So you've found the perfect house in the perfect place, and you can afford it. Now before you sign your life away, bear these things in mind:
I know it sounds obvious, but when you're given 20 pages of legal-speak to wade through your enthusiasm can wane. However it's vital that you understand what you're signing – it's not enough to think "Oh I'm sure they won't put anything too bad in it" – because that's simply not true! Even if they haven't you need to know your rights and your responsibilities.
Get it checked
I will be having drop in sessions in College through the househunting season, and am happy to look through contracts. I will refer problems or questions I can't answer to the Accommodation Office – or you can just go to them direct on Level A of DSU.
Don't be rushed
Code of Standards landlords should give you at least 24 hours during the working week to check the contract before signing. Don't let a landlord race you against another group – they should give a contract to only one group at a time.
Joint or Separate contracts
Make sure you know who you are signing for. In 'joint and several' contracts you are all individually liable for the whole groups rent, so that if someone drops out you've got to find the rent (or another housemate) between you, but separate individual contracts mean that the landlord doesn't have to give notice to enter the communal areas of the house. You probably won't get a choice but you need to understand which one you're signing.
Unfair Tenancy Terms
The Office of Fair Trading say that if there is a break clause for the landlord there should be one for the tenant too. However, break clauses are very rare – once you've signed, you're stuck! Also, if the contract says something that's against the law, then it's invalid – but make sure that both you and the landlord know that... and preferably take it out! A court will not look at the term stating the rent, but other terms can include:
So keep a look out. If you need advice get it checked over in the Accommodation Office.
Landlords are responsible for structure, exterior, windows, door frames, water supply and heating. The contract must not contradict this. The phrase 'right to alter' should also be avoided, as it would allow the Landlord to do major work to the property while you were still in it.
Assignment is your ability to pass on the tenancy to another person (ie if you leave Durham University). Older contracts sometimes prohibit assignment, but this is now a legal right and you can assign regardless of what it says. (Note that this is not the same as subletting)
Landlord's right to recover the property
There will be a clause about this; after 14 days in arrears the Landlord can start to take action to recover the property. However you can only be evicted after 2 months without payment and even then with a court order. In the event of a dispute a landlord's legal costs cannot be passed onto the tenant, if there is a clause contrary to this the accommodation offices advises that you do not sign the contract. Similar advice is given about injury claim limitation.
You may be asked to keep the garden in a good state, and sometimes deposits are deducted if the garden is a mess. Check with the landlord what they expect you to do.
Some landlords will ask for a parent to guarantee the rent. Bear in mind that this might mean that one parent guarantees the rent for the whole group!
Don't forget that the deposit is payable when you sign the contract, so make sure you have the money ready in your account for when the cheque goes through.