Help and Advice

Independent housing advice on all aspects of housing in university accommodation and the private sector.

Knowing Your Rights & Understanding the Small Print

When you're house hunting, it pays to know the basics of what your landlord has to do.  Knowing your rights helps you spot good and bad landlords, puts you in a stronger negotiating position, and helps you resolve problems if they happen. 

What am I signing up to?

Most private student housing is let under an assured shorthold tenancy

You will have a different type of agreement if you rent from a university, or if you share accommodation with your landlord. 

To check what kind of agreement you have, use Shelter’s tenancy checker or contact Student Advice.

The agreement will give you and your landlord certain rights and responsibilities.  The law also gives you certain rights even if these aren't written in the agreement.

Key points to understand about your responsibilities:
  • Many contracts are for a fixed term of 6 or 12 months.  This means you’re tied in unless there’s a “break clause” allowing you to end the agreement early.

  • Contracts can be joint or individual.  If it’s joint, you could be jointly liable for all your housemates rent.

Contracts can be complicated:

Read more information from Shelter about renting agreements .

Don't sign if you don't understand - come for a contract check.

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Is this contract ok?

Many contracts can be long and some are quite difficult to understand.  But unfortunately, there’s no substitute for reading the contract carefully.  

Don’t feel pressured into signing before you’re ready.  Good landlords will let you take the contract and any guarantor forms away for 24 hours before you sign and Unipol Code landlords must let you if you ask.

Find out about our contract checking service.

Can’t make it for a check in person?

Use our online checker or visit our contracts page for more info on key legal terms.

LUU and Unipol have drawn up an easy to understand tenancy agreement for students. Even if you do not sign the same contract it will give you an idea of what to expect.

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What does my landlord have to do legally?

The information below applies to assured shorthold tenancies or “ASTs”.  Most private student housing is let under this type of agreement.

If you live with the owner of the house, are in university accommodation, or have another type of contract, your rights may be different.  If this applies to you, use Shelter's tenancy checker to get more info on where you stand, or contact Student Advice if you have questions.

What your landlord has to do:
    • Give their full name and address in writing when asked.
    • Give you and follow a written rent payment plan detailing how much rent is, when it is due, and
    how it should be paid. Your landlord can not increase your rent during the contract if you do not
    • Keep the property in good repair, but not make improvements unless these are written into the
    • Give you 24 hours notice of any visits, except in emergencies.
    • Show you the property’s gas safety certificate and energy performance certificate.
    • Show you the HMO license if there are five or more people over three or more floors.
    • Protect your tenancy deposit and tell you which scheme it is in.
    • Fully return your tenancy deposit or explain why they aren’t within 14 days after the tenancy
    • Give you a copy of the utility bill or contract when asked if you pay him/her by usage.
    • Allow you to switch energy suppliers if you pay the supplier directly.
    • Follow the correct legal procedures until the end of the tenancy. For example, obtaining a valid
    warrant from a court if they want to evict you.
    The law gives you these rights even if they aren’t written into the contract. The contract terms
    cannot remove these rights, no matter what the landlord or the contract says.

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What is the difference between joint and individual tenancies? And why does this matter?

If you and your housemates each have separate agreements with the landlord:

  • you will have individual tenancies
  • you will only be responsible for your individual rent 

If you and your housemates sign one agreement at the same time:

  • this will normally be a joint tenancy. 
  • all joint tenants are “jointly and severally liable” for all the rent.

This means that if one of your housemates moves out or doesn’t pay then your landlord can ask you and/or any of the other tenants to pay instead. If any court action is taken the landlord can take everyone to court.

Problems can come up if, for example:

  • Someone fails their exams and doesn’t come back to Uni
  • There are arguments in the house and someone moves out
  • Someone doesn’t like their room and wants to leave
Tips for avoiding problems with joint liability:
  • Take your time to decide who you want to live with.
  • Make sure everyone is happy with the property, the area, and all of the other housemates before you all sign.
  • Have you talked about who’s going to take that tiny basement room?
  • Have you talked about whether everyone can afford the rent?
  • Understand what you are signing: work out the total amount you could be liable for under the contract e.g. £68.35 per week rent x 52 weeks per year x 6 people sharing = £21,325.20
  • Make sure any guarantor forms limit your guarantor’s liability to your share of the rent only.
  • Sign together – if you sign first on one day and then others pull out, you could still be tied into the contract and left to foot the bill.
  • If you’re really unhappy with signing a joint contract, you can negotiate with the landlord to see if s/he will give you individual contracts instead. You could also consider staying on in University Accommodation as they won't hold you liable for your housemates' rent.
  • Get more detailed information about joint tenancies from Shelter.

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What if I change my mind after signing the contract?

Contracts are binding and fixed, meaning there’s no cooling off period after signing. Once you sign a contract, it’s often impossible to get out of it.  You will be liable for rent for the full year.  All the more reason to make sure you’re happy with the house, the landlord and your housemates before signing. 

If you need help with trying to get out of a contact, contact Student Advice for personalised advice on your circumstances, or visit our contracts page for more info.

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What is a guarantor & will I need one?

A guarantor (e.g. a parent) signs an agreement to pay for any rent or damages if the tenant fails to pay up.

Some landlords ask for a guarantor but not all do.  According to Unipol, only around 36% of bed spaces in Leeds are let by landlords who want a guarantor.  So there’s still plenty to choose from if you don’t have someone who’ll be a guarantor for you.  You’ll just need to shop around.

Tips for avoiding problems:

A guarantor is taking on a potentially big risk, particularly if you are signing a joint contract e.g. if your housemate hasn’t paid their rent, your guarantor could be made to pay.  

Do not sign a contract that requires a guarantor form until you and your guarantors have read the form and agreed to sign. If you have already signed a contract but a guarantor refuses to sign, you might not get the keys to the property.

Get the wording of any guarantors agreement checked at a contract check. A good landlord will give you copies of the forms and time to check them through.

Ask the landlord to accept a limited guarantee from your guarantor e.g. just covering your rent/damages. Contact the Student Advice Centre for sample wording.

Tell your guarantor not to give too much personal information on the form e.g. NI number, bank details or passport details should not be necessary.

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I’ve signed the contract. Can the landlord refuse to give me the keys?

Check your contract to find out what you have to do to ensure you get the keys. In some circumstances the landlord can keep the keys and still charge you rent.  Make sure:

  • Everyone pays their first rent payments on time
  • Everyone has paid their deposit
  • All guarantor forms have been handed back
  • Everyone has signed the contract
  • Everyone has signed a direct debit form for rent

Make sure you keep in contact with your housemates in the weeks before you are due to move in so you know if there are any problems. If you know there are problems, speak to the landlord to try and make alternative arrangements. 

If you have problems getting the keys, contact Student Advice for personalised help.


We make every effort to ensure information on these pages is accurate and up to date, however policies, procedures and regulations are subject to change. We therefore cannot accept responsibility for any loss, damage or inconvenience suffered as a result of using our pages. Read the full disclaimer.

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