For many student renters, student housing is their first experience of renting a property.
Then, this already-new hurdle is made even more challenging by the fact that you’re renting a shared property, and that all the unique clauses and details of student contracts need to be fully understood.
Any good landlord or letting agent will be able to support you through the rental process, and confirm you are completely happy with the agreement.
But, it is still important that you do your own independent research, to ensure that you’re in a fully informed position.
Entering into a housing contract is a crucial step for students. When done right, it can give you security over your living arrangements, keep your deposit protected, and guarantee that all parties are happy, and receive a fair deal.
In short, student housing contracts can have a significant impact on your overall living experience, for better or for worse. So, it’s crucial that you understand what you’re getting into.
Firstly, we highly recommend starting the housing search and contract negotiation process early.
Simply put, by getting in early, you can increase your likelihood of finding the best-fit property for you, and securing a good deal.
Early planning can lead to a wider range of choices, and give you the opportunity to view and put an offer down for the best properties (the ones that get snapped up the fastest!).
What’s more, it can allow you to arrange a contract on more favourable terms.
For rentals, many landlords and letting agents operate on a ‘first come first serve’ basis. So, speed can help to give you the edge over other offers. Plus, acting quickly also decreases the likelihood that you will need to exceed the advertised rental price as, if you look like a good fit for the property, landlords and letting agents will typically be happy to take the earliest applicants straight away.
The other key advantage of early planning is that you’re avoiding the last-minute rush. At this point in the year (around the spring and summer), you’re usually left with properties at higher prices and of lower quality. You’re also up against all the other students who are also running out of time.
All in all, if you are in a position where you can get your planning and applications done early, we highly recommend you do so.
The most common types of housing contracts used for student accommodation - and the pros and cons of each option - are:
Fixed-term leases are contracts that cover a fixed time period. For example, your fixed-term lease could state that you will rent the property for a period of 12 months.
They are commonly used for student properties, as they can conveniently cover a 12 or 10 month period, in line with the academic calendar.
These leases offer a good degree of security for renters, as they prevent any unexpected changes or price increases from occurring throughout the year. However, it can be difficult to get out of a fixed-term lease before the agreed contract end date. These leases don’t always include get-out clauses, and if they do, the clauses can vary from contract to contract.
Periodic leases cover a specific period of time (which is typically much shorter than the tenancy period of fixed-term leases). Usually, periodic leases go from month to month. They can also go from week to week, but this is much rarer.
The key benefit of this lease type is that it gives you much more flexibility, as the notice period to terminate the contract is far shorter. However, this flexibility also works to the advantage of the property owner. So, if they decide to terminate the contract, you would only have a month to find somewhere new to live. The short-term nature of this agreement makes periodic leases a popular choice for students engaging in short-term studies, such as a study abroad programme, or a summer course.
In joint contracts, a single contract is created, which gives everyone renting and living in the property joint responsibility for adhering to the terms of the contract and meeting the required payments. For example, if one tenant doesn’t pay for their month’s rent, then the landlord has the right to request that the other tenants pay the difference between them.
It is unusual that student properties require joint contracts, especially if the renters don’t know each other prior to living together. If your preferred property does come with a joint contract, be sure to check all the small print, and think carefully, about whether this would be the best fit for you.
For individual contracts, all tenants are responsible for their share of the property on an individual basis. This means that they are singularly responsible for paying their share of the rent and maintaining their individual rooms (all tenants are jointly responsible for any shared spaces, such as living rooms). Often, tenants will need to submit a guarantor, who will be responsible for making a rent payment if they fail to do so.
If you’re living with other students, then this is a much safer way to rent a property.
Common law tenancies
Common law tenancies involve tenants living in the same property as their landlords.
Although much less widespread than the other types listed, these leases can be seen in student accommodation when the student or a member of their family purchased the property, then invited other students to live there with them as renters.
While this can help you to get a good rent deal, it is important that you ensure a legally-binding contract is in place, and that you read the T&Cs carefully.
Reading the Fine Print
It is a requirement that tenancy agreements are written in plain English, which is easy to read. As a result, there shouldn’t be any unnecessary legal jargon, or paragraphs that are written in a deliberately confusing way.
However, housing contracts are notoriously long!
There’s a lot of information to wade through, and you might well be tempted to scroll through the final five pages. However, it’s key that you thoroughly read and understand the terms and conditions in a housing contract. After all, this is your time to query anything that you don’t think should be there, and push to get it changed!
When reading your contract (before you sign it), we recommend reading the whole contract from start to finish, and listing any elements that you aren’t sure of, or that seem unusual to you.
Then, take this list and assess each query in turn. Is it legal or not? Is it enforceable or not? Is it a strange request, which strays from the norms of rental contracts? Do you feel comfortable with the request? Are there heavy financial penalties?
Remember that you can always submit any questions to the landlord or letting agent (we recommend doing this either through email or message). Alternatively, you can seek legal assistance to advise you. You can decide to negotiate the contract, if there are any terms that you would not be willing to accept.
Another top tip for reviewing your contract is to look out for the following key clauses. These are the most important elements of the contract, which you will need to check particularly carefully:
- Rent terms
- Security deposit
- Lease term
- Maintenance responsibilities
- House rules
- Utilities and services
- Landlord or agent entry and access
- Termination or notice period
- Dispute resolution process
Typically, the terms that are most commonly negotiable in a rental agreement are the rent amount, the lease term, the security deposit, the get-out clause, and repairs, improvements or other alterations to the property.
When negotiating with landlords or property management companies, to secure more favourable terms for your property, we suggest the following:
- Approach these conversations via email or message - that way, all parties have a record of everything that was discussed and agreed.
- Strike the right balance between a friendly and a formal tone - try to communicate using a pleasant, polite and professional tone of voice.
- Make sure you’re presenting yourself as a strong candidate - this will make it more likely that your counter-offer is agreed to. For example, a great way to do this is by submitting a guarantor or referee.
- Start early - as outlined earlier, this will put you in a stronger position.
- Ensure you are well-versed in the rental market - then, you will be better able to explain why your negotiations are fair and justified.
This is one of the simplest (yet most effective) ways to cover your back, protect yourself against any unexpected costs, and ensure that you’re not kept in the property for more or less time than you’re expecting.
Ensure that you document all interactions with your landlord and letting agents.
This should include keeping a copy of any emails or messages that are sent, particularly any agreed-upon changes to the contract.
We highly recommend that, wherever possible, you keep all interactions over text or email. That way, you know that there is proof of everything that has been agreed upon.
In the case of any misunderstandings, this documentation can prove invaluable. It keeps the agreement completely clear for both parties, and will put a quick, definitive stop to the majority of disputes.
If you have concerns about a housing contract, which you do not think you can resolve independently, then you should seek legal assistance or consultation.
Common examples of points where legal assistance is advisory include:
- If you are unsure that your rights are sufficiently protected
- If you are unsure about the legality of a term in the contract
- If you think a rent increase is excessive
- If you think the contract’s terms are discriminatory
- If you have disputes over eviction proceedings, your deposit, or property repair or maintenance
To help you resolve the situation, you can either arrange a consultation with a private legal advisor, or speak to Citizens’ Advice, which is a free, independent advice service.
They can help to protect your rights as a renter, by alerting you to any illegal or unfair terms; either equipping you with the knowledge you need to argue your case or representing your case; and preventing such terms from being carried out.
Renewals and Extensions
The key differences between renewing and extending a new rental property contract are:
- Extending a rental contract prolongs your current agreement beyond the previously fixed expiration date. This means continuing your existing contract, with the same terms, for a longer period of time.
- Renewing a rental contract involves re-agreeing to a rental contract for the property. Effectively, your former contract has ended, and an updated version of it is drawn up. While usually, this won’t include many changes, the renewed contract could include a change to the rent price or security deposit, for example.
When it comes to renewing or extending your housing contract, you should check that, if there are changes to any terms, that you are happy with these updates. Make sure that any price increases are not unfair or excessive.
If you have been good tenants, the extended or renewed contract should reflect this (for example, an increase in the security deposit should not be required).
You should also remember that, if you are renewing a contract, you are in a stronger position to negotiate your terms. After all, if you have proven yourself to be a good tenant, it’ll certainly be in your landlord’s best interests to keep you on!
We hope you’ve found this resource helpful, and that you can use these tips to successfully secure the best contract for you and your new housemates.
If you have any further questions about renting as a student, or would like to find out more about the Sheffield student properties that we currently have available, our team are here to help.