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1 tenancy agreements What to look for in a tenancy agreement. 1

2 What do I have to sign to rent a house? When you sign up for a rented house, you will have to sign a tenancy agreement. A tenancy agreement is a legally binding contact with important implications and you should be absolutely sure that you understand it before you sign. These are the first things you should check: that the landlord s name and address are on the agreement. You have a right to know this information within 21 days of requesting it, if it is not on the agreement already. that the property address is stated clearly on the agreement the amount of rent you will be paying how long it the tenancy lasts for and what notice period is required what deposit you will have to pay, and when This guide gives some more information about the main features of tenancy agreements, but they vary a lot, and we recommend that you get an Advice Worker to check any tenancy agreement you are planning to sign. What is a damage deposit? A deposit (sometimes called a bond or a damage deposit) is a payment made by the tenant to the landlord. It is normally equivalent to one months rent. If, like most students you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy ( AST ), any deposit you pay to a landlord or agent must be protected using a government authorised deposit scheme. Please see the Union Advice Service guide Deposits and Deposit Schemes for more information on tenancy deposit protection schemes. How long is your tenancy agreement for? Most ASTs start with a fixed term. Student tenancies are usually for 10, 11, or 12 months. The date and length of your fixed term should be clearly and accurately set out in the tenancy agreement. Check this, and if the period does not suit you, you can ask the landlord if he/she will agree to change it. You are responsible for paying the rent for the entire fixed term, unless the tenancy agreement has a term which allows you to leave the property early after giving notice to the landlord. Not many tenancy agreements allow for tenants to leave early. A fixed term AST gives you some protection from having the rent increased during the fixed term. If you stay after the end of the fixed term, or if there is no fixed term, a periodic tenancy will arise that will run month to month. There is no need for a new agreement to be issued and signed. This periodic tenancy can be ended by the tenant 2

3 giving at least one month s notice or the landlord giving two months notice to expire at the end of the rental period. What does it mean if I have a joint tenancy? Check the agreement carefully to see if it mentions being jointly and severally liable. If so, you will be a joint tenant with all the other tenants named in the agreement. Generally, if your signature appears on a tenancy agreement along with the name of your housemates you are joint tenants This means that you are all equally responsible for the rent and so if one tenant does not pay rent, or causes damage to the property, all the other tenants can be forced to pay any money owed to the Landlord. If you are the only person who has signed your tenancy agreement (along with your landlord), you will be a sole tenant. Sole tenants are only liable for their own rent and tenancy agreement obligations and have an agreement. Have you got an inventory? An inventory is a list all of the rooms and items in the property, including the fixtures and fittings. The location and condition of each item should be recorded, for example, stains on the carpet. You should be provided with an inventory when you move in by the landlord or the letting agent. Check it as soon as you when you move in, make notes or amendments if necessary, sign it and send it back to the Landlord, keeping a copy for yourself. In particular note the cleanliness of the property. If there is no inventory provided with your tenancy agreement, ask for one. If none is provided, make your own, sign it and send it to your landlord. The inventory can protect you from unfair deductions from your damage deposit. Take photographs of the interior, date stamped if possible, when you move in. You are responsible for damage to the items on the inventory, and so you need to be able to show if they were already damaged when you move in. You could be asked to care for the garden. If so check that it is in fair condition at the start of the tenancy. If the garden is in poor condition, you should not be expected to improve it. Take photographs at the start of the tenancy to show its condition. Whatever the condition of the garden, get the landlord to agree in writing to provide/loan you the tools to do the work. What is Quiet Enjoyment? All tenancies of whatever type include an implied term of Quiet Enjoyment. This is one of the landlord s responsibilities to his/her tenants. It means tenants can live in the property free from harassment by the landlord. It also protects the tenant from having the landlord, or anyone acting on his/her behalf, 3

4 entering the property without 24 hours written notice. Any landlord who persistently makes unannounced visits or lets himself into the property is in breach of this term. If you experience this problem seek advice. If the landlord carries on after you have asked him to stop, you have the option of taking court action to stop him. What does Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act mean? Every tenancy agreement should have a term explaining who is responsible for repairs. Under Section 11 the landlord must carry out repairs on the property that he/she is responsible for and tenants can take action if he/she does not carry them out within a reasonable time. If you need a repair done, you should always request the repair in writing. A landlord cannot pass on his/her responsibility for repairs to the tenant. What is a Forfeiture Clause? Many tenancies contain a clause that says that if the tenants break the terms of the tenancy agreement (for example by failing to pay rent), it will automatically end and the landlord can force the tenants to leave. This is wrong. No landlord can force a tenant who has an AST to leave during the fixed term without first going to court to get an eviction order. A landlord can only ask the court to evict tenants on specific defined grounds. As long as your rent is not in arrears for more than 2 months and you are respecting all the terms of the tenancy it is unlikely that a court would evict you. Seek advice if the landlord tries to enforce this type of clause. Some terms in tenancy agreements are regarded as unfair under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Tenancy Agreements Regulations Examples of unfair terms could be that you cannot have friends stay over, that the windows must be cleaned monthly, or that the landlord can enter the property without notice. These terms are unfair and cannot be enforced by the landlord or used as grounds to seek possession. What other points should I look out for? Before you move in there might be repair work planned or items the landlord promises to provide. Get this in writing from the landlord before you sign the tenancy agreement. This can be in a separate letter. If the landlord plans to carry out major work over the summer, and you cannot move in, or you will not be able to use the whole house (for example if the kitchen will be out of action, or a shower needs repair) negotiate a reduced rent for any period when you will not have full use of the house, if the landlord does not offer this straight away. 4

5 Check you are clear on which bills you have to pay. If possible put everyone s names on the bills so that no one person is liable if the bills are not paid. If not, work out how to share responsibility for bills between you. Check for terms about noise made at certain hours. Are they reasonable? You can be evicted for making excessive noise. Make sure that you keep the property well ventilated to avoid condensation and problems such as mould. (see our guide Preventing damp & condensation for more information) Check for any clause making broken window glass the tenants responsibility. Get this amended to read that this only applies if the tenant (or their guest) breaks the glass. If you are going away for a period of time: e.g. over Christmas, you might need to put the heating on for a short period during the night to prevent pipes freezing. If you do not, you could be found liable for any damage caused by burst pipes. Checking the details of an agreement before you sign it mean the difference between you having a good time and a bad tenancy. Remember that a tenancy agreement is legally binding! Please get it checked by an Advice Worker before you sign on the dotted line 5

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