Steve Harriott is chief executive of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme
With the academic year set to get underway, thousands of students are busily moving into flats and rented homes in towns and cities around the UK.
Although some universities are offering students online education, many still want the student lifestyle or to do the online learning with their peers.
For many, it is the first time they will be living away from home and some will have no experience of organising temporary accommodation and understanding their rental obligations and rights.
According to the annual National Student Accommodation Survey carried out by the UK’s leading student money website Save the Student, 14% of students struggle to get their deposit back when they leave their rental.
Alarmingly, 33% said their living conditions were damp, 30% reported lack of water or heating and 15% complained of rodent and pest infestations.
Around two out of five students rent a house, flat or room from a private landlord or agency, but worryingly, a third of them confess to not checking their housing contract and 27% said they did not understand the document.
It’s now illegal for landlords and agents to charge fees on top of rent. That includes things like admin, inventory or cleaning charges, so that’s the first thing students need to be mindful of.
Most landlords are not out there to rip students off. But, sadly there are sometimes miscommunicated problems and issues, which is why we have compiled a list of top tips to help students protect themselves and ensure they have no need to worry about their new home.
1. Study the tenancy agreement
You’ve done the hard work and found a place to stay and some people that you can bear to live with. Your landlord or letting agent will give you a tenancy agreement which is a legally binding contract between you and the owner of the property.
The importance of being aware of what you are signing up to is vital.
Read the tenancy agreement carefully and make sure you’re happy with what is expected of you as the tenant, as well as what your rights are. It’s there to protect you as much as the landlord and in the event of any dispute, will be central to negotiations.
If there’s anything you’re unsure of you can ask someone who has rented before and advice is also freely available from Citizens Advice, as well as tenant organisations. For further guidance, a variety of useful guides and blogs for tenants are available on the TDS website.
2. Your deposit – who’s got it?
Landlords normally ask for a tenancy deposit. That deposit must be protected with a Government-approved scheme such as TDS. There are two types of scheme available; the TDS Insured scheme sees the agent or landlord hold the deposit for the duration of the tenancy and insures the funds with TDS to ensure you’re protected, and the TDS Custodial scheme which sees the agent or landlord pass the deposit monies to TDS to hold.
Landlords must, within 30 days of receiving the deposit, protect the deposit and serve the Prescribed Information and the scheme leaflet on the tenant.
A landlord who does not protect a tenant’s deposit may face a fixed penalty of between one and up to three times the amount of the deposit.
3. Check the check-in report
The very first thing you should do is check the contents, cleanliness and condition of the property against the inventory or check-in report. These documents detail the condition and cleanliness of the property and its contents at the start of a tenancy.
These documents will be referenced at the end of a tenancy to show whether or not the property has been returned in the same condition, allowing for fair wear and tear.
Do a careful sweep of the property and make sure that the accounts of the property’s contents, cleanliness and condition match what you see – if it says the living room carpet is brand new, but you can see staining, you should inform your landlord or letting agent in writing. (Keep a copy of this – and any communication with the landlord or letting agent – for your own records). We would advise that you also photograph and submit to the landlord/letting agent with your comments.
Using this example, if the landlord requests money to cover carpet cleaning at the end of the tenancy, there will be evidence to prove that the carpet was stained before you moved in.
However, if you’re happy that the report is an accurate account of the property’s condition it should be signed and dated by both you and your letting agent or landlord.
While the excitement of a new term is understandable, doing a bit of due diligence on your rights and responsibilities can lead to fewer tenancy headaches and ultimately save you money further down the line.
Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) is a government-approved tenancy deposit protection scheme in England and Wales operated by The Dispute Service Ltd.
This post has originally been featured in Property Wire.