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Contracts

After the first year, most students rent accommodation from a private landlord. This will mean entering a “contract” with your landlord. 

A contract is a legal document that sets out not only your rights as a “tenant” but also sets the landlord’s responsibilities. Your contract should contain:  

  • The length of the agreement (how long you can stay in the property). 
  • How much rent is payable to the landlord or agent. 
  • What your rights are if you want to leave before the contract ends. 
  • Who is responsible for repairs the in the property. 

It is important that you read the contract carefully. Your contract will likely be broken into several numbered components so that specific sections can be easily located. These sections/paragraphs are called clauses. Make sure you understand the clauses contained in the agreement.  
You should never feel obliged or pressured to sign a contract, if it doesn’t feel right then seek advice.  

Tenancies

To be classed as a “tenant”, you must under the law, satisfy the following four conditions: 

  1. A legally binding contractual relationship has been entered into with the landlord.  
  2. The occupier has the right to enter and occupy (possess) at least one room in the property to the exclusion of everyone else, including the landlord. 
  3. You are renting for a period of time. This can be either ‘fixed term’, e.g. 12 months or ‘periodic’, so you’re in an agreement to pay rent week by week or monthly with no clause specifying when the contract will end. 
  4. Rent is being paid to a landlord or agent.  

If one of more of the above conditions are not met, then you are classed as a ‘Licensee’ whereby you have permission to occupy rather than a legal right of occupation, as would be the case if you were a tenant.  Some common examples of licence arrangements are: 

  • Living with parents or family where there is unlikely to be a contractual agreement to live there or “exclusive occupation” of one room. 
  • Living in a hostel where you are sharing a room with someone else. 

Tenant Fees Act 

From 1 June 2019, the government introduced the Tenant Fees Act. The Act bans most letting fees and caps deposits paid by tenants renting in the private sector. 

The only payments that landlords or letting agents can charge tenants for are: 

  • Rent. 
  • A refundable tenancy deposit which is no more than five weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is less than £50,000, or six weeks’ rent where the total annual rent is £50,000 or above. 
  • A refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) capped at no more than one week’s rent. 
  • Payments associated with early termination of the tenancy, when requested by the tenant. 
  • Payments in respect of utilities, communication services, TV Licence and Council Tax. 
  • A default fee for late payment of rent and replacement of a lost key/security device giving access to the housing, where required under a tenancy agreement. 

Assured Shorthold Tenancies 

The most common form of tenancy agreement in the private rented sector is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), unless the rent is more than £100,000 a year or the landlord lives in the same property. ASTs are usually a fixed 12-month contract, sometimes with half rent over the summer months (although check exactly what is says in your contract). In some agreements, the tenancy can be for an indefinite period (known as a Periodic Tenancy). It is usual for a fixed tenancy to turn into a periodic one if, after the fixed term, no further term is agreed.  

An Assured Shorthold Tenancy protects you from being evicted insofar as the landlord will need to go to court for a judge to agree to the eviction, legally known as a Section 21 notice. Your landlord cannot evict you without following this procedure. 

Most tenancies are joint tenancies where all the people who share the property are jointly and severally liable. This means as a joint tenant you share the responsibility for the whole amount of the rent, any rent arrears and any damage to the property during your tenancy which you are liable for. Some tenancy agreements will also state that if one of the tenant’s leaves, the rent will be split by the remaining tenants. (e.g. if the rent is £1200 per month and split three ways and one tenant leaves, then the two remaining tenants will be liable, so £600 per month each).  

Individual Assured Shorthold Tenancy 

If the contract just contains your name, then you have sole liability for the rent and any damages to the property or room. 

License Contracts 

If you don’t have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, then it’s likely that you’ll have a licence agreement with your landlord. Licences are either called Bare Licence or a Contractual Licence.  

  • A bare licence is where you have a simple permission to live in a property, e.g., looking after a friend’s home or living with parents.   
  • A contractual licence is where you have accommodation in exchange for performing a service or pay money in return for that accommodation, but the conditions for creating a tenancy are not met. 

Living with a Landlord 

Some students rent a room in a house where the landlord also lives, sharing “common spaces” such as a kitchen or bathroom. If you live with your landlord then you are, under the law, deemed a “lodger”. By being a lodger, you have a different set of rights compared to an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. You could be asked to leave with a shorter notice, such as a week, unless you have a contract which states otherwise. It is advisable to get a contract as it will protect you and confirm your rights whilst you live in the accommodation. 

Deposits

When renting in private accommodation, one of the biggest complaints and concerns students have is over deposits. This can be from landlords or agents deducting money off a deposit, or not returning the deposit at all.  

Most private landlords will ask you to pay a deposit. This can be no more than 5 weeks’ rent. If you are in a joint tenancy, then all tenants can pay towards the total of one deposit. All Assured Shorthold Tenancy deposits must be covered under government approved tenancy deposit schemes. There are currently three of these government approved schemes: 

Your landlord must provide information about the scheme and where it is held within 30 days of accepting the deposit. 

At the end of the tenancy, the landlord must return the deposit to you within 10 days. However, the Landlord may keep some or all of the deposit to cover unpaid rent or bills, damage to the property or its contents, missing items and cleaning. 

If the deposit is not returned to you within 10 days, and the landlord does not give you a good reason, you should inform the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme that a dispute exists. They all provide a free dispute resolution service. 

If you do not have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, for example you are a lodger, and there is a problem with the return of your deposit, which cannot be resolved, then you may have to go to court to get it back. 

Holding Deposits 

You may be asked to pay a “holding deposit” which usually takes the property you are looking to move into off the market, while checks are being undertaken such as credit references, guarantor references and previous landlord references (if applicable). Be aware that when you pay for the holding deposit (which cannot be more than one week’s rent), you are telling the landlord that should the checks go through; you will move into the property. 

If you pay the deposit, but don’t move in, it is likely that it won’t be reimbursed back to you. The exception to this is when the landlord pulls out of the agreement, in which case your holding deposit should be returned. If you are in this situation, seek advice as soon as possible.  

Always ask for written confirmation of the holding deposit and how it will be returned once the checks have been completed. 

Guarantors  

Most landlords and agents ask students for a guarantor. If you don’t have a UK-based guarantor, it’s standard practice to ask for 6 month’s rent in advance every 6 months.

If you are a UCL student and have no debts to the university, UCL Student Residences may be able to act as your guarantor. They will guarantee your rent in private accommodation as long as you do not have access to a UK based guarantor and whilst all the tenants in the property are enrolled at UCL. It makes no difference which year you are in, but they will only guarantee rent accrued whilst you are enrolled.

You would need to contact rent.guarantee@ucl.ac.uk for an application form, once you have found a suitable tenancy.

If you want to Leave before the Contract Ends 

Most ASTs are for a fixed period, usually 12 months. However, life can throw up unexpected issues and you may need to leave your home earlier than you envisaged. There are some ways in which you can leave early, before the contract ends. 

Getting a Break Clause 

It is common to have a 12 months fixed term tenancy; it usually means you cannot leave before your term ends. If you can get a ‘break clause’, usually from six months in your tenancy agreement then you can leave by giving two months’ notice. Think carefully before agreeing to a break clause as it does mean that the landlord can end the tenancy early as well.  

Assignment 

Some landlords will let you move out if you can “assign”, which means you legally transfer your tenancy over to another person. In this situation, you will be responsible in finding a new tenant which your other housemates and the landlord agree to. Some agents might help with finding a new tenant but may ask for a fee to undertake this. Assignments must be agreed to in writing and your landlord cannot ‘unreasonably’ refuse to allow the assignment.  

If you live in halls, then it’s difficult to assign as UCL will need to find another student who is not in UCL halls to take over your contract. You will also be liable to pay the rent until a new student is found.  

Subletting 

This is a riskier and more difficult way of leaving a tenancy early. Subletting is when you find a new tenant for your room, but you continue to pay rent to the landlord/agent. It’s risky because you will be responsible and liable for any damage and repairs needed in the property caused by the new tenant. If you decide to sublet, it is vital that you get consent, in writing, from the landlord and agent otherwise you may be in b reach of your tenancy.  

Surrender 

This is when you and your landlord mutually agree to bring the tenancy to an end. A surrender must be agreed to in writing (known as a ‘deed’). 

Inventory and Check Out

An inventory is a written record of everything in the property you are going to rent. An inventory should always be carried out when you move in. Both you and the landlord or agent should be present and a detailed list of all items and their condition as well as the condition of the property should be listed. You should note down and/or take photos of any damage or marks on the walls, furniture etc. This list should be signed and copies kept by both parties.  

At the end of the tenancy this list is used as a way of checking whether anything should be deducted from your deposit, known as a ‘check-out’. Landlords are not allowed to deduct for ‘fair wear and tear’ but will deduct for missing and broken/damaged items. Before you leave, you should mend or replace anything damaged and make sure the property is as you found it. 

Shelter have more information on their website about how to check and agree and inventory

Gas Certificates

Landlords must have the safety of all gas appliances checked annually by a person who is Gas Safe registered. You can check whether they are a registered engineer using the Gas Safe Register website. You should be given a copy of the record of inspection when you move in, but you should also make sure that the check is done every year. 

Energy Performance Certificates

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) must be provided to a prospective tenant before a contract is signed. This should show the approximate annual energy costs for the property, enabling you to compare different properties before signing an agreement. You should be provided with a copy of the certificate and the accompanying report when you take up the tenancy.   

Click this link to see a sample Energy Performance Certificate.

TV Licences

You need a TV Licence to watch or record TV programmes on a television, computer, laptop, or mobile phone. If you don’t have a licence you risk prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000. 

If you are in a Hall of Residence, you will generally need a TV licence if you are going to watch live TV programmes in your room, whether on a TV or computer. 

If you live in a shared house on a joint tenancy agreement, you will probably only need one licence but you should check with TV Licensing to be sure.

You may be able to get a refund if you do not need the licence for the whole year. For further information visit the TV Licensing  website.