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Understanding Contracts

The most common contract type is an assured shorthold, if your contract is a different type some of these points may not be relevant.

There are a few key items in assured shorthold contracts that you should look out for.

 

Look out for;

  • The name and address of the landlord or managing agent. Including out of hours emergency contact details
  • The name of the tenant(s)
  • If more than one person is named as tenant, the contract will probably be a joint tenancy. Joint tenants can be held responsible for each other’s rent although not all landlords would enforce this.
  • The address of the property- If the contract is for a room in a shared house, the address section should make this clear and include details of shared communal spaces. Example – Bedroom 5 plus shared use of kitchen, living room & bathrooms, 20 Street Road.
  • Contract length- many contracts are fixed periods of time, usually 6 or 12 months. This means you cannot exit the contract early without the landlords permission and even then the landlord will normally expect you to find a replacement tenant before you can be released

Look out for;

  • Deposit information
  • Rent information including
    • Rent amount
    • Frequency of payments (such as fixed dates or regular payments)
    • Method of payments
    • Date of first payment
  • Details of guarantors (see guarantor section for more details)
  • Details of Bills
    • If any bills are included, is there any limitations on usage
    • If you are responsible for bills, do you have rights to change provider?
  • Check if the contract is a joint contract with joint liability- this could mean you and other housemates are legally liable if a housemate fails to pay their rent or causes damage.

Avoid paying in cash, you want records kept of payments made and the best way to do this is via standing orders, online payments or direct debits.

If when viewing the property, there are repairs that the landlord or agent promised to do prior to moving in, you should get this in writing and preferably;

  • within the contract, and with
  • an agreed deadline, and
  • details of what will happen if the work is not completed on time.

If those repairs are included in the contract then failure to deliver the repairs could be a breach of contract.

Your contract should clarify responsibilities for repairs- there are issues of maintenance and repair tenants are normally responsible for. Read our guide on repairs to for further information

As a tenant you have the right to quietly possess and enjoy your property without unnecessary and excess disturbances from the landlord.

This means that they should give at least 24 hours’ notice of any planned visits (by themselves or workers carrying out repairs) or inspections unless there is an emergency situation such as a gas leak in which case workers may enter the property without notice.

For other purposes such as viewings, access arrangements should ideally be set out in the contract.

Most contracts will not allow you to let anyone else live in the house without the landlord’s permission.

Having friends, family or partners visit is normally fine but you will be responsible for any damage they may cause- the landlord can make you pay. Some contracts restrict how many visitors you can have at one time and how long they can stay but clauses like this are rarely enforced (unless neighbours or housemates complain) and could be unfair.

It is common for there to be clauses about noise and disturbing neighbours. If you are very noisy and the landlord gets lots of complaints, you could be threatened with legal action/eviction. This is rare but does happen sometimes.

Other aspects of behaviour may appear in the contract, particularly to protect other tenants from aggressive or abusive behaviour. In such instances where behaviour is threatening, aggressive or abusive, the landlord may take legal action/evict (if they believe you have breached the contract), the police can be called in some cases and the university could take disciplinary action.

Landlords are required by law to have gas safety checks carried out every 12 months. You should be provided with a current gas safety certificate (if your property has gas supply)

Some contracts require you insure yourself against causing damage this can seem odd as landlord’s often have building insurance and you’re paying a deposit. However this is an additional level of safety for landlords and for you (never assume the landlord’s insurance will pay for damages you cause).

Some students are covered by insurance from their home/out of term address but in most cases you will need your own insurance because you will not be covered by the landlord’s policy. You can use comparison sites to check which company will give you the best deal. Also check out organisations such as endsleigh which provides specialist Insurance for Students.

A guarantor takes on all the legal obligations of the tenant in the contract but essentially gets nothing from it. Most students have no or limited credit history. Guarantors however are likely to have borrowed and repaid or have a mortgage and therefore would be considered to be more financially secure / economically active. This is why some agencies and landlords require guarantors.

Your guarantor must sign to say that they would cover the cost of the rent if you default on your payments. This must be in signed writing. Credit checks on your guarantor will usually take place. If your guarantors are overseas credit checks can be difficult.

If you are signing a joint tenancy you have joint liability for the entire property. Therefore your guarantor is taking on the risk of owing the total rent for the whole property. If each tenant’s rent is £400 a month, that £4,000 for a 10 month of the contract per person, if you are in a five bedroom house that is a total liability of £20,000.

Check if the contract is a joint contract with joint liability- this could mean you and other housemates are legally liable if a housemate fails to pay their rent or causes damage.  If you have a guarantor they are also taking on the risk of owing the total rent the whole property.

You could always ask for separate contracts or ask for a clause in the contract specifying that tenants are only liable for their portion of the rent and no one else.

Check your contract for a clause that allows you to leave. Most contracts are fixed term agreements and do not have a clause that allows you to leave.

This means you cannot unilaterally end the contract. If you believe your landlord is breaching the contract this does not mean you can also breach it!

If you believe your landlord is breaching the contract (and you have exhausted all other methods to deal with it) you could take your landlord to court.

But by the same token, if you breach your contract you could be putting yourself at risk of court action too. If the landlord is breaching the contract speak to your legal advisor about monies.

Most landlords will let people leave if they find a replacement tenant. If you are in a joint contract the other tenants have the right to refuse a replacement but should only do so on reasonable grounds (such as council tax liability) and you should notify the landlord if they are being obstructive.  If you are on an individual contract you do not need permission of the rest of the household.
If you are housed by the university, a larger supplier or a landlord with a large number of properties, you may be able to transfer to a different room or property in their portfolio. This way there is no loss of income to the owner and you get to move away from the problem.

If there is a price differences try to work out costs and liabilities before moving with the landlord so there are no nasty surprises financially.

Page last reviewed: 01/03/2019
Next review due: 31/08/2020