When you rent a property you'll be given an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement to sign. It's important you read and understand this document.
Designed to protect the interests of both the landlord and the tenant, an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement is a legally binding document that you will be given before you move in. It's vital that you read it thoroughly and understand every aspect of the agreement before you sign. Points to look out for include:
- Minimum term of tenancy: Typically, contracts run for 12 months. During this time your landlord cannot increase the rent from the sum you have agreed. The contract should also be clear about how much notice you will be required to give should you choose to leave.
- Responsibility for bills: Establish which utility services are included in the rent, e.g. water or council tax, and those for which you will be responsible for paying. This may mean registering for some services under your name.
- Your behaviour within the property: Typically, the contract will also include clauses designed to protect the landlord in case you cause damage - or even trash the place. Clauses may cover anything from replacing furniture broken by you, to keeping noise down between certain hours, e.g.10pm and 8am.
- References: Landlords and lettings agents will want to see some kind of written documentation to guarantee that you are who you say you are - and that you are a decent and reliable person. References can come from an employer or previous landlord.
- Signing the contract: When it comes to signing, never feel obliged to rush. If necessary, take the contract away and seek a second opinion from a friend or parent and then discuss these aspects with your landlord. Ultimately, an unsigned contract should be regarded as a working document - one that can be redrafted or amended until both parties are happy. If and when you agree to sign the contract then be sure you are provided with a copy.
Don't have a friend or parent you can run the contract by? Take it into your local Citizens Advice Bureau or student housing officer.
Dealing with your deposit
When entering into an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement, chances are you'll be asked to pay a deposit (typically between a month and six weeks' rent). This is basically cover for the property owner should you damage it or leave with outstanding debts.
To ensure you have a verifiable proof of payment, always pay the deposit by cheque, bankers draft or credit card. Also ask your landlord for a receipt and written confirmation of what's covered by the deposit.
On the day you move in, request that your landlord makes an inspection of the property with you. This way you can both draw up an inventory and identify any damage or breakage or faults not caused by you. It also gives you a chance to ask questions about how certain things operate, such as the boiler, meters or window locks.
"The contract should be clear about how much notice you'll be required to give should you choose to leave."
Be aware that wear and tear is to be expected when living anywhere for a period of time, so be sure your contract defines what is reasonable.
Tenancy deposit protection scheme
From April 6, 2007, your landlord must use a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme if they want to take a deposit from you.
This means you will get some or all of your deposit back if you're entitled to it. There will also be a way of settling any disagreement about your deposit without going to court through the scheme's dispute service, which is totally unbiased.
Your landlord will have a choice of two schemes to join. One will be a custodial scheme where he will pay the deposit into the scheme and this will keep it safe. The other will be insurance-based where your landlord will keep the deposit, but will have to pay insurance to the scheme instead.
It's worth checking with your landlord which tenancy scheme they will use to safeguard your deposit. Within 14 days of paying your deposit your landlord must give you details of the scheme they are using to protect it.
At the end of the tenancy you should get your deposit back within 10 days.
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