While the vast majority of students live in university-provided accommodation, many thousands rent from private landlords. While there are many good landlords, there are some rogues, so it’s important you know your rights.
Renting from a private landlord
If you’re renting from a private landlord, you have certain rights. You also have certain responsibilities. There are different ways you may rent your home from a private landlord:
- Renting as a lodger: Here your landlord lives in the same house as you do. You may not be given a free run of the house, but may have the use of your own room plus a living room. If you rent as a lodger, you have fewer rights than someone renting a whole property. Find out more about your rights as a student lodger on the Citizens Advice website (this link takes you to the English version of the site, but you can easily click through to information for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
- Renting a house or flat: You have to pay rent, which could include the cost of things like gas and electricity, or these could be charged separately. If you rent in England or Wales, you’re most likely to be on what’s called an ‘assured shorthold tenancy’. This can be a for a fixed term, or it can be what’s called ‘periodic’, which means the tenancy rolls over from month to month.
- Renting in a private halls of residence or student accommodation: Here you pay a fixed fee which includes your bills. You normally rent for a fixed period, with a maximum generally of one year. In addition to your legal rights, the provider of the halls of residence should have signed up to a code of conduct.
Using a letting agent
If you’re looking for a private house, rather than to be a lodger or to live in private halls of residence, you may want to use a letting agent. A letting agent works for the landlord (not you!) and finds tenants to live in the property and may be your first point of contact once you move in, to pay your rent and/or if the property needs any repairs.
Letting agents are not closely regulated in England and Wales and some of them are – frankly – pretty dodgy. However, since 2014 they have had to sign up to one of three ombudsman/redress schemes. They must tell you which scheme they’re covered by. This could be:
In Scotland there’s no compulsory regulation of letting agents, although there are plans that this should be in place by 2018 at the earliest. As in England and Wales, letting agents have to sign up to an accreditation or professional scheme.
- Landlord Accreditation Service
- ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents)
- The Property Ombudsman
Letting agents’ fees
In England and Wales letting agents can charge you fees for things like getting a reference, drawing up a contract, doing an inventory and doing a credit check etc. However, they can’t charge you to register or to show you a list of properties. It’s actually a criminal offence if they do.
All letting agents in England and Wales must state on their website and in their office, how much they charge for each fee (including VAT) and what the fee covers.
SAVVY TIP: The problem, if you’re looking for a rental property, is that the letting agent doesn’t have to show you this information if they advertise a property on a portal like Rightmove or Zoopla. Movebubble is an app that shows you all the rental costs, including letting fees, upfront.
In Scotland, letting agents can’t charge you to register or to give you a list of properties and neither can they ask you for a deposit before they show you any properties. Once they’ve found you a property they can only ask you to pay a deposit. They can’t ask you to pay fees to check your references or to do a credit check.
SAVVY TIP: There’s lots of information about letting agents in Scotland on the Shelter website.
Finding an accredited landlord
Many local authorities and some universities run their own accreditation schemes for private landlords.
- It doesn’t guarantee problem free renting but you can go to the scheme if you can’t sort out a problem with your landlord.
- Landlords may bypass accreditation. If you’re going to a university where accommodation is in short supply, landlords may not have to bother to get accredited. However, in most cases university accommodation offices won’t deal with landlords who aren’t accredited, which is a big incentive for them to register.
SAVVY TIP: If your landlord hasn’t signed up to a scheme, go to the local authority environmental health department or the department that deals with private landlords. They may still be able to deal with the complaint and they will generally want to know if a particular landlord is generating a lot of complaints from students or other tenants.
Paying your deposit
Most landlords ask for a deposit when you move into the property, which they can keep if the property is damaged when you move out or you don’t pay the bills. The deposit is typically between four and six weeks’ rent. In addition, you’ll be asked to pay the first month’s rent upfront.
If you’re renting in England or Wales on an assured shorthold tenancy, which is by far the most popular form of rental agreement and your tenancy started after April 2007, landlords have to protect your deposit with one of the three deposit protection schemes. Scotland introduced a deposit protection scheme in 2009 and the first scheme was approved in April 2012.
SAVVY TIP: You should ask for written evidence that your landlord is a member of a deposit protection scheme before you sign a rental agreement. If you don’t know what type of tenancy you have, you can check this with housing charity Shelter. It has one tenancy checker for England and Wales and another tenancy checker for Scotland.
The three deposit protection schemes for England and Wales are:
In Scotland, there are also three deposit protection schemes:
SAVVY TIP: Your landlord has to give you details of which scheme your deposit is protected by within 14 days of you paying it or they’re breaking the law.
Disputes over deposits
Most disputes are over deposits being held back because the property wasn’t clean or bills weren’t paid.
The landlord or letting agent should carry out a detailed inventory before you move in and before you move out. This notes down the state of the property and what — if anything — was damaged or missing.
SAVVY TIP: You should read it carefully to check it’s accurate and sign it. Your landlord may take photos but there’s nothing to stop you from taking your own (make sure you set the date stamp on your camera). This can be useful evidence if you need to make a complaint because you can’t get your deposit back.
If your landlord or letting agent won’t give you back your deposit in full and you think their reasons are unfair, complain. Don’t put it down to one of life’s lessons. Chris Norris of the National Landlords’ Association says that although the number of disputes about deposits is relatively low, the vast majority are resolved in favour of the tenant. “It’s not necessarily that the landlord hasn’t done what they’re supposed to but if they can’t show they had, the deposit will be returned to the tenant.”
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Housing advice on the NUS (National Union of Students) website is a useful guide to how to find accommodation and what to look out for.