Accommodation: Legal Matters
- Understand Tenancy Agreements and the Terms used in them
- Never sign a contract you are not comfortable with
- Take a comprehensive inventory
- Know what your landlord’s rights and responsibilities are
This page is aimed at students. The gov.uk website has a comprehensive section about rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords, which is worth reading, too!
Once you have signed a contract, it becomes legally binding. Do not sign if you have any concerns.
- Read the contract carefully before signing it and paying a deposit.
- If you are not sure about certain parts, take it to the Accommodation Office or one of the Education and Welfare Officers at the Students’ Union before you sign it – they will look through it for you.
- Don’t be pressured into signing a contract just because you think someone else might snap it up.
- You can’t drop out of it once you’ve signed.
Types of contracts
Contracts can be either joint or individual. Make sure you understand what you are signing.
Read through official advice about tenancy agreements to understand the different types of contracts.
If you live in the same house as a landlord or landlady then you will have what is known as a ‘licence agreement’.
- Fixed term: means that you are guaranteed to have occupancy of the house and are committed to paying full rent for the period stated on the contract
- Joint tenants: If you and your housemates all sign the same contract at the same time, then you will become joint tenants. This means you all are jointly and severally liable for any rent arrears, bills and damage to the property. If one or more tenants move out, the landlord can pursue the remaining tenants for any unpaid rent arrears or bills.
Get Things in Writing
What you see is what you get! Beware of verbal promises made by landlords when you are viewing a property. For example, you may be promised a new kitchen, new beds etc. – but unless you have it in writing, nothing may have been done by the time you move in. If your landlord is genuine, they shouldn’t mind writing these things into the contract.
You can only leave before the end of the tenancy if the landlord agrees to release you. Most landlords will refuse to release you unless you find a replacement tenant.
This can be harder if you are a joint tenant as the new tenant must be approved by the remaining tenants as well as the landlord. Until a replacement tenant has signed a contract you will still be responsible for paying the rent. In joint tenancies, the new tenant and the existing tenants should sign a new contract, or else you remain liable for the rent.
Many letting agencies and landlords require a guarantor form (usually signed by your parents). This guarantees payment of the rent and any other bills that you may be liable for under the tenancy agreement.
Be careful to check the wording if you are signing a joint agreement: your guarantors might find themselves liable for money owed by your housemates!
Inventory – helping you protect your deposit
Before you move in, you should complete an inventory of everything that is in the house. You should also note any damages to items.
An inventory is a list of the contents and condition of the property, such as furniture, fixtures and fittings and other equipment. Make sure that it contains accurate information before you sign it – not just about the contents, but the condition of each item, too.
Your landlord may provide you with an inventory sheet. If not, you can download a blank Inventory. Make sure you complete it and get your landlord to sign it.
At the end of the tenancy, the inventory can be used as evidence to support any deduction from your deposit where there is a dispute.
Taking photos at the start and end of your tenancy can be very useful!
Landlord’s rights and responsibilities:
Under the 1985 Landlord and Tenant Act, the landlord is responsible for:
- The structure and exterior of the property, heating and hot water systems, basins, sinks and other sanitary installations.
- Gas and electrical appliances
- Fire safety of furniture and furnishings provided.
- Repairing and keeping in good working order the water heating system.
The landlord is responsible for keeping these in good repair regardless of what your tenancy agreement might say!
You have the right to be able to contact your landlord.
If you don’t have your landlord’s contact details, you can find out the landlord’s name and address by making a request in writing to the person who last collected the rent, pointing out your right to this information under Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Make sure you keep a copy of the letter and send it by recorded delivery. If the person does not reply in writing within 21 days of receiving the letter, they are committing an offence and can be reported to the local authority’s Tenancy Relations Officer.
Landlords have the right to ‘reasonable access’ to carry out repairs. What is ‘reasonable’ depends on the nature of the repair to be carried out.
The landlord should give you 24 hours written notice if the repair is not urgent.
Tenant’s rights and responsibilities
- Paying the rent and taking good care of the property.
- Day to day maintenance such as changing light bulbs, housekeeping and paying bills.
- To inform the landlord of any repairs (however minor they might seem), in writing.
- You have an obligation to behave in a “tenant like manner” and comply with the contract.
Tenants have the right to peacefully enjoy their home. This means that the landlord needs to ask permission before entering the premises and should give 24 hours written notice before an inspection or to show prospective tenants around. This should also be at a time which is reasonable for you.
Tenancy bonds / deposits and rent payments
You usually pay a bond/deposit before you move in (as well as some rent in advance). It is usually the equivalent of one month’s rent but should not be more than two months’ worth of rent.
The deposit is money which is held against any damage or unpaid rent, bills, cleaning, or unreturned keys. Although reasonable deductions can be made from the deposit/bond, deductions should not be made for fair wear and tear. For instance, a worn carpet may be fair wear and tear, but a cigarette burn mark probably isn’t.
Typical methods of payment of your bond & rent
- Recommended: Standing Orders: We recommend that you set up a standing order. This is a set payment for a set date (e.g. the same date every month) into the specified bank account. This means you will always have evidence that you have paid your rent and the landlord can’t take the money from your account early. Just remember to keep enough funds in your account!
- Avoid at all cost: Post dated cheques: It is still fairly common for landlords or agents to ask for the whole year’s rent in post dated cheques. If the cheque is presented before its due date, and you have insufficient funds in your account, you will be charged by your bank for ‘bouncing a cheque’.
- Any other method: If you pay via any other method, such as a cheque each month or cash (not recommended), then make sure your landlord provides you with a proper receipt, containing the landlord’s name, your name, the address, amount paid and the date. Keep the receipts in a safe place.
Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes
If you have an ‘assured shorthold’ tenancy agreement, your landlord must protect it using a government authorised tenancy deposit scheme. Make sure you ask your landlord/agent about it.
The scheme ensures that:
- You get the appropriate amount of deposit back, when you are entitled to it.
- Any disputes between you and your landlord/agent will be easier to resolve.
At the start of your tenancy, you pay the deposit to your landlord/agent. Within 14 days, your landlord is required to give you details about how your deposit is being protected, including:
- The contact details of the tenancy deposit scheme and any reference number
- The contact details of the landlord/agent
- How to apply for the release of the deposit
- Information concerning the purpose of the deposit
- What to do if there is a dispute about the deposit
In joint tenancies, Deposit schemes usually only deal with the lead name on the tenancy agreement. This person must accept responsibility as representative of the other joint tenants. For further information, visit the Private Renting – Deposits page on the Gov.UK website.
If you are in arrears with your rent, you should first try talking to your landlord about it to see if you can come to an agreement. If you make a special arrangement or payment plan, make sure you stick to it
Failure to pay your rent may force your landlord to take legal action to evict you. This would take the form of a ‘possession order’.
If you require advice on financial matters you can make an appointment with the Student Money Advice Team. In some cases of financial hardship, they may be able to help you in the form of an emergency loan or grant.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore the issue.
Harassment and illegal eviction
If your landlord is entering your home more than is reasonably necessary and this makes you feel insecure and uncomfortable, this could be interpreted as a form of harassment.
Generally, tenants cannot be evicted without receiving official notice to vacate the property. It is a criminal offence to evict someone without a court order or to try to make them leave by violence, intimidation or any kind of harassment.
If you feel you are a victim of harassment or are threatened with illegal eviction, contact the Tenancy Relations Officers for your area:
- Rhondda Cynon Taff: 01443 442100
- Cardiff: (029) 2053 7342
- Newport: (01633) 851317
At the end of your tenancy, remember to:
- Take meter readings and inform the utility companies of your forwarding address so they can send you the final bill (many contracts contain a clause which states that all bills need to be paid in full before the deposit is refunded)
- Check the condition of the property against the original inventory with your landlord (or agent) present in order to avoid any disputes over damage.
- If you think that there may be a dispute over damage, take photographic evidence of the property when you leave.
- If your landlord decides to withhold all or part of your deposit and you do not agree, you should contact the Tenancy Deposit Scheme with whom it is protected immediately.