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International Students Guide to Renting
Finding the ideal place to rest your head after a day of studies is essential in the university experience. Whilst many will initially dive right into the gamble that can be student halls, many turn to the many benefits that come with private renting but many of the key aspects of private renting only being made more difficult when navigating this space as an international student.
Right to Rent Checks
As with any tenancy the obligation firmly settles with the owner of the rental property to ensure all of the occupants within the accommodation hold the appropriate immigration status and right to rent within the UK. These checks must be carried out before any new tenancy is officially entered by the tenant, with the aspiring renters supplying the owner of the rental property with sufficient documentation to prove their right to rent.
When assessing an individual’s right to rent a landlord must ensure that the prospective renter is able to be defined by one of the following definitions. Firstly that the applicant for the rental property is a UK citizen, a citizen of a European state or Switzerland, or the applicant for the accommodation could possess an indefinite right to rent, essentially meaning that they hold an unspecified right to remain within the UK. Potentially more likely for those looking to study within the UK from abroad would be those that possess a time limited right to rent. This would typically encompass renters that have obtained permission to reside within the UK for an established period of time, seeing the landlord or letting agency conduct multiple right to rent checks with the second assessment taking place after 12 months, or once this permission expires; whichever period is longer for the tenant.
During the tenant’s assessment of their right to rent they will be required to provide the landlords with a series of documentation to show the validity of their right to rent. With this being said a series of changes have been introduced by the home office regarding the type of documentation landlords are able to accept when evaluating a tenant’s right to rent. As of the 1st July 2021 “EEA citizens and their family members require immigration status in the UK”. The government published guidance on right to rent checks does note that Irish citizens are the exemption from this new ruling as they are still able to show their right to rent through their passport or passport card. The guidance further details that as “most EEA citizens will prove their right to rent using the Home Office online service,” their right to rent will have been granted digitally and will therefore need to use the Home Office online platform “prove your right to rent in England” when proving their right to rent.
It is likely that as an international student you will be required to issue your landlord with any documentation surrounding your student visa and the successful enrolment into your university, confirming your studies. It is worth noting that landlords are legally required to carry out their right to rent checks no later than 28 days before the signing of the tenancy agreement. Tenants are required to issue the landlord with the original documents so copies can be produced, with these then being safeguarded in a secure manner for at least one year following the end of the rental period.
How to Find a Guarantor
It is common when providing rental accommodation to international students that the landlord of the property will encounter some difficulty when referencing the aspiring tenants. This is because similarly to a UK student it is unlikely that they will have a consistent income or regular employment to ensure that they are able to meet their legal obligation to provide the landlord with rent payments. With this in mind landlords will often require students to obtain what is referred to as a guarantor before commencing with the tenancy agreement. This additional party to the tenancy is implemented upon the request of the landlord as reassurance of their rental income.
Similarly to the intention behind requesting that the occupants of the accommodation pay a tenancy deposit, landlords are able to offer themselves a financial lifeline in the circumstance that the tenant fails to pay their rent or causes damage to the rental property. This is because the guarantor will become legally responsible for these debts if the tenant neglects to pay the landlord. Do to the responsibility that comes with the role of guarantor, the person that assumes the role is subject to the same scrutiny as the tenant during the referencing process; just as the landlord must be sure the tenant can afford to rent the property, they must also ensure the guarantor won’t take on debt they are unable to clear. It is also worth noting that whilst the position of guarantor is synonymous with missed rental payments, they could also be liable to pay the landlord for any costs associated with the repair of the property, maintenance, or replacing damaged furnishings throughout the accommodation.
For those noting that the landlord is able to take a security, or tenancy deposit from the tenants for these reasons would also be correct; however with the introduction of the tenant fees act came the restriction on the amount a landlords is able to request their tenants pay for this tenancy deposit. This maximum deposit amount, whilst making renting easier for many, especially those new to tenancies, doesn’t offer the landlord much in the way of recuperating lost income. In most instances the maximum amount a landlord will be able to take from their tenants for the tenancy deposit is the equivalent value of five weeks rent. As mentioned, if the amount of rent arrears or damage to the property is somewhat excessive then this will not provide to be a sufficient amount to compensate the landlord for these expenditures. With this in mind, if upon the final inspection of the property at the close of the fixed term the value of any found damage exceeds the amount taken for the tenancy deposit the guarantor will be liable to pay this difference.
And here lies the widespread problem for international students, because of the financial responsibility students required to obtain a guarantor for their tenancy will often turn to a close relative or friend to assume the role; this can be especially difficult for an international student new to the UK, exacerbated by the reluctance of to accept internationally residing guarantors within the sector.
However there is some good news for international students that are struggling to find a guarantor. Whilst this will vary between institutions, the university in which you are enrolled may offer its own guarantor service. Typically in order to be accepted into the university guarantor scheme international students will need to provide a reference from any accommodation they have previously stayed in, alongside demonstrating a satisfactory academic record and having no outstanding debts to the university. For international students who are unfortunately unsuccessful in their application, or are enrolled at a university where no such scheme exists they may still be able to obtain financial support from the university through a grant, scholarship or bursaries. These initiatives could offer support to a student that is in this difficult position, allowing them to pay rent in advance or meet other obligations such as the holding or tenancy deposit.
A last resort for many that are simply unable to find a guarantor in order to rent their desired property would be to turn to a guarantor service. These companies will essentially act as the guarantor for students, those with a low credit score, are in receipt of financial support or otherwise have been requested to find this additional party to the tenancy. However, such services quite simply don’t come cheap and will see the student pay hundreds over the course of the tenancies fixed term, another cost that could price them out of many rentals, despite being intended to promote accessibility.
Alternatively if the tenant is still unable to find a guarantor and is not willing to pay excessive amounts of rent in advance or the exorbitant rates demanded by private guarantor scheme, they may need to find another route to private renting. With this in mind most resident landlords will not request that the aspiring tenant obtains a guarantor before signing the tenancy agreement As the name suggests with resident landlords they will reside in the rental property alongside the tenant, commonly seeing them share communal areas such as the kitchen or living room. However, it is worth noting that with the compromise comes a loss of certain rights afford to those that hold an assured shorthold tenancy, such as a notice period when the owner of the rental property wishes to reclaim possession through the eviction procedure. With this being said, whilst this would present an ideal option for many international students, it may simply not be possible due to the scarcity of such opportunities, not to mentioned the fierce demand commonly seen across the student rental spaces, typically exacerbated by similarly placed young professionals and available rentals are all the more difficult to come by.
Because international students can face great difficulty in trying to find a guarantor, many landlords are left with little alternative other than to request that the tenant pays rent in advance. In most cases the landlord will only request a single months’ worth of rent to be paid before the tenant moves into the property; however thanks to the uncertainty surrounding renter’s ability to avoid rent arrears in the current financial climate an increasing number of landlords are requesting that their tenants pay as much as six months’ rent in advance. It is also worth noting that whilst there is a limit to the amount a landlord can request an occupant of the rental property pay for their tenancy deposit, there are no such legal restraints on how much a tenant can be required to pay in advance. Although some rental property owners defend this stance by detailing the unpredictable nature of renters income, especially within the student demographic, whilst making their rental opportunities increasingly available to those that would have otherwise been out priced. However, particularly in the instance of international students the expectation for such amounts to be readily available is simply unrealistic for many. Accounting for the nature of being an international student inherently being an expensive route with the costs of international visa’s alongside the education giving them little expenditure to commit to an advanced rent payment.
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