Contracts

The Benefits of Having a Written Contract

 A contract can be a verbal or written agreement. However, it is much better to have a written than a verbal agreement as this way both parties know what is expected of them. This clarity helps to avoid disputes that might otherwise arise.


Reviewing a Contract Before Signing

Do not sign a contract if you're not happy with the terms or there are any aspects of the agreement you don't 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 Students' 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.


Types of Contract in Use: What to Look out For

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

•    a house, flat or bedsit rented directly from a landlord/agent or

•    a flat rented from a university or college


Renting from a Landlord/Agent

Most landlords/agents use an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement. This is for a fixed term of 12 months; that is, it has a start 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 (which 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 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. Persons acting on behalf of the accommodation services should not enter your accommodation unless written notice is given.


Your Liability

You will need to be absolutely clear about the terms and conditions. It is essential 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 you also have the landlord's 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 cannot be altered unless both parties agree.


Restrictions on the Terms and Conditions a Landlord can Write into a Contract

Landlords are not free to write into contracts any terms and conditions they want. They are restricted in what they can do by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999), which apply to all rented tenancies. 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 Competition and Markets Authority (formerly the Office of Fair Trading) or your Students' Union Advice Services.


Guarantors and their Financial Liability

As part of the agreement, some landlord/agents will present you with a guarantee and ask you to provide a guarantor to guarantee your rent. Before anyone signs, it is important that both you and your guarantor understand that if you default on rent or the cost of damage they will be responsible for making payment.

About 36% of bed spaces rented to students in Leeds and Bradford are let by landlords asking for guarantees, so there are plenty that don't impose this requirement. The use of guarantees is prevalent in larger developments and among landlords with 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.

If you have no obvious guarantor, 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, a guarantor who is abroad is also unlikely to be appropriate because legal proceedings to enforce any arrangement outside the UK can be difficult.

If you are asking others to be a guarantor or if you are being asked by a student to be a guarantor, 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’m in contract but 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 your parent institution or by a larger supplier and you can demonstrate good reason for wanting to move, it is possible you may be able to obtain a transfer to different accommodation in the same building or another part of their portfolio.

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

A: Transfers within University / Unipol family accommodation are not permitted unless you can demonstrate good reason, such as the onset of a disability / health condition or your family is due to grow beyond the capacity of your current accommodation.

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 you 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 they want 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 a landlord change the locks, refuse access or remove your possessions. This would amount to an illegal eviction and you could sue for damages. This applies to university accommodation as well as the private sector.

If the housing provider (landlord/agent/university/private owner) wants 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 seeking possession or a possession order, or if you have any other questions or concerns, please contact your Students' Union Advice Services office, your Accommodan Office or Unipol to book an appointment with our Solicitor's Service.


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