It's both an exciting and daunting time for students starting a new university term. Just now, thousands of students will be moving in to a rented flat and becoming tenants for the very first time, but renting shouldn't be stressful for students providing they do their homework ahead of the move-in date.
My advice to first time tenants is to always read the whole of the tenancy agreement, including the small print. Make sure you understand the terms and duration of the tenancy, if you don't, then ask your university accommodation office for straightforward advice. The landlord or agency will usually want every housemate to sign the tenancy agreement- some will have joint liability clauses, which means that if one of your housemates doesn't pay the rent or breaks the terms of the agreement then you may be liable to pick up their bill.
Landlords will ask you and your flatmates to list your guarantors, such as a parent or close relative, who agrees to pay your rent if you don't pay it. Agency or referencing fees were abolished at the end of 2012. From then on tenants should only pay Rent and Deposit money before moving in. If the landlord or agent asks for any other money, then it's probably illegal.
Your landlord or agent must also put your deposit money into a Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) within 30 working days of your lease starting and send you a certificate to confirm it. This is a legal requirement in Scotland. This means that they actually send the cash to the TDS which is a Government-backed scheme designed to protect your deposit.
Meet the agent or landlord at the check-in and ensure that you go through the inventory and note down any defects or damages, such as holes in the wall. Take lots of photographs at the time as these will be vital evidence in any dispute over the return of your deposit. You should also take the meter readings to avoid being overcharged. Both you and your landlord should sign and date the inventory and retain a copy each.
The tenancy agreement will also clearly state what bills you are responsible for. Paying utility bills is an important introduction for students to the world of finance and budgeting. On move-in day, contact your suppliers to put you and your flatmates' names on bills. It is important to list the name of every tenant because if there is a problem or somebody can't pay they will hold the account holder responsible. Students are exempt from paying Council Tax, however non-students or part-time students are not. Internet access is a much needed commodity for students. Shop around for good broadband deals, there's a number of price comparison sites specifically aimed at students. You will also need a TV licence if you plan to watch live TV, even on your laptop.
Staying safe is a top priority. Student properties can be targeted by burglars as they typically include a treasure trove of expensive items such as: laptops, phones and bikes. It may sound obvious, but make sure all windows and doors are fully locked. Use locks as this makes it even harder for burglars to enter your flat, and never leave keys out in obvious places for friends, such as under the doormat! At the end of term consider taking anything valuable with you. Buying student-specific contents and damages insurance should be a priority. It might be the case that your personal property is covered by your parents' contents insurance so check this first and be sure to check the policy wording. However, without adequate insurance, you could possibly be liable for the cost to neighbouring properties if, for example, you accidently leave a tap running and cause a major leak downstairs.
Moreover, landlords have to give at least 24 hours' notice to tenants if they plan to visit. Contact the landlord immediately if there is a maintenance issue in the property as it's their responsibility to fix it. Landlords must now legally have hard-wired smoke alarms in the living room, hallway and other 'living areas' and a hard-wired heat detector in the kitchen. If a landlord isn't fulfilling his legal obligations then contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or university accommodation office.
Getting to grips with renting rules and regulations whilst in university is a real valuable lesson and will equip students with useful knowledge for the big world of letting and potentially buying in the future.
Steve Coyle, operations director at Cullen Property
This blog post featured in The Scotsman on 1 October