The scene is set: after living in halls for at least your first year, you’ve decided you need your own place. But where do you start? What do you need to know as your general rules as a renter? Or, perhaps, you’ve already moved out of halls, but are discontent with your current flat? What are your protections as a student- and what exactly is an ‘HMO’?
This article will discuss the important things to look for when scouting locations, and knowing your legal safeguards for housing.
Letting agents are often the most frequently used method for tenants to find a flat. Their role is to act on behalf of the landlord (and is paid by them, although the tenant may also incur a fee), and they may either be affiliated with a firm or work independently. Since private letting agents are currently unregulated, they do not require a specific license. Thus, it’s beneficial to find an agent which belongs to a self-regulating letting-organization which mandate money-protection arrangements for agents. These private organizations, such as the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) require a legal sector code of practice in favor of the tenant’s financial security. If a letting agent goes out of business, these groups help ensure you don’t lose your money.
Also, you are allowed to register with multiple agents. They cannot charge you for registering or simply providing a list of available properties, or else they will be in violation of UK Trading Standards. In addition, you can inquire about a letting agent’s expected fees to compare. Finally, you should keep all of your receipts of incurred administrative fees on file, should payment ever come into dispute.
A rent guarantor is a third-party who co-signs your rental agreement as an emergency financial-backer who can have legal action taken against them if the tenants fail to pay their rent or there’s property damage. Often, these guarantors will be the tenant’s parent, legal-guardian, or close friend. Almost all landlords in the UK require a guarantor as an additional form of insurance. Since student renters who- at their age- won’t probably have a developed credit score, parents often fulfill this role. (Your credit score is an indication of how well you are predicted to pay back your debt).
For international students, pay close attention if you’ll be required to provide your own guarantor. Non-UK citizens cannot be guarantors and international students might be required to pay a 6-12 month down payment instead.
In the case of a guarantor not wanting to be liable for a flatmate, there is such thing as a ‘several liability contract’. This states that each party is only responsible for their portion of rent or damage, and the burden will not be automatically passed onto the other members.
HMO (House in Multiple Occupation)
An HMO is a residency which is occupied by three or more individual tenants, and is not classified as a student accomodation residence (such as a dorm or student-apartment complex). This past May, the Fife Council’s Community and Housing Services Committee voted to keep the restriction of issued HMO licenses: effectively limiting the amount of available student residences. The council decided on about 17% for the town centre, 5% for the south-east section, and 3% of the west. This decision was an effort to make St. Andrews more family-friendly and to deflate the renting price, yet any real positive effects have yet to be seen.
Tenancy Agreements & Repairs
Tenancy agreements are arguably the most important item regarding rentals. There are two types of tenancy agreements- joint or individual- which distinguish whether rents will be collected on either a group on personal-basis, respectively. Individual agreements are more desirable since if any of the joint-tenants decides to leave the contract early, the group may be asked to leave, unless an agreement can be met with the landlord. It is also crucial that you sign the tenancy agreement as soon as possible, even if a written agreement isn’t legally necessary, because a landlord can deny you from moving in the day-of.
The tenancy agreement is also where your contract will discuss your protection rights as a tenant and what your landlord is required to fix. They need to fix damaged pipes, electrical wiring, heating, water, building structural issues, and issues with sinks/tubs/showers.
Furthermore, your agreement will discuss whether your landlord is liable to pest control and damp/mold repair. This is vital because you may not notice these issues (especially with pests coming in during the winter) whether the problem arose during the tenant’s stay or is a pre-existing issue. Especially for HMO’s, landlords will be required to interfere with safety hazards, but it might severely cut into your deposit, at the very least.
Advice When Scouting
One of the best pieces for advice when scouting is to bring along a friend who is already experienced in the rental process and does not have a stake in the apartment to offer advice. Ask the landlord questions about when the roof, electric, and gas lines were last inspected (and your landlord should have certificates of proof). Make sure to check all the faucets for running water and the electric switches, flush the toilets, open the doors to inspect each room, and check door locks. Also, inspect the radiators because the main area might work, but the bedrooms may be left cold. When carrying out an inventory at the beginning of tenancy, it’s key to be equally as thorough.
Although individual monthly rents will often range from about £425 to £795, the median rent in St. Andrews is about £545 and will vary depending on the proximity to the town center.
Amongst all the other obligations students are tasked with, finding the right flat in St. Andrews is far from easy. However, being familiar with your protections as a renter and where to be wary will make the journey easier along the way.