain rules and restrictions that the above Act has deemed fair. If there are any ‘un-standard’ clauses included in your contract you have every right to question them, and they may not be enforceable in court if it ever got to that stage.
Ending a Tenancy
Notice Periods – Rolling Tenancy
The amount of notice required will usually mirror your rental period. For example if you pay your rent on a monthly basis then you will need to give at least one months’ notice to end the tenancy. If you pay rent every two months, then two months’ notice will be needed. However, the minimum notice period is 4 weeks, so even if you pay rent on a weekly basis, then you will still need to give at least 4 weeks’ notice. Your landlord will usually need to give a slightly longer notice period if they were to end the tenancy which is again dictated by how often your rent is due. Both of these notice periods should be listed in your agreement.
Notice Periods – Fixed Term
If you are on a fixed term contract there is no notice period, as you can’t leave before the end of the fixed term, unless you have a break clause included in your contract. If you do, the amount of notice you need to give should be included in the clause.
If you’re on a fixed term contract but need to leave, you may be able to find a new tenant to take your place on the tenancy agreement, but your landlord will have to agree to this beforehand. It will be your responsibility to find a suitable replacement, and your landlord may still want to do referencing checks on them before agreeing to the swap. You cannot just move out as you will still be responsible for rent, bills and the property.
Renting a new home can seem overwhelming and intimidating, but once you get your head around all the jargon most tenancy agreements tend to be similar in terms of responsibilities and conditions. If you ever need help understanding anything, just ask, and most landlords and letting agents will be happy to help. If for any reason you would feel safer getting advice from a more impartial party your student union would be a good place to start, or citizens advice is a great source of information. If you’re coming to live in an Aquarius Home next year, then welcome! We are here to help you in every step of journey and try to take all the stress out of student accommodation.