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Durham University

Accommodation and Allocations Office

Housing Terminology

The terminology involved with tenancy agreements can be confusing. The terms below are some that you may come across in your house-hunting search and when reading contracts.

Council Tax: This is a tax which is set by local councils to help pay for the services that they provide. The tax is payable by the household. Full-time students (defined as studying more than 21 hours a week and more than 24 weeks a year, with the course lasting at least one academic year or calendar year) are exempt from Council Tax. You may be charged Council Tax for a period after you have finished one course and are waiting to start another, but you should not be charged during any vacation periods that fall between terms or semesters whilst your course is ongoing.

If there is a mix of students and non-students in a property, the property will remain liable for Council Tax. The non-students will be liable for the bill and the students at that address will need to obtain Council Tax exemption certificates from the University.

According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA):

The dwelling should still be exempt if your spouse, civil partner or dependant is not a British citizen, and has been given permission to be in the UK (given ‘leave to enter’ or ‘leave to remain’) with a ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition or a prohibition on employment endorsed in their passport, or on their UK identity card ('Biometric Residence Permit' or 'Identity Card for Foreign Nationals'). This covers almost all spouses, civil partners and dependants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland who come to join an international student in the UK.

Electric Safety Certificate: A landlord must ensure the electric system and all electric appliances provided with the property are safe. HMOs (see definition below) are required to have periodic inspections carried out every five years by a registered electrician. Most landlords will have electric safety certificates even if the property is not a HMO.

EPC: An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) which a landlord or seller is required to provide when a property is built, sold, or rented out. An EPC contains information about the energy performance of a property and recommendations about how to reduce energy use.

Estate Agent / Letting Agent: An agent helps a landlord find tenants for their property. A landlord may choose to have an agent manage their property or just take care of advertising. Some agents will charge you admin fees for their services. If they do, make sure you know what exactly they are charging and what you are getting for those fees before paying or signing anything. Ensure you’re only subject to admin fees on the basis of a guaranteed tenancy - not just for being able to “apply”. Admin fees are generally non-refundable.

Fair Usage Policy: If your rent inclues some/all of your utility bills - or if you have a separate bills included option - then your contract will likely have a Fair Usage Policy in regards to those utilities. This will state the amount of each utility that is included and what happens if you go over that limit.

Gas Safety Certificate: A landlord is required to have a registered gas engineer do an annual gas safety check and provide you with a copy of the record before you move in (or within 28 days of the check).

Guarantor: A guarantor agrees to be liable for your rent if you cannot or do not pay. Many landlords will require a UK-based guarantor (normally this will be a parent) before letting a student property. If you do not have a UK-based guarantor (as will be the case for many international students), you may be asked to pay more or all of your rent upfront. There are also companies that act as guarantors.

HMO: An HMO is a House of Multiple Occupation, which in general terms, means a building where more than one household (or 'family unit') is living together. If you live in an HMO, your landlord has extra responsibilities and the property may be required to have an HMO license. If the property is three stories or more and is occupied by five or more people (who form two or more households), it must be licensed by the local housing authority. You can find out more about the additional responsibilities for an HMO here.

Individual Contract (Sole Tenancy): If you are on an individual contract (which many postgraduates will be), this means you are responsible for your own portion of the rent and you will not be liable for a fellow tenant's rent arrears. You will be jointly responsible for the condition of the communal areas (eg. living room, kitchen, etc.). Under an individual contract, the landlord has more rights to enter the house without giving notice. This applies only to the communal areas; 24 hours written notice must be given to enter the bedrooms.

Joint Contract - Joint & Several Liability: This is the most common type of agreement for undergraduate student lettings. You and your housemates are jointly renting the whole house, not just a bedroom. Students are jointly and severally liable for the payment of the rent for the house. If one (or more) tenants fail to pay, the landlord can (and in most cases will) ask the other tenants for the rent arrears. This means that if one of your group leaves at the beginning, or part way through the tenancy, the remaining tenants will be liable for the extra rent.

Landlord / Tenant: Landlord refers to a person who owns property and allows another person to use it for a fee. The person living in the property is called the tenant. A Resident Landlord lives in the property that they rent out.

Right to Rent Checks: As of 1 February 2016, homeowners, landlords, and Agents are required by law to ensure that a prospective tenant has the right to rent in England before letting a room/property to that person. This means that your landlord or the Letting Agent will ask to see originals of certain documents, such as a passport, UK birth certificate, student visa, etc. to prove that you have the right to be in England and to rent. You can find out more about what this means and what you may be asked for here.

Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme: Most landlords will require you to pay a deposit. By law, your landlord must protect and place your deposit in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme (these include: Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits, and Tenancy Deposit Scheme) within 30 days of receipt. These schemes safeguard the money and offer independent adjudication in the event of any dispute between tenant and landlord.