Student houses in the UK have a reputation for being a bit grotty – mould in the bathroom, mice in the kitchen and bed bugs that are big enough to pay rent. Some rogue landlords are intent on making a quick buck by taking advantage of students because they think they’re naive or won’t know their rights. This is a huge problem for international students coming to study in the UK because navigating the legal system in your own country is difficult enough, never mind when you’re studying abroad. Avoid falling foul of unscrupulous landlords by getting clued up about your rental rights before you sign anything.
Deposits and guarantors
Many landlords renting to students ask for a guarantor to co-sign the rental agreement. The guarantor is essentially backing up your application and agreeing to be responsible for the rent if you fall into arrears. This guarantor will usually have to be based in the UK, as this makes it easier to take legal action if required. This leaves international students in a difficult position – if you can’t find a guarantor in the UK, you will usually be asked to pay more rent in advance.
Once you’ve moved into the property, the landlord can’t just show up unannounced. You are entitled to something called “quiet enjoyment of the property”, which legally means the landlord needs to give you 24 hours notice before entering the property. There are horror stories of landlords showing up to demand rent in cash, or letting themselves in to carry out repairs without your knowledge. If this happens, you need to let your landlord know this isn’t acceptable and that you want 24 hours notice in future. It’s best to do this by email so you have a written record of it.
We’re not talking about your housemate’s sleepover pal who won’t clear off in the morning. If you have any kind of infestation, your landlord is required by law to take care of it. The only exception to this rule is if you are directly responsible for the infestation. If you bought a piece of furniture which introduced bed bugs to the house, or if you failed to take care of the rubbish and it attracted mice, it will be your responsibility to get rid of them, but you should still let your landlord know.
If you have rats or bats, this is a more complex and dangerous problem so your local council will also need to be notified. You are entitled to withhold rent and vacate the property if you aren’t happy that the problem has been dealt with in a timely manner. While studying at university, I faced this exact problem and contacted a dispute resolution solicitors Manchester to discuss my options.
Renovations and repairs
Small repairs such as blown fuses or light bulbs will be your responsibility, but anything bigger than this will need to be taken care of by your landlord, particularly if it could cause an accident. Anything that is considered ‘urgent’ has to be repaired within 24 hours, whereas other repairs need to be completed within four days. Under the “Right to Repairs” law, any repairs under £250 should be carried out within four days, so if your landlord is refusing to do so, get in touch with Citizens Advice.
Health and Safety
It is your landlord’s responsibility to make your property fire safe. There should be a fire alarm on every floor, and if each bedroom has its own lock, there should be a fire alarm in every room. If your home is registered as an HMO, the landlord must also fit fire alarms, fire extinguishers and fire blankets on every floor. There should also be adequate means of escape from every room. If you have a working fireplace in your home your landlord is also required to provide a carbon monoxide detector – although it’s worth buying one of these anyway if you have a gas supply.
If you have gas central heating or a gas stove, your appliances must be checked every year by a Gas Safe registered engineer. The gas safety record should be kept at the property, and you should ask to see it before you move in. All electrical installations provided by the landlord should also be checked to make sure they are safe.
Although giving your new home a fresh coat of paint may be tempting, you should get written permission from your landlord before making any changes to the decor. As most student tenancies usually last no longer than two years, it’s probably not worth the hassle, as you’ll have to paint it back before you move out. You’re better off decorating with pictures and wall hangings – just make sure you don’t damage the walls in picture nails or drawing pins.
Most students sign a fixed term contract which runs for the academic year, and your landlord can’t just kick you out half way through without good reason. Even if your landlord sells the house, the new owners will be buying a tenanted property and can’t just decide they want to live in it. The only way your landlord can evict you is if you are in breach of your contract, which can include anything from being two months late on rent, persistently late with rent, or allowing the property to fall into disrepair. In this case, your landlord can issue an eviction notice, but this will need to be accompanied by a court order which should include the date you are expected to leave the property and the reason for the eviction.
Most people won’t have a problem with their landlord, but it’s important to not let a rogue landlord ruin your uni experience in the UK! International students have the same rights, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and get in touch with Citizens Advice or your student union housing representative if you’re unsure.