This is a busy time of year in the rental property market as students who have not yet secured somewhere to live for next year rush to find accommodation.
However, the issue of renters’ rights is an important one throughout the year, and is a frequent cause of stress and disputes for lots of people – not just students. Our DMA law Link on Skinnergate in Darlington frequently offers help to tenants who are locked in disputes with their landlords.
Here is the DMA law guide to renting a home
- The Deposit
Tenants should always ensure that any monies are paid into an accredited deposit scheme, protected under one of the three Government approved Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes. This is a legal requirement in England, Wales and Scotland. Typical deposits range from four to eight weeks’ rent, and when held in an accredited scheme any proposed deductions which cannot be agreed are subject to free Dispute Resolution.
- Swot up
Before searching for a property, ensure you speak to other students or check university advice websites for first-hand experiences of renting in your preferred area. The amount of student accommodation available and the average rent charged can vary significantly depending on location, which could affect your budget. Many student unions offer free housing or legal advice and tenancy agreement checking services, so do find out what services are available to help you.
- Choose your landlord carefully
There are no restrictions on who becomes a landlord. Therefore some unscrupulous landlords may unfortunately not have a tenant’s best interests at heart. For peace of mind, be sure to seek advice from a lettings agent affiliated to a professional organisation like ARLA. All ARLA agents must adhere to a strict code of conduct, as well as offering client money protection and redress schemes, which protect you if things go wrong.
- Don’t ignore the small print
Find out what kind of tenancy agreement you are signing as this can make a difference to your liability. Many shared tenancies will have several joint liability clauses – meaning you are responsible for the actions of your co-tenants for the terms of the tenancy, and not just the payment of rent. Before you enter such an agreement consider how well you know your sharers. Even if you all got on well living in halls, do you know them well enough to agree on how to run a household?
- Remember the bills
When working out your budget it is important to factor in other costs on top of the weekly or monthly rental rate. Utility bills, TV licence and internet access costs will all need to be factored in, even if you are sharing the cost with other tenants. In addition, even if the property you are renting is furnished, it is worth checking which items of furniture, as well as major utility products like vacuum cleaner and washing machine, come with the property to avoid additional spend once you’ve moved in. Check the Energy Performance Certificate for the property. The lower the rating the more power you will use to keep warm in the winter. Remember if you are looking at a property in the summer it may seem quite warm, but it is the winter where your bills will be at the highest and the EPC can be an indicator.
- Safety and Security
Areas dominated by student accommodation can have higher-than-average burglary rates so security should always be a key consideration when looking for a rental home. Check that door and window locks are in good order. This is especially important for back doors with poor sight-lines or ground-floor windows. If there is a burglar alarm, ensure the landlord shows all tenants how to use it, and that it is working effectively.
Often students will have personal property covered by their parents’ contents insurance, but it is important to check the specific policy wording. If you aren’t covered by your parents’ insurance policy, there are a number of insurance providers which offer student-specific contents insurance policies. And, if locks and burglar alarms aren’t in good working order, as in the above point, your policy may be void.
Always ensure you are provided with a comprehensive inventory, listing the fixtures and fittings within the property, detailing their condition and that of the property itself. It is also advisable to take a thorough photographic record of the property’s condition at the start of the tenancy, if not included with the inventory and schedule of condition. If you disagree with the condition dispute it at the beginning with your own evidence to ensure you are protected.
Photos or notes you take should be jointly approved by the landlord and all tenants, with separate copies retained by both parties. A well put-together inventory provides useful evidence to protect both the landlord and tenant in the event of a dispute.
If you believe you need legal advice – for this or any other reason – you are welcome to pop into our free-of-charge legal walk-in centre where we will do our best to help, or point you in the right direction if we can’t.