Image credit: Philip Halling/geograph
Moving away from home and getting your own place with your university friends is an exciting time. But before you sign your name on the dotted line, you need to educate yourself on your legal rights to prevent yourself from being taken advantage of.
Everyone knows someone who has gotten into a dispute with a landlord during their time at university, however this guide will help give you the knowledge that you need to protect your legal rights.
Your landlord is legally required to reach certain requirements in terms of fire safety. First of all, they need to ensure that the property is fitted with a minimum of one smoke alarm per floor. In some buildings, such as halls of residence, there needs to be a fire alarm in every room. Depending on the size of the property, your landlord also needs to provide equipment such as fire blankets, fire extinguishers etc. Do not sign a tenancy agreement without finding out who is responsible for the maintenance of fire alarms and fire equipment, including the completion of regular checks.
All gas appliances need to be checked annually, by a registered professional. A Gas Safe certificate also needs to be provided and kept at the property as proof that these safety checks have been completed. Again, ask to see this certificate before you sign your contact, or move into the property. A gas leak in the home could potentially be lethal, so don’t take no for an answer. If they can’t show the necessary documentation, find some other accommodation to live in.
When properties aren’t well maintained, they can be a breeding ground for pests, insects and creepy crawlies of all kinds.
Any infestations that happen during your tenancy should be dealt with immediately by your landlord. It is their sole responsibility to have them removed as they have the potential to be quite dangerous, or a threat to your health. Anything from rats, mice, bed bugs or maggots usually require an expert to be called in, however the local health authority also needs to be informed. If you are not satisfied with how the infestation has been handled, you need to demand to vacate the property and find another place to live.
Drawing the line when it comes to bed bugs can be a little more difficult. If you bought a piece of furniture into the property which caused the problem, it is then your responsibility to have them exterminated, however if the furniture was already there, the landlord must do so.
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There are very few student tenancy agreements that will allow you to redecorate in any way, so if your landlord has said that you can, make sure you get it in writing to avoid any charges. If you have decorated without realising the restrictions, you must return everything to the way it was when you moved in. Even small things such as holes in walls, or leaving blu-tack marks can land you in hot water, so don’t take the risk.
Just because you don’t own the property, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right to privacy. If your landlord wants to make a visit to the property for whatever reason, they need to give you a minimum of 24 hours' notice and the tenant must grant the access. If your landlord is requesting to make a visit, but you aren’t going to be in, you are well within your right to ask for someone else to be there on your behalf. If the landlord continuously visits the property without permission, you may have grounds to prosecute for “harassment”.
There are a number of events where a landlord has a legal right to evict you from the property. This could include anything from missed payments to breaching the terms of your contract. If you receive a notice, or even threat of eviction, you must seek the advice of a dispute resolution solicitor immediately to advise you on the next steps to take. If they want you to vacate the property they need to provide you with a written document that specified the date by which you must leave, why they want you to leave and where you can find advice.
A landlord cannot legally remove you from a property by force, nor change the locks whilst you are out, so you should call the police if this happens.
Unfortunately, if you are in a property and wish to leave before the end of the contract you may be eligible to pay the remaining total of the contact, unless the exceptional circumstances for you not to do so.
Written by Veronica Pembleton for Eluceo. You can follow her via @veronicalou_