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Contracts and checking ownership

Introduction

The following are the most common forms of letting contracts although there are some others. This Guide is not intended to make you a legal expert and you should always seek advice before making any assumptions about the agreement that you are going to or have already signed.

Never sign a contract with which you do not agree or which you do not understand. Always, get it checked first. Your University Accommodation Office should be able to advise you about where you can do this.

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Joint tenancies

Prisoners on a chain gang
A joint tenancy binds the tenants together.

If a group of you are renting a property together and you are all named on the contract, it is likely that you will have what is called a joint tenancy.

A joint tenancy means that you are each liable for the whole rent of the premises and for any other obligations under the tenancy.

For example: There is a group of four tenants on a joint tenancy for 9 months and one tenant decides to leave in the sixth month because they are fed up that no one else does any cleaning. Each joint tenant was paying an equal share of the rent. In this case, the landlord is entitled to collect the shortfall in rent from any or all of the remaining tenants. These remaining tenants may subsequently be able to recover this money from the missing tenant.
In the above circumstances, the best solution is for the leaving tenant to find someone to replace them. If they are able to do this, everyone (remaining tenants, leaving tenant, replacing tenant and landlord) should then sign an Assignment document . This will allow the existing contract to continue under the same terms and conditions as before, but just with different people. The leaving tenant will be completely released from the contract. An Assignment document that you can use is included in this guide here.

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Individual Tenancies

If a group of you are living in a property together, but you want to avoid the
burdens of a joint tenancy, you could try and negotiate individual tenancies of your rooms.This means that you are only liable for the rent for your room but have access to all the joint facilities of the property (i.e. bathroom, kitchen etc).

The disadvantages of this agreement are that:
1.  If someone leaves, you do not have any say over who the leaving tenant or the landlord finds to replace them.
2.  Because you only have a tenancy of your room, the landlord can have relatively free access to the common parts of the property (i.e. bathroom, kitchen etc).
3.  You may have to pay a separate licence fee for each TV in the house.

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Living with a resident landlord

If you share accommodation with your landlord, either in their home as a lodger or in a converted property where you and the landlord live in different parts of the building, you will be an excluded occupier. In such a case your rights will be reduced.

Although you are not covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 [whereby landlords are  required to gain a court order to evict you], your landlord should provide you with reasonable notice to leave.

There are no set rules about what is reasonable. It depends on:

  • the length of time you have been living there
  • the length of time between rent payments
  • whether you have been getting on with your landlord 
  • how quickly the landlord needs someone else to move in

There are also other factors to consider as the precise nature of the agreement is determined by how much shared access you have with the landlord to the bathroom, kitchen and communal areas.

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Break Clauses

Harry Houdini
Even an escape artist can’t get out of contract without a break clause

Before you sign a tenancy agreement you may want to consider negotiating a break clause with your landlord or agent, as this will enable you to end your tenancy before the end of the fixed term.

Often, landlords and agencies will request you to sign a 12 month tenancy agreement. However,  most academic terms at universities and colleges end in June and therefore you may be signing an agreement for longer than you require! Negotiating a break clause could allow you to end your agreement early.

For example, you have entered into a tenancy agreement in September. The term is fixed until September the following year. You want to leave in June [9 months] after your exams have finished.
 
Example of clause:
The Landlord or Tenant may give 2 months prior written notice at any time to determine this agreement provided that such notice does not expire sooner that nine months from the start of the tenancy.

It is worth noting that although you will be able to end your tenancy, the landlord also has the right to terminate your agreement after nine months. So if you want to remain in the property for the full length of the tenancy, you may not want to negotiate any break clause at all.

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Checking ownership

Magnifying glass over house.

It is a good idea to check the ownership of the property before you sign the contract. Make sure that the person claiming to be the landlord does indeed own the property and has the right to let it.

There have been cases in London of council or housing association tenants subletting their flats to students in order to benefit from the difference between social rents and market rents. If the council or housing association find out, they will repossess the property and the student tenants will be made homeless.

For the price of £3, a credit card payment can be made on-line at the Land Registry website to check ownership of the property:

Land Registry

www.landregisteronline.gov.uk/

Create an online account and once you have done so enter the full postcode and house or flat number of the property you wish to search for. You should then purchase the “title register” and if there is a choice between Freehold and Leasehold, you should purchase the Leasehold document. Where there is only Freehold available, purchase this.

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Last Updated: 02/08/2013 16:45:21