This article explains about the factors which are included in a housing contract.
Please also look at this article which explains your rights when signing a housing contract.
There are many different things which must be considered when signing a contract and some “jargon” that might need explaining too:
What type of tenancy do I have?
There are a variety of different types of tenancy (contract/agreement). The most common type of tenancy agreement is the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST).
Landlords very occasionally use an Assured Tenancy (and very unlikely you will have one of these for your student house) – the main difference between the two is in the way in which the landlord can gain possession of the property.
My landlord/agency says this a “fixed term” agreement, what does that mean?
The majority of agreements will be for what is known as a “fixed term”, a solid period of time your contract will be for and generally of nine to ten months.
Once you have signed a fixed-term agreement, you are obliged to pay rent to the landlord for the duration of the tenancy. Likewise, the landlord is bound by the fixed term on the contract.
If the fixed term ends and no new tenancy agreement is drawn up then the tenancy agreement becomes a “statutory periodic tenancy agreement” or, in simple terms, rolling on on a month by month basis.
Occasionally (and VERY occasionally!), a break clause is included in a contract whereby either landlord and tenant or just the landlord, are able to give notice during the tenancy to bring it to an end. Such clauses are rare and are generally not included in student contracts. They are usually used for professional lets for example, for persons in the armed forces who need to move promptly.
Some fixed-term contracts will state a ‘minimum fixed term’ e.g. 10 months/44 weeks. In such cases it is advisable that you give your landlord at least one month’s written notice (or however much is stated in your agreement) prior to the end of the tenancy on or before the date you would normally pay your rent.
Failure to give adequate notice can result in the landlord holding you responsible for a further month’s rent (or until sufficient notice has been received). If the agreement doesn't include a break clause then a tenant cannot end the tenancy early without the landlord's approval. If the tenant leaves anyway, they will still be liable for the rent until the end of the fixed period.
If you intend to leave the property at the end of your tenancy you still have to give your landlord the correct notice period which will be written into your tenancy as this will bring your tenancy to its proper formal ending and you won’t end up accidentally on a rolling tenancy! The landlord may give you something (either at the start of your tenancy or towards the end of it) called a Section 21 and once you sign it, you will have to vacate the property at the end of your tenancy.
What does joint and several liability mean?
You may be asked to sign a joint tenancy. This is perfectly legal, but you should be aware of the implications before signing this type of contract. Although a joint tenancy will give a group of tenant’s equal rights it also means that they have to share responsibilities. This usually means covering the rent if someone leaves before the end of the tenancy. Taken to extremes it could mean that a single student is left paying the rent for the whole house but we would like to highlight, this is extremely rare! The remaining tenant would then have to pursue those that have left for outstanding rent.
So what is an individual agreement?
If possible, ask your landlord for an individual contract. This means that you cannot be held liable for anyone else’s rent and your contract should be individual to you and your room. You will, however, share responsibilities with the other tenants for the communal areas of the property including bills and any cleaning or damage costs.
I’ve been asked to find a guarantor, what is that?
The landlord may ask you to provide a guarantor.
This is generally a family member (parent) or guardian who is willing to guarantee your rent payment (if you are unable to pay it) and general obligations of the tenancy. A guarantor normally has to be UK-based, be employed (or have significant savings) and have a good credit history.
Be careful if you have a joint contract – your guarantor can be held jointly responsible for the payment of rent for the whole property should everyone leave and you are the remaining person living there but again, this is extremely rare.
There are certain key things which are required by law to be included on a tenancy agreement and if they are not, ask why and if you cannot get a straight answer, walk away:
So what else should I be aware of?
Subletting - Subletting occurs when the tenant allows others to move in. As a general rule only those named on the agreement can reside at the property. Subletting clauses are quite common and most will forbid any form of subletting without prior permission from the landlord.
Landlord’s access - The landlord should only enter the property with your permission. This is usually only after prior notice of a minimum of 24 hours. You must give your landlord reasonable access to the property to carry out all necessary repairs when requested and if you have an agreed time and they perhaps want to come earlier, this helps you all out so be flexible when you want things fixing promptly.
An exception to the usual 24 hour period would be if the landlord is conducting viewings at the property for new tenants. You will need to flexible during this time and be reasonable when allowing access, however, if it is a difficult time e.g. you all have exams to revise for, then politely advise the landlord of this and compromise and negotiate set periods when viewings can potentially take place.
If your landlord fails to give you reasonable notice to attend the property and just randomly turns up, you are able to refuse right of entry.
Eviction - A clause common to tenancy agreements is a ‘forfeiture’ clause. These imply that the landlord can regain possession of the property during the tenancy. Such clauses are generally misleading – this does not mean that if you are, for example, 14 days late paying your rent, the landlord can evict you from the property. The landlord has to get a court order for possession of the property and you must be at least eight weeks in arrears for this to happen.
Verbal agreements - In English & Welsh housing law, your landlord/agency is not actually required to provide a written tenancy agreement. The verbal agreement you make when you agree to take the property constitutes the contract between landlord and tenant. Such arrangements may work, but it is strongly advisable for you to ask for a written contract and if you take up a property via Portsmouth StudentPad, all landlords advertising on through our website must give you a written tenancy agreement as part of the registration criteria for advertising with us.
Problems may occur over issues such as deposit, rent and length of tenancy. Who actually lives there? Who is responsible for what? Not having this all written down leaves tenants in a very difficult situation.
A verbal agreement only gives both landlord and tenant certain rights and obligations and terms and conditions are not so easily enforceable. A verbal agreement still offers the tenant a certain security of tenure – the landlord cannot bring the tenancy to an end before the first six months have expired, although a periodic tenancy (running weekly/monthly) can be brought to an end upon giving adequate notice (as generally agreed at the start of a tenancy).
If you do not have a written agreement, it is important that you keep a record of your rent payments – ask your landlord to complete a rent book.
You have the right to a written statement of terms. This must include the main terms of the agreement (date the tenancy began, the rent payable and dates of payment, rent review arrangements and the length of any fixed term that has been agreed). This must be applied for in writing and should be provided by the landlord within 28 days of the request.
For further information contact Student Housing.