Student housing contracts: 10 things you need to look out for
Finding accommodation can be stressful enough without all the hidden surprises that inevitably await you. Here’s a list of things to double-check before you agree to any housing contract.
1. Type of agreement
If you’re staying in private student accommodation, the contract will normally be a shorthold tenancy agreement for a fixed term. However, landlords and estate agencies can offer two main types of contracts to a group of students: joint tenancy agreements, and individual contracts. A joint tenancy agreement means that everyone is responsible as a group for paying the rent. If one person leaves the house, then all the tenants will be made to leave. It also means that any damages must be covered by all the tenants, rather than the individual who caused the damages. If you’re able to, always try to have individual contracts. This way, the whole group will not be penalised if one person misses a rent payment or leaves the house.
2. Bills and rent
You should always check what your rent covers. Some contracts will include all the bills in the rent; this is very common for first-year student accommodation and estate agencies. Private landlords will most likely have the bills and rent separately - so you might think you have a cheap house, but the bills add up easily. Normally, tenants must cover utility bills such as water, and gas/electricity. Sometimes tenants will also be liable for phone bills and internet. Your contract should also explain whether you are liable for council tax (as students, you should be exempt). Make sure to check which date rent will be due each month. Usually, you will have the choice to set up a direct debit payment; this can help stop you from forgetting to pay each month.
3. Lease length and giving notice
Check the starting date and end date of your tenancy agreement. Some contracts will allow you to pay less each month if you go for a longer lease length. This is also important if you’re planning to stay during the summer holidays. Student accommodation will normally give you two options; a lease covering university term time only, or a longer lease including the summer holiday. You can always discuss the length of your lease with your landlord before you sign the contract. Also, check closely as to how much notice you need to give to leave the house, and when your tenancy ends. If you are even a day late, the agency or landlord may have the right to take another whole month’s rent payment from you after you have left.
Check your deposit. Sometimes a cheap rent means a high deposit. You should also check whether there would be any reason for the deposit to be partly or fully withheld, for instance, to cover damage repairs. Always ensure your deposit is being placed into a secure and approved deposit protection scheme. This is to ensure that you may still get it back if the agency or landlord goes bankrupt.
5. Agency fees
This is another unexpected cost that you will have to be aware of. Many agencies will charge a hefty fee just for you to rent through them. They may also charge you to move in outside of office hours. Keep all of this in mind when you’re budgeting for your house.
Always check your inventory before you sign a contract. Does the house have everything you will need? Is there enough storage space? Once you have agreed with the landlord on the inventory, make sure to send a written agreement or checklist stating everything is correct or noting any damages that already exist. If anything is missing or damaged when you leave, and you didn’t note it to your landlord when you arrived, you may be charged for replacements or repairs.
Something that most people don’t think about is whether they will be responsible for repairs in the house. Some landlords take liability and hold themselves responsible, while others expect tenants to cover the charges. Always make sure to alert your landlord when something needs to be fixed.
8. Content insurance
Some tenancy agreements will include content insurance; this is most common in student accommodation. It’s an important thing to have as it protects your household belongings against theft, fire or flood damage. If it’s not in your contract, you can always get it separately yourself.
9. Parking availability
If you drive, then this is very important. Some houses won’t have a driveway or any parking space, which can be very troublesome unless your city offers street parking permits. Some may have spaces at no extra cost, while others may offer a parking permit in a private car park. For student accommodation, there can sometimes be limited availability. If this is the case, check the prices first and see if it is something you can afford.
10. Pets and guests
The last thing to think about is who you can have with you in the house. Practically all student accommodation will not allow pets, while only some landlords will allow it. Guests will always be permitted but sometimes there will be rules with this. Certain student accommodations offer guest passes, and only allow guests to stay for a certain number of days. Other tenancy agreements will leave this responsibility up to you. If you are having guests staying over for a while, like a boyfriend or girlfriend, it is probably best to ask your housemates if they’re comfortable first.
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