Most students will be renting a place for the first time when they go off to college or university. But many are hazy about what their legal rights and responsibilities are - which gives shoddy landlords the green light to take advantage of them.
Read on to find out what you're entitled to as a student tenant, and where to go for advice.
Renting a room in halls of residence
If your landlord is also your college or university, you'll be regarded as a common law tenant, which gives you fewer rights than regular tenants. And if you end up owing them rent or money for damages to the property, they have the right to withhold your degree or diploma until it's paid.
If you're struggling or aren't sure about your rights, refer to your student accommodation guide or talks to the manager of your halls of residence in the first instance.
Getting your deposit back
Crafty landlords are notorious for holding back a deposit for the pettiest of reasons - leaving a less than perfectly clean kitchen surface, leaving something behind (in one case, a student was denied their deposit for leaving behind an unopened bottle of wine, according to David Ellis from studentmoneysaver.co.uk). Many landlords also claim that an item has gone missing from the inventory that was never actually there in the first place, whether accidentally or intentionally.
To protect yourself, make sure you check what's actually in the house against your inventory when you first move in, take everything belonging to you (including all your rubbish and any pots and mugs you may have acquired) and thoroughly clean the place so nobody could deny it was in top shape. If you take photos when you first in and then when you leave as a before, that could help your case too.
If you have damaged or broken something, offer to pay for it before you move out. Most landlords should be fairly reasonable.
What you shouldn't do is withhold your last month's rent as protection - that's illegal.
Your landlord should have registered your deposit. You can check if they've done this or not by looking at your Tenancy Agreement or by searching charity Shelter's website. If they have and your deposit is protected under one of three schemes (either the Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits or The Dispute Service), you're in luck. Just follow the procedures and you should get your deposit back.
If they haven't registered it and they still refuse to give you back your deposit, you can take your case to a small claims court and let the law deal with them.
Sharing a flat
If you share a flat and all your names are on a joint tenancy agreement, you'll be legally liable for the full amount of rent and may have to cough up someone else's share if they can't make rent one month. Choose your flatmates wisely.
Because most students will be renting a property for the first time, they won't have a track record or any references to tell a landlord that they'll be a reliable tenant. So, many landlords will instead ask you to provide them with a guarantor. In most cases, the guarantor will be liable for any arrears if the tenant fails to pay their rent in time. It's important that both you and your guarantor understand what that means for you both legally.
If your landlord is also your flatmate
In this case, you'll have few rights as you'll be classed as an â€˜excluded occupier'. If your landlord decides on a whim to evict you, they only have to give you â€˜reasonable notice', so you could end up struggling to find a new place to live in time.
Health and safety
Your landlord has certain obligations to make sure your house is safe and comfortable. They have to provide you with safe gas appliances which have been checked by a Gas Safe engineer, a working fire detector, adequate fire escapes and have fire extinguishers handy. They are responsible for carrying out any repairs to the property too, but if you're to blame for something breaking, they can take money from your deposit to help pay for it.
To make sure you're taking good care of their flat, your landlord may wish to pay you a visit, but they can't simply turn up. They need to give you 24 hours' notice and get your permission before visiting, and should not harass you to gain access to the flat.
While a landlord has the right to put up your rent, they can only do so under certain circumstances and at certain points.
Rent prices in student areas are often some of the highest in the country as landlords try to take advantage of students who may not be sure of their legal rights. As a reaction to rouge landlords who refuse to carry out necessary repairs to student properties and constantly hike up rents, proactive students in London and Birmingham have set up their own housing co-operative.
If you think your rent has been increased unfairly or unlawfully, contact your solicitor.
What they can't do is change the locks and throw out your things without giving you due notice and a court order.
Illegal eviction is a criminal offence and is covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. If you think you've been illegally evicted, get in touch with your student's union who can out you in touch with the right person at your local authority.
The National Union of Students (NUS): The NUS brings together over 600 student unions and champions the rights of students across the country. Check that your landlord is adhering to their housing codes of conduct and get in touch with them if you need some initial advice.
Shoosmiths: Trusted solicitors who can help student tenants resolve disputes and give you advise on your legal rights and responsibilities.
Shelter: This housing charity has advice centres across the country. If you're unsure about anything, make them your first port of call. Call their free helpine on 0808 800 4444 or check their online directory to find help near you.
Citizens Advice: They can help you resolve a dispute through negotiation if you'd rather avoid taking legal action.
An article published o behalf of Catherine Halsey. She writes on a broad range of topics including human rights and student events.