Renting privately is often seen as the natural step for students after first-year. It can be an exciting and defining time in a student’s life. House hunting, living with friends and budgeting can give students a strong sense of independence and self-determination, valuable tools for when they finish university and head-out into the big world. However, for some students, the rush to secure a property or room can often end up with them being locked into dodgy contracts that they can’t get out of, paying exorbitant charges and fees or generally being left in a difficult housing situation with little knowledge or understanding of their rights. The Gryphon explores the student housing market and provides advice for students renting.
According to Action Fraud, between 2014-2018 over £22 million of tenants’ money was lost due to rental fraud. The problem disproportionately affects students and young people, with rogue landlords taking advantage of the increased demand during term-time, and student’s lower expectations for housing quality. In addition, students are increasingly searching for properties online and on free sites, as opposed to going to traditional letting agencies.
Generally speaking, finding a place, securing a tenancy and then moving in is a pain-free, relatively simple task. But when it goes wrong, it can be a highly stressful and lonely situation. Therefore, in order to make the process go as smoothly as possible, here are some essential tips for renting as a student:
- Know Your Rights. This tip is number one because many students do not challenge landlords or agents because they may feel like the law is not in their favour or that it is their fault for being naive. In addition, students may be overwhelmed by the process. However, in fact, the law has many protections for tenants such as ‘the right to live in a property that’s safe and in a good state of repair’, ‘the right to challenge any charges that you believe are ‘excessively high’’ and ‘the right to live in the property undisturbed’. A quick internet search can provide a list of legally protected rights for tenants that the landlord is legally obliged to comply with. If these rights are not complied with, you may have a civil or even legal case against a landlord.
- Don’t give any money away until you’re sure it’s legit. In a bid to secure a property, aspiring tenants often send over large sums of money before seeing the contract or sometimes even seeing the room. This especially happens when students are trying to secure a place whilst overseas. If this is the case, ensure someone you trust visits the property on your behalf. Do not send any money without looking at the contract because it can be extremely difficult to get your money back. Often times holding-fees are non-refundable and if you are later unhappy with the contract, you lose the money you’ve paid. The safest way to make a payment is by a credit card in person at the letting agent’s office. Never had over cash.
- Use Reputable Landlords. There are many trusted renting lettings agents for students such as UNIPOL, a charity that assists students with renting with reputable landlords. Use a letting agent that is part of an approved and accredited letting agent association such as NALS, RICS, or ARLA. Alternatively, if you are dealing directly with the landlord, ensure you have the name and personal home address of the landlord on the contract. Deal in writing and in person, not just over the phone. If possible, speak to a former tenant.
- If it is too good to be true, it probably is. Adverts are designed to attract and entice people and landlords and agents are often very good at talking up their properties. Therefore, if the property seems flawless, in a great location, at an absurdly cheap price, it may be bogus. If you are unsure, ask the landlord why it is so cheap, look even more carefully at the little details when visiting the property and examine the contract more carefully. A common rental scam is letting the property to multiple people.
- Read the contract before signing. Students can be quick to sign contracts, trapping them into dodgy agreements that can’t easily be broken. Is it crucial that you read the contract so that you are fully informed about what you are getting yourself into. Opportunistic landlords can add stipulations to the contract that are not fully understood by the tenant before they sign it. Go over the contract with a student advisor or a parent perhaps and ask the landlord to clarify things you may not understand. It is also completely reasonable to ask the landlord to amend aspects of the contract that you may not agree with, many landlords are willing to do this. Also, ask for copies of tenancy agreements and any safety certificates such as Gas Electricity or HMO Licence.
- Take pictures/videos before and after you leave. In an event of a dispute between the landlord and tenant, pictures or videos can be the final decider of who will win a dispute. Ensure that you have evidence of the state of the property on move-in day so that you cannot be responsible for any damage or repairs that were already there when you moved in. It is important to know that after your tenancy ends, landlords should not charge you for ‘wear and tear’ – property and furniture naturally deteriorate over time and therefore you are not responsible for an entire repainting of the house if there are a few scuffs on the wall.
- Make sure your deposit is protected. Tenants normally have to pay a deposit when renting a property. Deposits ensure that the landlord can recuperate some money from the tenant if the property needs cleaning or repairs caused by the tenant. In order to prevent the landlord from simply pocketing your deposit, ensure the deposit is protected by a government-backed scheme like the Deposit Protection Scheme. This enables you to challenge any charges you may believe are unfair and get your money back if the landlord is withholding your deposit. Reliable landlords will protect a tenants deposit and would want to avoid unnecessary disputes.
All in all, trust your instincts. Before signing anything, related to housing or otherwise, use your common sense and don’t make any rash decisions. There is help available for students and the internet is full of information to assist at the tip of a finger. If something doesn’t feel right, then don’t risk it, you could be saving yourself from a very difficult and stressful situation.