By Ruth Hudson
So, you are about to sign your first housing contract for a five bedroom house share with your former flat mates and you feel the heavy weight of adulthood creeping up on you as you skim through the terms and conditions. Your inner voice mutters, “It can’t be that important, surely? And it’s not like I’m signing my life away.” Stop right there.
Unlike the terms and conditions you pretend you’ve read after binging on ASOS with your student loan, the terms and conditions for your housing contract state your legal rights within your housing contract. Consider it your get out of jail free card.
I never thought I’d have any trouble regarding landlords and letting agents. I completed second year scraping the margins of a first and I was ecstatic to move into my new house and work full time in Manchester over the summer. When I fell ill with depression, however, I had no choice but to leave my 12 month housing contract that had only just begun.
The nightmare started there. I had no copy of my contract, I pestered the letting agent for days at a time to the point where I snuck into the office building, frantically urging the importance of getting pictures of the house I was contracted to be living in. I then spent six weeks liaising with people on spareroom.com to find a tenant to take over the contract I wanted so desperately to get out of.
The landlord wouldn’t give me a key, so I was unable to show tenants round so I eventually reached a compromise where I would find tenants and then pass the contacts on to a former housemate so she could show them round. It was six weeks in and I was still no further into escaping the legal shackles that were bound by a joint tenancy agreement. Most student housing contracts are joint tenancy, especially if you sign as a group rather than renting an individual room.
I grew tired and felt helpless. The Student Union said the only thing I could do was find a tenant to replace me so I turned to Citizen’s Advice Bureau where they gave me the assurance I was looking for. Legally, the tenants have to agree on other tenants on considerable grounds i.e. they aren’t a student or they pay council tax. Also, because of the joint tenancy, if I didn’t pay the rent then my guarantor would not be effected but rather the tenants themselves. So, the landlord would chase up my rent with the other tenants and it would be the tenants who would take me to court if it led to the worst case scenario.
In the end, I got in contact with a solicitor who worked for Shelter. They devised a letter for the landlord which pointed out all the legal pot holes in the housing contract as well as stressing the illegitimacy of not keeping my deposit in the protected scheme. All of this was possible because of the holy shrine that is my housing contract.
Here are a few things to take under consideration when signing a house contract:
- Make sure you receive a copy of your contract.
- Ask the letting agent or landlord for proof that your deposit will be held in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme. By law, your landlord must keep your deposit money completely separate so it is imperative for them to provide evidence of this. If you find your deposit hasn’t legally been transferred into this scheme they will have to pay you compensation of between one and three times the amount of your deposit. Tenancy deposit breaches can make a section 21 notice invalid.
- According to Shelter, your landlord maybe unable to get a court order to evict you using the section 21 notice procedure and may have to refund your deposit in full before they can use a section 21 notice.
- Be aware of what everything means in the contract and ask the letting agent or landlord if you are unsure.
- Questions you may want to ask can include: what is a joint tenancy? What happens if I want to terminate a contract early? Will I be fined if my rent is overdue?
Finally, if you land into a situation where you need to get out of a housing contract, here are some things to consider:
- Research where you legally stand.
- Visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau as they have trained solicitors who will give you advice. There is a walk in centre at Manchester Town Hall.
- Visit Shelter or CAB recommended for legal advice.