Joint and Several Liability
If you sign a joint tenancy agreement with another person or group of people, you have exactly the same rights and obligations as each other. You are all equally responsible for sticking to the conditions of the agreement. For example if one person doesn't pay their share of the rent, the others will have to pay it for them. As a group, each of you is responsible for ensuring that the whole rent is paid. If one or more of you default on your obligations the remaining tenants may be able to take legal action against you for redress.
Many student landlords will ask for a guarantor. This will usually be a member of your family living in the UK who will sign a contract agreeing to cover your financial obligations for the tenancy if you fail to do so. If you have a joint tenancy then the other tenants can also be expected to make up for your shortfall- where a guarantor is present the landlord will normally ask them first before the other tenants. If you do not have anyone UK based to act as a guarantor then you will have to negotiate with the landlord as to what you can do instead. Some landlords may insist that you pay rent in advance. As we have previously advised, if you are not happy with the terms offered walk away. Do not sign up to terms that you will not or cannot meet. If you do have a guarantor you need to make sure that their contract is just for your share of the costs, particularly if you have a joint tenancy with your housemates.
If you rely on your student maintenance loans/grants to pay your rent you need to make sure that either the payment dates in the contract match up with the dates that student funding is due to be paid, or that you have the cashflow flexibility in your bank account. Otherwise you may wish to negotiate revised payment dates with the landlord. For example if a large termly payment is due at the beginning of the contract before your first funding has been paid you may be able to break this into an initial smaller payment with the main payment due the day after your loan/grant instalment is due.
You must be given full details of the scheme used by the landlord to legally protect your deposit and this must be done within 30 days of you paying the deposit. If you are unsure as to whether you have received the correct prescribed information please contact the Advice Unit for further advice. As a guarantor, parents are also entitled to information on the Tenancy Deposit Scheme their offspring’s deposit has been paid into. If the parent pays the deposit, they should also be sent the “prescribed information” as they are a “relevant person” for the purposes of the Housing Act 2004.
Gas Safety and Energy Performance Certificates
The landlord is legally obliged to provide both of these documents. The EPC gives you an idea of the energy efficiency and environmental friendliness of the property. All gas appliances must be checked every 12 months by a Gas Safety Registered accredited engineer and certified safe to use.
If this is not provided by your landlord, you can do your own, but ideally arrange to inspect the house with the landlord at the start of the tenancy noting not only the furnishings but also the condition of walls, flooring, ceilings, doors, windows and fittings. If anything looks less than 100% condition take date stamped photos, even of the most minor defects - these are the things that can cause the most hassle in getting your full deposit back at the end of the year. The process should be repeated just prior to the moving out date and a comparison made to look at any attributable damage that you may need to pay for.
Cap on utility usage
Sometimes where the bills are inclusive the landlord may apply a fair usage cap on the total amount. If this is the case it should be written in the contract and if your bills exceed this level you may be asked for an additional fee. Even though your bills are included I would recommend taking meter readings when you move in and move out in case of any dispute.
Length of contract
47 to 48 weeks is the standard for student houses in Exeter so you will be paying rent outside of term time, but this means the property is available to you for the whole of the rental period.
Absences from the property
If you will all be away from the property at the same time for more than a few days we recommend that you let the landlord know. During cold weather we recommend that the heating is left switched on at a minimal heating to avoid frozen pipe issues and you may also want to switch the water off at the stopcock.
If all the tenants are students enrolled on full time courses at the University, then the property is exempt from Council Tax. You need to let the Council know who is living there, and the University will automatically send confirmation of status after registration has been completed for 2015/16. If any tenant ceases to be a full time student Council Tax becomes payable and according to the terms of the tenancy payment would be shared by the tenants.
Your contract may allow the landlord to seek payment from yourselves at the end of the tenancy for the carpets and any soft furnishings to be professionally cleaned if soiled beyond “reasonable wear and tear”. We recommend that you take clear photos of the condition of all carpets, curtains, cushions and linens at the start of the tenancy and prior to leaving the property in case of dispute on this issue.