by Bryony McIndoe

You’ve found the flatmates and the house; now all you need to do is sign the contract and move in, right? Well, not exactly. Renting a property, especially if it’s the first time, can be a tricky business – it’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of living with your friends and forget about the technicalities.

So, here’s a few handy tips that will help you save money when renting at university.

Know your rights – and your responsibilities

Everything is laid out for you in the contract, so make sure you read it thoroughly. If you have any questions, discuss them with your guarantor or student union advice centre, and bring them up with your landlord as soon as possible. Your landlord should give you ample time to read through and discuss your new contract so always make sure you know what it says before you sign. It will outline both your responsibilities as a tenant, and the responsibilities of the landlord. Make sure you know what is expected of you – this will be your home for at least the next year, but it belongs to the landlord; make sure you know how to take care of it, as well as what the landlord is responsible for. All tenants and the landlord should sign the contract; make sure you also receive a full signed copy for your records.

Paying your deposit – and protecting it

When you pay a deposit to your landlord or letting agent, not everyone is necessarily aware of what happens to that money, or where it is stored. If you are renting a property on an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) the money has to be protected by one of the following three Government approved tenancy deposit protection scheme: Deposit Protection Service (DPS), MyDeposits or The Dispute Service (TDS).

Within 14 days of receiving your deposit, your landlord should give you the details of which deposit scheme they are using, including; the name and contact details of the deposit scheme selected, contact details for the scheme’s dispute resolution service, the landlord’s or letting agent’s contact details, how to apply for the release of the deposit, information explaining the purpose of the deposit and finally, what to do if there is a dispute.

What is sometimes forgotten in all of this, is that it is your money; the deposit remains the property of the tenant at all times. At the end of your tenancy, your deposit should be returned within ten days from the end of the agreement less any agreed deductions. Any deductions must be discussed between yourself (the tenant) and the landlord and agreed in principle. If your deposit hasn’t been returned within the correct timeframe, you are entitled to complain to the tenancy deposit scheme who are charged with responsibility of protecting your money.

Not many people are aware of the fact that if your landlord doesn’t follow the rules, a court can order them to either put the deposit in a scheme, or compensate you with three times your original deposit.

Preventing a dispute – and resolving one

You’ve got the contract, you know your deposit is protected – but how can you prevent a dispute at the end of the year? It’s not only scouts who need to ‘Be prepared’. No matter how amiable your landlord and letting agent are when you move in; make sure you do your homework! The best way to prevent a deposit dispute – and avoid losing any of that precious deposit money – is to have a complete record of the state of the property when you move in. This is called an inventory – and the secret to a good one is to be as detailed as possible. Take lots of pictures if you can, as long as they are time stamped, but also include detailed descriptions – a picture alone cannot tell the whole story.

The condition in which you receive the property is the condition it is expected to be left in, barring reasonable wear and tear. This means, for example, if the oven and shower are dirty when you move in, your landlord cannot expect them to be clean when you move out – and more importantly cannot charge you for having them cleaned! So it is important that you document everything in the house, no matter what condition it is in, good or bad. You never know what piece of information might be important in 12 months’ time. What else should you be aware of?

Other important things to look out for are the safety of the property, there are many different elements to this which ensure a property is compliant with current health and saftety regulations. Make sure all exterior doors close and lock, this may see you coming unstuck in the event of an insurance claim after a break-in. Check that there is at least one working smoke alarm; by law there should be a smoke alarm on every level of a rented property, and that furniture is labelled as fire resistant. Finally, keep an eye out for dodgy wiring and unsafe electrical points and, most importantly, document them – it’s a good idea to keep records of the property throughout the tenancy, reporting any issues or damages to the letting agent or landlord in writing.

Finally then, when you’ve completed your inventory, send it to your landlord and letting agent as soon you move in, making sure both you and your landlord sign a copy and agree on the what’s been documented. Taking the time to compile a short inventory report is certain to save you time and money, ultimately guaranteeing you against any nasty surprises come the end of your tenancy.