Person signing a contract with keys on the side

Tenancy Agreements

Understanding your tenancy agreement and common issues to look out for before you sign

When you sign up to a tenancy you are entering into a legally binding contract; if you change your mind or need to leave early you are still liable for the rent and any other costs for the duration of the term so make sure you are happy with the property, the landlord, and the terms of your tenancy agreement.

It's important that you understand what you're signing - landlords should give you a copy of a contract to look over before you commit to anything and they should not rush you into signing it. If a landlord is trying to pressure you into signing then think carefully about whether you want them to be your landlord!

If you will be living with other tenants, your tenancy agreement will be for either a joint tenancy or an individual tenancy. There are important differences between these two types of tenancies so make sure you know which one you would be entering into and understand your liability under each. You can find out about joint and individual tenancies on our page here.

ASK provides a contract checking service - you can send us a copy of the tenancy agreement before you sign and we will check it for any problems and answer any questions you have.

                                                                

What should be in a tenancy agreement?

 

 

The name and address of the landlord 

If the landlord uses an agent, they may list the agent’s address instead. This is allowed but if you are going through a letting agent you are legally entitled to know the name and contact details of your landlord if you request this information from them.

 

The name of the tenant(s)

If you and your housemates are listed together this would normally mean you are in a joint tenancy.

 

The address of the property

If it states a specific room in a shared house, this would normally mean you are in an individual tenancy for just that room.

 

The length of the tenancy  

Most student tenancies are for a fixed term, usually ending in the June-September period between academic years. You cannot leave a fixed term tenancy early unless there is a clause in your contract that allows it (rare) or you have the landlord's permission.

 

Summer retainers

Some landlords ask you to pay reduced (usually half) rent over the summer; this could be before your tenancy officially begins or it could be in the first few months of your tenancy. You would not be able to live there during this time. 

These clauses are common but if it is inside your tenancy period the landlord shouldn't just refuse to let you live there - you have a legal right to access the property, and the landlord shouldn’t restrict your access. You could ask the landlord to make some changes to the clause, such as paying full rent if you want to move in before September. 

Any summer provisions should be made clear in the tenancy agreement, so always check carefully before signing, and if you have any concerns speak to your landlord.

 

Rent

The amount of rent you will pay, how often you would pay (usually monthly or divided into a few instalments over the tenancy), how to pay, and the first payment date.

If you have any concerns about the timing of payments, speak to your landlord - sometimes the payment schedule doesn't match up with Student Finance loan payments so it's important they know if you would struggle to pay at those times.

 

Guarantor

As a student, it's likely that landlords will insist that you have a guarantor. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay your rent if you don't pay it, and is usually a parent or close relative. The tenancy agreement normally contains some information about guarantors but there should be a separate guarantor agreement for the guarantor to sign. You can read more about guarantors and their legal obligations on our page here

 

Deposit

This should include the deposit amount, details about the deposit protection scheme, how it will be returned, and reasons the landlord would deduct from your deposit. Landlords should not ask you to pay a deposit of more than the equivalent of five weeks' rent.

Security deposits must be placed in a government approved protection scheme within 30 days of the deposit being paid. You must also be sent information about the scheme the landlord has used within 30 days. You can learn more about deposits on our page here.

Some tenancy agreements say deductions can be taken at any point during the tenancy to cover costs and the tenant must top up the amount taken out. This defeats the purpose of deposit protection and is not allowed. The deposit must remain untouched during the term and any deductions should be agreed at the end of the tenancy, with the assistance of the scheme’s dispute resolution service if necessary.

Many landlords say they use the deposit to pay off any unpaid bills. The landlord can do this in certain circumstances but there could be a good reason why you haven't paid, for example you could be disputing the bill with the utility provider. If the landlord has a particular situation in mind this should be made clear in the tenancy agreement. You can read more about deductions they can make here and if you disagree with any deductions you can contact the deposit protection scheme to use their free dispute resolution service.

Your landlord may also ask you for a holding deposit. The tenancy agreement should state what will happen to the holding deposit - this is normally used as your first rent payment or can be turned into the security deposit.

 

Utility bills 

These can be paid by the landlord and included in the rent or you could need to arrange and pay your own utilities. If the bills are included in your rent, the landlord may set a limit and you would need to pay for any bills that exceed that limit.

Many tenancy agreements state you need the landlord's written permission to change utility suppliers, but if you are responsible for your own utilities, you should be allowed to choose the suppliers and the tariffs you are paying. If you have concerns, you could ask the landlord to change the term to say you must inform the landlord of any changes and (if the landlord insists) change back to the original supplier at the end of the tenancy.

 

Council tax

The house will be exempt from Council Tax if everyone is a full-time student. If you cease to be a full-time student the house will no longer be exempt, and there is normally a clause in your tenancy agreement that says you are liable. If the tenancy agreement says you need to show the landlord proof of your student status, you can get a student status letter on KLE. More information about council tax is here.

 

Tenant responsibilities 

Tenancy agreements have lots of clauses setting out what tenants are expected to do and what they are not allowed to do. You should always read these clauses carefully and talk to the landlord about anything that concerns you. If you are still worried, you can contact us to discuss it.

 

Looking after the house

Tenants are still expected to take care of the property and can be liable for repairs when they have caused the damage. In particular, tenants must keep the house clean and keep it ventilated and warm enough to avoid causing mould. If the house has a garden you may also be responsible for maintaining it.

The landlord is allowed to list areas you are expected to keep in good repair but if the instructions are too demanding or too specific this may be a breach of your rights - it's rare that a house is completely clean and tidy all the time! The landlord must also make allowances for 'fair wear and tear' on the house, as all houses and furniture develop issues over time.

 

Guests

Most contracts will not allow you to let anyone else live in the property without the landlord’s permission. You should be allowed visitors but some tenancy agreements restrict how many you can have and how long they can stay within a certain period of time. Some contracts are too restrictive and may not even be possible to uphold (e.g. getting the permission of everyone in the house to have someone over in the evening), so if you have any concerns talk to the landlord.  

Note that you will be responsible for any damage caused by a guest!

 

Nuisance and annoyance

These clauses are mainly about noise and disturbing the neighbours. The tenancy agreement may say that you can't make noise that would cause a nuisance between certain hours in the night. These clauses are normal but if you are not allowed to make any noise that can be heard outside the property at any time this could be an unfair term and seen as a breach of your 'quiet enjoyment'.

 

Landlord responsibilities

The landlord is responsible for certain repairs, including the structure and exterior of the house, plumbing, pipes, electrical wiring, heating, boilers, water and gas pipes. Make sure the landlord isn't trying to put this reponsibility on you! You can read more about their legal obligations here.  Always make sure that you tell the landlord (preferably in writing) when a repair is needed. 

The landlord must also observe your right to 'quiet enjoyment'. This means that your landlord must allow you to live in the house without unnecessary interference.

The landlord must also ensure the house is safe, by following gas safety regulations and furniture fire safety regulations. There are additional requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, which vary depending on the house. You can read more about their obligations on the Government's website here.

 

Letting the landlord in 

You are required to let the landlord (or anyone authorised by them) into the property at reasonable hours but they have to ask your permission first. The landlord must give you 24 hours written notice that they require access, unless it is an emergency.

 

Charges for costs incurred by the landlord

Any charges should be to compensate the landlord, not to punish you - most tenancy agreements will mention charges that are 'reasonably incurred'.

Since the Tenant Fees Act 2019 landlords are now restricted in what they can charge so there should no longer be fixed charges, such as for sending letters, except in specific circumstances. However, the tenancy agreement can list the likely cost that will be incurred to give you an idea of how much you could be charged. You can read about what can and can't be charged on our page here.

 

Insurance

Most contracts say you must not do anything which invalidates the landlord’s insurance or makes it more expensive. The landlord should give you a copy of their insurance policy so you can see what might affect their insurance. The landlord's insurance will not protect your own belongings; some students are covered by insurance from their home address but in most cases you will need your own insurance.

 

Leaving early

When you sign a tenancy agreement you enter into the tenancy and legally bound to pay the rent for the duration of the tenancy's fixed term. You are bound to this even before the tenancy's fixed period begins. On very rare occasions a tenancy agreement may have a clause allowing you to serve notice to leave early, but if yours doesn't have one you can normally only be released or have the terms of the tenancy varied if the landlord agrees to it. 

This means your landlord is within their legal rights to make you pay in full for the whole fixed term, even if you never moved in or if you left the property early. You could try talking to them to explain why you want to leave but most landlords will only agree to end the tenancy early if there is a replacement tenant to take over from you.

In addition, it is common for students to have a joint tenancy with their housemates; when this happens the landlord can't just release one of the tenants as all parties would need to agree to end the tenancy and start a new one with the remaining tenants (and any new tenant).

 

Eviction

The landlord has to follow correct procedures and obtain a court order before they can evict you and re-enter the property. If the landlord forces you to leave without following the legal process it would be an illegal eviction, which is a criminal offence. You can go to the council for help and report the landlord for acting illegally.

Any clause about an eviction must make it clear that the landlord will follow correct legal procedures - if the tenancy agreement doesn't say this, mention it to the landlord. If you think the landlord wouldn't obey the law, don't sign!

 

Leaving at the end of the tenancy

Some tenancy agreements say you must serve notice to say you are leaving at the end of a fixed term – the term ends with the fixed term so there is no legal requirement to do this, but it would still be good practice to confirm to the landlord that you will be leaving.

If you're on a periodic tenancy (usually month by month) you or the landlord would need to serve proper notice to end the tenancy. The tenancy agreement should include details about this. Note that if you remain in the house after the end of a fixed term tenancy and you haven't signed on for a new term, you will be in a statutory periodic tenancy.

A clause stating the tenant must pay for professional cleaning at the end of the tenancy would be unfair if the house was not in such a condition at the start of the tenancy and/or you can reach a good standard without the need to pay for professional cleaning.

If you leave anything behind, the landlord must contact you to give you reasonable notice to collect it and take reasonable steps to trace you before they dispose of it. 

 

Contacting the university or family

Some tenancy agreements say they will get in touch with the university or your family to report you for failing to pay rent or misbehaviour. This should not be a matter for the University to consider as it is between the you and the landlord. Contacting your family would also not be appropriate unless they are your guarantor and you haven't been able to pay. Landlords are limited in the information they can share about you due to the Data Protection Act 2018.

 

Documents the landlord should give you

The landlord should provide you with: