If you accept a place in rented accommodation, the next important step is to check your tenancy agreement before you sign it: seek advice if you do not understand it. The Student Union Advice Centre or University of London Housing Services can look through it for you, or you can contact a Housing Advice Centre, Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.
For further information pick up a University of London Housing Guide from the Residential Services office (see "How to contact us" on the left).
Most tenancy agreements offered to students living in separate flats or houses are now 'Assured Shorthold Tenancies'. The other main type of tenancy agreement is the 'Assured Tenancy', which provides more security of tenure. If you live in a self-contained flat or house, housing law determines many of your rights even if you have no written agreement, but it is often better to have the terms of your tenancy in writing. Standard copies of tenancy agreements can be obtained from legal stationers (the nearest to the LSE campus are the Oyez Stationers). These are very useful as they set out gaps for names, levels of rent, etc. (To find an Oyez Stationer near you, ring 0870 7377370 or check the Oyez Forms Link website.)
This agreement must be for a minimum of six months (during which time the rent is fixed). After the fixed term has ended, you can be asked to leave. Your landlord must give a minimum of two months notice in writing. You cannot be evicted during the fixed period unless you break terms of the agreement: ie your landlord must prove in court that he has grounds for eviction, eg substantial rent arrears.
This is a more secure tenancy with protection from eviction for a fixed period. The landlord cannot evict you without proving grounds for eviction in court. If they wish to do this they must issue a notice seeking possession stating their reasons. If you receive this, seek further advice immediately.
IMPORTANT - do not move out. If you have an assured shorthold or other agreement which specifies a fixed period, you are legally obliged to pay rent for the full fixed period (six months minimum in the case of an assured shorthold tenancy) even if you move out early. The only circumstances that can stop this are if you find a replacement tenant(s) and/or the landlord agrees to your request to end the agreement earlier.
Things to look for
How much rent is payable and how often?
Do you have exclusive use of the accommodation?
If you share with other tenants, who is responsible for the rent should any tenants leave early? If the phrase 'jointly and severally liable' appears on your contract it means that each of you individually may be held fully liable for any default of rent or damage if one or all of the other tenants absconds. This obviously has very serious financial implications for you and your cohabitants and means that you should be sure of the characters and financial status of your prospective sharers before entering into any agreement with them.
Who is responsible for repairs? (Landlords' responsibilities typically include structural repairs, plumbing, drains and electrical installations.)
Are fuel bills included? If not, how are they divided?
If you have an agreement called a 'licence' or 'holiday let', seek advice before you sign as your landlord may be trying to deny you your rights.
Does your landlord own the property? If it is mortgaged, you may be at risk of sudden eviction if your landlord defaults on their mortgage payments.
You should agree an inventory list when you move in.
IMPORTANT - If you are unsure of anything, take a copy of your agreement to the Student Union Advice Centre or University of London Housing Services to be checked by a housing agent.
If you live in the same household as your landlord/lady, or a member of their family, your rights will be very limited.
You do not have protection from eviction under the Law, so your landlord can ask you to leave at short notice (this may be as little as a week).
You are entitled to receipts for any money paid as a deposit or rent, or you can ask for a rent book.
Your rent can be put up at any time. If you wish to leave you can normally do so at any time.It is useful to seek written agreement about the period of notice to quit, arrangements for bills and any 'house rules' in case of any dispute once you have moved in.
Inventory and schedule of condition
Once you have agreed to take a property you should arrange to agree an inventory/schedule of condition with your landlord.
An inventory is a list of all the furniture, fixtures and fittings in the property.
A schedule of condition indicates the state of items on the inventory as well as the decorative order and cleanliness of each room.
Remember, you do not want to be charged for missing items and damage for which you may not be responsible. It is therefore very important to agree an inventory and a schedule of condition at the start of your tenancy. If there is no inventory or schedule of condition, then draw one up yourself. Most accommodation agencies will prepare an inventory before you move in and check it with you, although there may be an additional charge for this service.
An inventory/schedule of condition is a vital part of the contract between you and your landlord because of the clauses in your tenancy agreement which confer responsibility on both of you to keep the property in good order. If no written inventory is prepared then disputes over maintenance during the tenancy and the nature of the 'fair wear and tear' at the end of the tenancy are more likely to be acrimonious. Remember that anything listed on the inventory should be kept in working order by the landlord unless otherwise agreed in the lease.
An inventory/schedule of condition should be checked with the landlord at the very start of your tenancy. Be sure to note the general cleanliness of the rooms as well as whether there are stains/marks, chipped paint work, broken springs in the sofa/beds etc. Both parties should sign and date the report and retain a copy for their own reference. At the end of the tenancy the inventory should be checked and signed by both parties again before you leave.