FAQs about private accommodation

General information

This Guide is intended to provide friendly and helpful advice in regard to securing private accommodation. This Guide is not designed to provide professional or legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Please consider whether the information is appropriate to your circumstances and where appropriate seek advice.

Further advise is available through student support on +44 (0)116 223 1185, welfare@le.ac.uk and your students union housing advisor.

Before you start

Right to Rent

You will have to show you and any other adults that will be living with you have the ‘right to rent’ in the UK. Your landlord or letting agent will ask to see your immigration documents or passport when you start or renew your tenancy. They will also ask to see the documents of any other adults living with you. They do this to check you have the right to live in the UK and to rent - this is called the ‘right to rent check’. More information about the documents you can show for the right to rent check on GOV.UK

Guarantors

You might be asked to provide a guarantor, for example if you haven't rented before. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you don't - you could ask your parents or someone else in your family to do this. It is very important that any such guarantee specifically limits your guarantors financial liability to just your rent/damages. Before anyone signs, it is important that both you and your guarantor understand that if you default on rent or the cost of damage your guarantor will be responsible for making payment.

It is also important to understand that if you enter into a contract with joint liability and your guarantor signs a general guarantee, there is a significant financial risk to the guarantor. If another tenant moves out or fails to pay the rent, your guarantor could be taken to court under the terms of the guarantee, even if you have paid your rent. The advice is: don't ask a guarantor to enter into any guarantee which does not specify the limit of financial liability being guaranteed.

If you have a credit rating or a reference from a previous landlord to provide comfort to a potential new landlord, then many landlords may reconsider their request for a guarantee.

The process of renting

Negotiating with your landlord or letting agent

  • It’s worth trying to negotiate with your landlord or letting agent when you find a property - this can save you some money

You can negotiate to get:

  • cheaper rent
  • the length of your tenancy and other terms changed, for example you can ask if the rent can include any bills

You should remember when negotiating that there is a risk that the property could be offered to someone else. Get what you agree in writing - you might need to refer back to what was said if there are problems.

Ask about all payments before taking a property so you don’t have to deal with any unexpected costs. Get a receipt from your landlord or letting agent when you pay any money - you'll need this in case there are any problems.

Deposits

You will normally be required to pay a deposit to the agent/landlord as security in case you damage the property or furnishings. It can also be used to cover unpaid bills, rent or missing items. Most agents/landlords will ask for a sum equivalent to four weeks' or a calendar month's rent but the maximum an agent/landlord can charge by law is a sixth of the annual rent payable in England and Wales and two months rent in Scotland. In order to ensure that you get your deposit back:

  • Ensure that you have a written statement from the landlord explaining what is covered by the deposit (this will normally be covered by a clause in the tenancy agreement). If the landlord gives a verbal explanation, write to him/her to confirm the details.
  • Ensure that you have a receipt for monies paid.
  • Ensure that you have a full inventory of furniture. Get the agent/landlord to sign it. You may wish to take photographs.
  • Take reasonable care of the house and furniture during the tenancy.
  • Towards the end of your tenancy write to the agent/landlord inviting him/her to inspect the property.
  • Settle all the bills.
  • When you leave return all the keys to the agent/landlord and make a written request for the return of your deposit.

Since April 2007, deposits paid by tenants who have assured shorthold tenancy agreements are safeguarded by a Government sponsored scheme, which facilitates the resolution of any disputes that arise in connection with such deposits.

There are two types of scheme:

  1. Custodial Scheme - a tenant pays the deposit to the landlord who in turn places it into a designated scheme account. When the scheme administrator returns the deposit to either the tenant or the landlord it is done so with interest at a rate specified by the Government. If they are not in agreement, a final court order will have to be obtained specifying the proportion of the deposit to which each is entitled.
  2. Insurance based schemes - a tenant pays the deposit to the landlord who only transfers it into a designated scheme if there is a dispute at the end of the agreement. When the landlord and tenant reach agreement or a court decides how much each party is entitled the administrator will distribute the deposit accordingly.

If an agent/landlord fails to pay the deposit to the scheme then a scheme will have adequate insurance cover to compensate the tenant in the event they are owed monies.

Within 30 days of receiving your deposit your agent/landlord must give you the relevant information regarding the scheme safeguarding your deposit. You should always check that the scheme has received your deposit.

More information see Tenancy deposit protection.

Paying in advance

Paying in advance is different to a deposit. You might be asked to pay 1 to 2 months' rent before you move in. This is called paying 'rent in advance'. The actual amount you’II pay will depend on your landlord and your written agreement. By paying your rent in advance you'll always be paying rent for the month ahead. You might be asked to pay several months’ rent in advance if there’s a problem with your credit check, references or you do not have a guarantor.

Make sure that you have receipts for any monies paid and that you are clear as to why you are being asked to pay in advance.

Contracts

The type of contract you sign will depend on where you will be living. If you are planning on moving into a shared property, you need to be aware that your contract will make you responsible and accountable to your landlord either through joint or individual liability.

Renting from a landlord/agent

Most landlords/agents use an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement. This is for a fixed term of 12 months; that is, it has a start date and an end date. If you sign a fixed term contract you are liable to pay rent for the full period, unless there is a specific clause allowing you to give notice to quit (which is very rare). This type of agreement means that you are a tenant and have exclusive possession of the property. The landlord/agent can have access to the property (e.g. for repairs/inspections), but you should be given notice and they should only call during reasonable working hours.

Joint liability

If you have signed the same contract as your housemates and you all agree to take the property at the same time; you will be jointly and severally liable with each of your housemates for any rent arrears and/or damage to the property. So, if one tenant moves out, the landlord/agent can pursue the remaining tenants (as well as the tenant who has left) for any monies due

Individual liability

If you have a separate agreement between you and the landlord/agent, and another tenant leaves, the landlord/agent cannot ask that you cover their rent. You would be liable for any damage to your room. The landlord/agent can make a charge for any damage to communal areas but they have to first try and find out who was responsible.

Reviewing a contract before signing

Do not sign a contract if you are not happy with the terms or there are any aspects of the agreement you don't understand. You should always be given at least 24 hours to read the contract through. Where possible always get your contract checked. Never sign on the spot. Once signed, the contract is legally binding on all parties - you do not get a chance to change your mind.

Restrictions on the terms and conditions a landlord can write into a contract

Landlords are not free to write into contracts any terms and conditions they want. They are restricted in what they can do by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999), which apply to all rented tenancies. Any clauses deemed unfair could be unenforceable. This only refers to the standard terms of a contract (not clauses that have been separately negotiated). Examples of Unfair Terms could be penalty charges, exclusion by the landlord/agent of accepting responsibility for loss or damage to personal property and ambiguous legal clauses. If you are unsure, do not sign and take advise.

Top tips

Read the contract

Be absolutely clear about the terms and conditions. It is essential you read through and fully understand all the terms and conditions stated on the contract. This includes any handbook or additional contract sheets you are given. If there is a dispute then the contract is the first point of reference and would be used as the main source of evidence in any court case.

Once a contract has been signed the terms and conditions cannot be altered unless both parties agree.

Get the details

The contract should include the full contact details of the landlord/agent. If you are renting via an agency make sure you also have the landlord's full contact details. You are legally entitled to this information. If you have just a name and telephone number, it could be very difficult to pursue the landlord/agent should a dispute arise.

Know what you have to pay

The contract should also make clear what rent payments are due and when. In addition to this, it should be clear who is responsible for the bills, e.g. water rates. Before you sign a contract, check that the advertised rent is what is stated on the contract. Errors do occur and if you sign the contract, it may be difficult to argue later, especially if you do not have the original advert.

Don’t sign on behalf of someone else

Never sign a contract on behalf of your housemates. Even if their name is on the contract, if they do not sign the agreement and decide not to move in, you could be held liable for the rent of the whole house.

Deposits and Advance Payments

If you have paid a deposit or an advanced payment, but not signed a contract for your accommodation, then you may still be able to change your mind if you no longer want the accommodation. You should read the terms of the deposit or advanced payment to see if this is refundable as you may lose your deposit or advanced payment if you cancel.

Cancelling may still be the best option for you if you have found a better deal elsewhere, take some independent advice to be certain before taking any action.

Record keeping

Keep all correspondence and ask for things in writing, this helps should you get into a dispute with your Landlord.

Above all if something is not clear or you don’t understand the contract take independent professional advice.

Responsibilities

Your Agent/Landlord is responsible for...

  • Keeping in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling house, including drains, gutters and external pipes.
  • Keeping in repair and proper working order the installations for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences and for heating rooms and heating water.
  • Providing a rent book if statute so requires e.g., where the rent is paid weekly.
  • Providing you with the agents/landlords full name and address.
  • Providing you with a copy of the valid current Gas Safety Certificate (see Standards).
  • Allowing you to "peacefully enjoy" your accommodation (unless there is an emergency).
  • Agents/Landlords have the right to enter the property at reasonable times to carry out the repairs for which they are responsible and to inspect the condition and the state of repair of the property. They must give at least 24 hours notice in writing of an inspection. It would be helpful to set out the arrangements for access and procedures for getting repairs done in the tenancy agreement.
  • Providing you with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).

You are responsible for...

  • Acting in a "Tenant-like manner". This means you should perform the smaller tasks around the house such as, unblocking the sink when clogged with waste and cleaning the windows when necessary.
  • Not damaging the house, if you do then you and your guests are responsible for the repairs.
  • Refuse collection! Remember to find out the collection day from your local council. Put the wheelie bin out - and bring it back in again, it is illegal to leave it on the street.
  • Securing the property when you go away, lock all the doors and windows!
  • Being reasonable about noise and parties, e.g. let your neighbours know in advance.
  • Reporting all repairs needed to the agent/landlord (preferably in writing). The landlord's/agent's responsibility to repair begins only when they are aware of the problem.

Some common problems and questions with private accommodation

Can I give the landlord/agent notice?

You must first check your contract. If there is a clause allowing you to give notice to quit, then, providing proper notice is given, you could move out. If you have signed a fixed term agreement with no such clause then you remain liable for the rent.

I have paid a deposit for next year, and I no longer need the accommodation can I get the deposit back?

You will need to check the terms of the deposit or advanced payment to see if this is refundable. If you have already signed your contract and there is no clause allowing you to give notice then you may still be liable for the term of the contract. Depending on the terms of the deposit or advance payments, it may be possible for you to give up the accommodation contract, but you may still lose the deposit.

We have signed a joint contract but one of our housemates has moved out. The landlord/agent is asking us for the money but we feel the tenant should pay - is this fair?

Fairness does not really come into it, The landlord's/agent's primary concern is to collect the rent. If a joint contract has been signed, the landlord/agent can decide who they want to chase for the rent. If the rent remains unpaid, it can be taken from the collective deposits or if court action is taken, the landlord/agent is likely to issue a summons that names all the tenants. The best option is to try and find a suitable replacement as soon as possible.

I have moved out of a shared house but my former housemates are refusing to accept my replacement tenant. What can I do?

If the contract is joint and several, the remaining household have the right to refuse a replacement tenant. However, they can only refuse on reasonable grounds such as the replacement tenant not being a student (liability for Council Tax). If they continue to refuse suitable replacements, it is important to notify the landlord/agent. They may decide to take action against the tenants if rent remains outstanding.

If you have an individual contract, you do not need to get the permission of others in the house. However, the landlord/agent does need to agree. It is rare that the landlord/agent refuses a replacement tenant and they would have to give good reasons for doing so.