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Q: Does a contract need to be written?

A: A contract can be a verbal or written agreement. It is better to have a written agreement as both parties know what is expected and it helps to avoid disputes.

Q: What if I’m not sure about what’s in a contract that’s been offered to me?

A: Do not sign a contract if you are not happy with the terms or there are any aspects of the agreement you do not understand. You should always be given at least 24 hours to read the contract through. Where possible always get your contract checked - This service is normally available through your Student Union Advice Centre. Never sign on the spot. Once signed the contract is legally binding on all parties - you do not get a chance to change your mind.

Many Unipol Code landlords are now using the Unipol Model Tenancy Agreement.  This contract offers clearly understandable terms and is recommended by the Student Unions.

Q: What sort of contract will I be offered and what should I look out for?

A: The type of contract you sign will depend on where you’ll be living:

If you’re planning on moving into a shared property, you need to be aware that your contract will make you responsible and accountable to your landlord in one of two ways (e.g. for rent arrears and damage to the property):

Renting from a landlord/agent

Most Landlords/agents use an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements. This is for a fixed term of 12 months, that is, it has a starting date and an end date. If you sign a fixed term contract you are liable to pay rent for the full period, unless there is a specific clause allowing you to give notice to quit (this is very rare). This type of agreement means that you are a tenant and have exclusive possession of the property. The landlord/agent can have access to the property (e.g. for repairs/inspections), but you should be given notice and they should only call during reasonable working hours.

Living with an owner

This can be a complex area and if problems occur you should seek advice. Normally, if you live with the owner of the property and share the accommodation, you will either be a licensee (if the owner of the property has unrestricted access to your room) or an excluded tenant (if you can lock your individual room(s). The length of the agreement will vary depending on whether the owner wants you to stay for a specified period of time, or if they are happy for you to stay on a periodic basis (e.g. month to month). You will have a bedroom and probably share the rest of the property with owner and possibly other students.

There is a standard agreement available which both owners and tenants can use which also acts as a useful checklist of issues that those living in an owner's house need to be clear about.

Living in university accommodation

You will normally sign a fixed-term agreement covering the full academic year (unless this is a short let). You will not be able to give notice to quit within the period of the contract. You will be an unprotected tenant and will have the right to occupy a specific room and common areas (i.e. bathroom/kitchen). Persons acting on behalf of the accommodation services can have access to the common parts (e.g. for cleaning purposes), but should not enter your individual room unless written notice is given.

Joint liability

If you have signed the same contract as your housemates and you all agree to take the property at the same time; you will be jointly and severally liable with each of your housemates for any rent arrears and/or damage to the property. So, if one tenant moves out, the landlord/agent can pursue the remaining tenants (as well as the tenant who has left) for any monies due.

Individual liability

If you have a separate agreement between you and the landlord/agent, and another tenant leaves, the landlord/agent can not ask that you cover their rent. You would be liable for any damage to your room. The landlord/agent can make a charge for any damage to communal areas but they have to first try and find out who was responsible.

You will also need to be absolutely clear about the terms and conditions. It is essential that you read through and fully understand all the terms and conditions stated on the contract. This includes any handbook or additional contract sheets you are given. If there is a dispute then the contract is the first point of reference and would be used as the main source of evidence in any court case.

The contract should include the full contact details of the landlord/agent. If you are renting via an agency make sure that you also have the landlords full contact details. You are legally entitled to this information. If you have just a name and telephone number it could be very difficult to pursue the landlord/agent should a dispute arise.

The contract should also make clear what rent payments are due and when. In addition to this it should be clear who is responsible for the bills e.g. water rates. Before you sign a contract, check that the advertised rent is what is stated on the contract. Errors do occur and if you sign the contract it may be difficult to argue later, especially if you do not have the original advert.

Once a contract has been signed the terms and conditions can not be altered unless both parties agree.

Never sign a contract on behalf of your housemates. Even if their name is on the contract, if they do not sign the agreement and decide not to move in, you could be held liable for the rent of the whole house.

Q: Can landlords write any terms and conditions they want into a contract?

A: No, they can’t. The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999) applies to all rented tenancies. As such any clauses deemed unfair could be unenforceable. This only refers to the standard terms of a contract (not clauses that have been separately negotiated). Examples of Unfair Terms could be penalty charges, exclusion by the landlord/agent of accepting responsibility for loss or damage to personal property and ambiguous legal clauses.

If you have any queries you can contact the Office of Fair Trading or your Student Union Advice Services' Contact List.

Q: What if my landlord asks me to get my parents to sign a guarantee? 

A: As part of the agreement, some landlord/agents will present you with a guarantee and ask you to get your parents to guarantee your rent. It is very important that any such guarantee specifically limits your parents' financial liability to just their son or daughter's rent/damages. Unipol has prepared a model guarantee  that does this. Before anyone signs it is important that both you and your parents understand that if you default on rent or the cost of damage they will be responsible for making payment.

It is also important to understand that if you enter into a contract with joint liability and your parents sign a general guarantee, there is a significant financial risk to your parents. If another tenant moves out or fails to pay the rent, your parents could be taken to court under the terms of the guarantee, even if you have paid your rent. The advice is not to ask your parents to enter into any guarantee which does not specify the limit of financial liability being guaranteed.

Q: Do all landlords ask for guarantees?

A: About 36% of bed spaces rented to students in Leeds and Bradford are let by landlords asking for guarantees, so there are plenty to choose from where this is not necessary. The use of guarantees is prevalent in larger developments and by landlords who perhaps have only one or two houses where rent default would mean a loss of a significant part of their income. If you have a credit rating or a reference from a previous landlord to provide comfort to a potential new landlord, then many landlords may reconsider their request for a guarantee.

Q: What if my parents refuse or I have no parents?

A: If you have no parents or obvious guarantee then you should raise this with the landlord concerned. Many will be willing to accept that, for you, a guarantee may not be necessary and other arrangements may be more appropriate.

If you are an international student then a parent who is abroad is also unlikely to be appropriate because legal proceedings to enforce any arrangement outside of the UK can be difficult.

Q: What about using a friend or a member of the University as a guarantee?

A: If you are asking others to be a guarantee, or if you are being asked by a student to be a guarantee you should seek advice before signing any documentation. Generally, supervisors and tutors should always refuse to enter into these obligations because it creates a financial relationship between them and their student which could cause a conflict of interest later.

Some common problems and questions

Q: I don’t get on with my housemates anymore and I want to move out – can I give the landlord/agent notice?

A: You must first check your contract. If there is a clause allowing you to give notice to quit then providing proper notice is given you could move out. If you have signed a fixed term agreement with no such clause then you remain liable for the rent and need to find a replacement tenant.

If you are housed by the University or College or a larger supplier then you may be able to obtain a transfer to a different room in the same building or another part of their portfolio. This way there is no loss of income to the owner and you get to move away from the problem

NB: if there is a serious household dispute and you feel forced to move out, seek advice from your Students' Union Advice Services or Accommodation Office before taking any action.

Q: We have signed a joint contract but one of our housemates has moved out. The landlord/agent is asking us for the money but we feel the tenant should pay, is this fair?

A: Fairness does not really come into it, The landlord/agents primary concern is to collect the rent. If a joint contact has been signed the landlord/agent can decide whom they pursue for the rent. If the rent remains unpaid it can either be taken from the collective deposits or if court action is taken, the landlord/agent is likely to issue a summons that names all the tenants. The best option is to try and find a suitable replacement as soon as possible. Try using the Student-2-student noticeboard.

It is always worth checking that you have indeed signed a joint contract. Check through this link whether your contract meets the conditions for joint liability. If not, then the landlord/agent cannot make a claim for the rent arrears.

Q: I want to move out of University accommodation but I have signed a contract for the full academic year.

A: Living in University Accommodation can give more flexibility. It may be possible to transfer to another hall or flat or just to another room in the accommodation you are already in. The first step is to contact your Accommodation Office If you simply move out or refuse offers of a transfer, it is likely that you will remain liable for the rent.

You can try and find a replacement through advertising. The replacement must be a student at your institution and ideally be in the same year as you.

Q: I have moved out of a shared house but my former housemates are refusing to accept my replacement tenant. What can I do?

A: If the contract is joint and several the remaining household have the right to refuse a replacement tenant. However, they can only refuse on reasonable grounds such as the replacement tenant not being a student (liability for council tax). If they continue to refuse suitable replacements it is important to notify the landlord/agent. They may decide to take action against the tenants if rent remains outstanding.

If you have an individual contract then you do not need to get the permission of others in the house. However, the landlord/agent does need to agree. It is rare that the landlord/agent refuses a replacement tenant and they would have to give good reasons for doing so.

Q: I have moved out of a shared house and found a replacement for my room, my housemates are happy with the replacement. What do I do next?

A: You need to contact the landlord/agent and see whether they will draw up a new contract to include your replacement. If they refuse, the next best thing is to sign an Assignment notice. This will state that you are leaving, who is replacing you and from what date. The notice needs to be signed by you, your replacement tenant, the landlord/agent and the remaining tenants. Normally this would secure your release from the contract and you can request your deposit back. However, some Assignment notices do include a section that states that you remain liable for the rent should your replacement fail to pay. This is legal and would mean that you have not been released from the contract.

Q: Our house is in a poor state of repair - can we move out?

A: It is very difficult to get out of a property on grounds of disrepair, unless the property lacks the basic facilities and services such as heating and running water; or your are in immediate danger. Disrepair is normally an issue of compensation rather than moving out. Seek advice from your Students' Union Advice Services or your Accommodation Office before you take any steps to move out of the property.

Q: Can our landlord/agent evict us if he wants to?

A: All landlords must comply with the Protection from Eviction Act . Court action must be taken to remove you from the property/room. Under no circumstances can the locks be changed, access refused or your possessions removed. This would amount to an illegal eviction and you could sue for damages. This applies to University Accommodation as well as the private sector. However, if you live with an owner and are classed as an excluded tenant, your protection against eviction is more complicated and you will need to seek advice about your position.

If the housing provider (landlord/agent/university/private owner) want you to leave early you must look at the terms of your contract. If you have a fixed-term agreement, possession will not normally be granted unless you are in breach of contract or the landlord/agent has stated in the contract that the property was recently their principal home (this is rare). There are set mandatory and discretionary grounds for eviction. Mandatory means that if the case is proven the court will have no option but to grant possession (e.g. eight weeks’ rent arrears). A discretionary ground can be proven but the court will then make a decision whether it is reasonable for possession to be granted (e.g. if the landlord/agent claims the property has not been looked after by the tenants and the condition of the property has been adversely affected.

Repossession by lender (Building Society/Bank) - A court may grant possession if the landlord has failed to make the mortgage payments. If the landlord has not informed the lender that they were renting the property out, the lender will not recognise you as tenants. As such they have the power to repossess the property with a court order. You can apply to the court for the order to be suspended for a short period of time, so that you can find alternative accommodation.

If you receive a notice of seeking possession or a possession order, or if you have any other queries or concerns please contact your Students Union Advice Services office, your Accommodation Office or Unipol to book an appointment with our Solicitor's Service.

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