6 tips for managing student tenancies
Advice Line expert Catherine Behdad highlights 6 critical pointers for landlords of student accommodation as students get ready for the start of term at university.
1. Clear Communication
Set out clear guidelines for all student tenancies and make sure you establish concrete deadlines for signing contracts, paying deposits and first rent instalments. Once you’ve found suitable tenants make sure they sign contracts well in advance of the tenancy start date. A landlord of student accommodation phoned the Advice Line in August just a month before students take up their university places complaining that their lead tenant hadn’t signed the tenancy agreement! If the student fails to sign soon the landlord will find it extremely difficult to secure alternative tenants with just weeks to go before the first term of university begins, resulting in a significant loss of earnings for the year.
As well as ensuring tenancy contracts are signed, landlords must also make sure all guarantors (usually a parent in the case of students) have read and also signed the necessary documentation. This should also be completed well in advance of the start date of the tenancy agreement. It’s also important to make sure guarantors are UK-based because if problems arise with rent arrears it would be almost impossible to get any money back. You’ll likely need a guarantor for each individual in the property, so this will take time to organise.
3. House Instructions
Students, in particular first-year students, may not have lived away from home before and may not be familiar with the general running of a home. Make sure you supply copies – not originals as they could get lost – of all instruction booklets for the household appliances. Walk the lead tenant through the basics of maintaining a home such as opening windows to air the house, and not to dry excessive amounts of washing inside the house to avoid damp occurring, for example.
4. Lead Tenant
Try to have one spokesperson for the whole property rather than dealing with five or six different individuals. This will smooth the way when you need general communications between the landlord and tenants, such as when you want to conduct a landlord’s inspection, or arrange to fix a repair.
5. Break Clauses
Avoid any break clauses in student tenancy agreements. Student assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) often run for 10 rather than 12 months because of the duration of the university year; if tenants want to trigger the break clause it would be difficult to find new tenants halfway through the university year, meaning you’d be left with an empty property for part of the year.
6. Which Contract?
There are typically two types of contract for student lets: joint and severally liable contracts or individual room lets. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A joint and severally liable contract is easier to manage because it means in contract law that two or more people promise to do the same thing and also separately promise to do the same thing. It means that you’ll only need one deposit and one contract. Crucially, if one person drops out during the year, the rest of the tenants will still be liable for the full rent.
The individual room let contract is potentially more lucrative, but arguably more complex. Landlords will need a contract for each individual and will also be liable for council tax, and in some cases other bills, too. This kind of contract does however offer some flexibility, so if there’s a problem tenant it’s easier to deal with without disrupting the other tenants.
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