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How to Rent as a Student

Although the experience of going to university can be synonymous with living in student halls, many of those that move away for full time education choose to rent privately. Whilst some student chooses to do this because of the control over who you will share your accommodation with, the flexibility in location, or the lower costs, regardless of reasoning it can be daunting. There are many rights and responsibilities that come with being a tenant and having a keen understanding of some of the most common issues first time tenants experience with their landlord can make the transition into renting privately as a student all the more enjoyable.

What Are Referencing Checks?

Whilst this could be new to those that are coming to the private rental sector after spending some time in student halls, referencing checks are common practices when looking to rent a property. Simply put, a landlord or letting agent will carry out a series of background check on each person that makes an application to let out their rental property. As can be expected the owner of the rental property will be looking to avoiding renting to anyone that could potentially cause issues further into the tenancy, they will have an “ideal tenant” in mind but will essentially be looking for security and peace of mind.  

To this end the referencing checks will typically comprise a series of meticulous “affordability checks.” These assessments will be intended to give the landlord clarity on whether the aspiring tenant will be able to regularly pay their rent on time, seeing their employment status, income, credit score and outstanding debt levels face scrutiny.  Alongside evaluating a prospective renters right to rent, essentially seeing the tenant provide the letting agency with a series of identification documents in order to validate their ability to rent within the UK; renters will also need to provide a reference from a previous landlord.

With this being said, students are a well-known exception to this as University will likely be their first time renting and will therefore be unable to provide a reference. However, these references are often the most telling part of the referencing process, offering rental property owners first hand, and recent accounts of how the applicant has conducted themselves in previous accommodation, their relationship with other tenants & the landlord, as well as if they paid their rent on time consistently.

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Do Students Need a Guarantor?

Partly in thanks to this widespread lack of previous renting experience, alongside a somewhat inconstant income because of irregular working hours, full time students are often required to obtain a guarantor when signing a tenancy agreement.  In essence a guarantor, like the tenant deposit, is a way in which the landlord can offer themselves financial security against specific expenditures.

With this in mind a guarantor will be subject to the same financial checks as an aspiring tenant as the owner of the rental property will need to be sure that they will be able to pay off any debts they incur. This is because the guarantor will need to pay the landlord if the tenant fails to pay their rent, or if the costs of repairing any damage to the rental property, its furnishings or appliances exceed the amount taken for the tenancy deposit. It is common that students will ask a close friend or relative to assume the role of guarantor during their tenancy, however it is possible for those that are unable to get a guarantor to appeal to their university to take on this role, or at a cost, they are able to hire a third part to do act as their guarantor.

Another increasingly common alternative to obtaining a guarantor is to pay rent in advance. Again this offers the owner of the rental property some reassurance that the rent for an establish period has already been paid for, reducing the initial risk of the tenant accumulating arrears without a guarantor to cover this cost. It is worth noting that in the wake of the pandemic and an increasing number of households failing to get someone to act as their guarantor, landlords are requesting their tenants pay in increased amount of rent in advance, often equating to around six months’ worth of rental payments. Of course, this could be considered an unrealistic expectation for a demographic that is synonymous with guarantors due to their assumed low income as they are dedicated to full time study.

Ensuring the Tenancy Deposit Is Protected

Despite living away for full time education being the first taste of private renting for many, it is likely that they will be familiar with tenancy deposits. Whilst this familiarity will be thanks to stories of other students neglecting a rentals condition only to have none of their tenancy deposit returned, it is far less common for students to be aware that their tenancy deposit needs to be protected.

Once the student has handed over the appropriate amount for the tenancy deposit to the landlord the owner of the rental property is legally obligated to enter the sums into a government backed tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days. The landlord is further prohibited from using these collected amounts for the tenancy deposit for other aspects of business such as to cover regular business expenditures. The landlord should enter any amounts taken for the tenancy deposit into either an insurance based, or custodial based tenancy deposit scheme, with the difference being the party that physically holds the taken amounts over the course of the rental period.  With this being said if the landlord or letting agents fail to enter the tenant’s security deposit into a government approved deposit protection scheme, the tenants will be able to take legal action against them. This could see the occupants of the rental property be awarded significant amounts of compensation due to the landlord’s neglect. Providing that the tenant’s claim is successful then the landlord could be legally compelled to pay each tenant as much as three times more than the amount originally requested for the tenancy deposit.

Not only must the owner of the rental property adequately protect the tenancy deposit, but they must also ensure that they only request an appropriate amount from the tenant. The Tenant Fees Act introduced a limit on the amount a tenant is required to pay their landlord or letting agents for both the holding and tenancy deposit. In an effort to make the private rental sector more accessible by removing excessively high upfront costs, the Tenant Fees Act prevented landlords from taking more than one weeks’ worth of rent for the holding deposit.  The amount a landlord is able to take for the security deposit however, is dictated by the amount they charge the occupants of the property each year in rent. If the annual rental charge for the property is up to £50,000 then the landlord or letting agency is able to request the tenant pay as much as the equivalent cost of five weeks rent for the tenancy deposit. However, if the amount that the occupants pay each year in rent is over this financial threshold, the landlord is able to request as much as the equivalent cots of six weeks rent for the tenancy deposit.

Getting Your Deposit Back

When the tenancy agreement is signed the student holds the responsibility to maintain the good condition of the rental property, returning it to the landlord at the end of the fixed term in a similar state to which it entered the tenancy. This specifically relates to the tenant’s obligation to conduct themselves in a “tenant like manner”; and whilst vague, it is widely agreed this comprises regular cleaning of the rental accommodation, alongside checking smaller issues like fire alarms. This is important because come the close of the tenancy’s fixed term the landlord or letting agent will likely carry out a final inspection to assess the condition of the property.

The landlord or letting agent is able to distinguish any new signs of damage or neglect that has occurred over the course of the tenancy through referring to the property inventory. This document comprehensively details the general condition of each area of the property and the furnishings and appliances found within them. Whilst the amount of detail found within a property inventory can vary drastically between landlords, both the owner of the rental property and the new tenants are encouraged to take photographs of everything entered into the report. Each party will then need to have a witness countersign the property inventory reports.

With this being said it is essential to note the landlord or letting agent are prevented from making any deductions from the amount of the tenancy deposit that will be returned to the tenant if the damage found at the rental property is considered to be fear wear and tear. Whilst this is another example of a statement that can be widely interpreted, it is generally accepted that this refers to the expected deterioration of an appliance, furnishing or area of the rental property that occurs over the course of several tenancies with prolonged high use.  Generally speaking, if the signs of damage or neglect found within the property could have been avoided and did not take place simply because the tenant was appropriately using the accommodation, then a deduction could be made from the tenancy deposit.

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Then landlord is legally obliged to make their reasoning for any deductions being proposed clear, alongside being provided to the tenant in writing.  In most cases if the landlord has entered the amounts taken for the deposit into an authorised deposit protection scheme then the student should see this amount, with consideration for possible deductions, returned to them within 10 days. With this being said if the tenant wishes to dispute any of the proposed deductions then this will of course make the process longer. When doing so students are able to turn to the appropriate schemes alternative dispute resolution service that will essential act as mitigation and have the decisive verdict on the deductions that should be upheld if any. Once the tenant has delivered there case alongside supporting photographs and any contact that was had with the landlord regarding repairs, maintenance or existing damage, the alternative dispute resolution service will decide how much of the taken amount should be returned to the tenant within 28 days.

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