Private Tenancy Agreements
Always make sure that you read the contract carefully before you sign it. If you are not happy or not sure about some parts of it, don't sign it; instead, bring it to the Union to have it checked first. Don't be coerced into signing a contract because you think you might lose the house. There is no cooling-off period, so if you find a better house down the road, you won't be able to get out of the contract you've already signed.
If you agree to take a house that you have viewed, and you and your housemates all sign the same contract at the same time, you become joint tenants and are therefore jointly and severally liable for any rent arrears, outstanding utility bills and damage to the property. If one or more tenant moves out, the landlord or agent can pursue the remaining tenants for any rent arrears or unpaid bills. S/he can also pursue the one who has left.
Many letting agents and some landlords require a guarantor form signed by your parents. This is a form that guarantees payment of the rent and any other bills that you are liable for under the terms of the agreement. If the tenancy is joint, be careful that the form is worded correctly otherwise your parents could find themselves liable for money owed by the other tenants.
Any promises made at the time of viewing, such as a new kitchen, new beds, re-decoration, etc., should be written into the contract with an agreed time limit for completion. Make sure you consider whether you would still be happy to live in the house if these improvements and or repairs are not carried out. If the answer is 'no', then walk away. 'What you see is what you get' is a good thought to hold on to.
The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 state that you should not have unfair terms in your contract. If you have any queries or visit the website of the Office of Fair Trading.
Living with a resident landlord, such as living with a friend whose parents have bought them a house, can sometimes be very complicated. Take advice from the Union before signing a contract. You can also look at the Communities and Local Government website.
Paying Rent in Advance
Many agents/landlords ask students to pay rent for the whole year in the form of 12 post-dated cheques. You should avoid this at all costs. Post-dated cheques can be presented before the due date, inadvertently, and if you have insufficient funds in your account you will then be charged by your bank for 'bouncing' a cheque. Ask the landlord if you can set up a standing order instead.