The time of year has come again where thousands of students head to university, either for the start of their course or as returning students.
This means a huge increase in business for private landlords and letting agents in towns and cities across England. Furthermore, students are receiving more advice and guidance about what they should expect from their tenancy agreements with their respective landlords. In light of this, landlords should be aware of their legal obligations to ensure that tenancies are problem free, keeping the relationship between landlords and students positive.
What is a HMO?
In most cases, students will live in a house or flat with friends or fellow students, this style of accommodation is called a House of Multiple Occupation (or ‘HMO’ for short). When managing this sort of property, landlords need to be aware of the extra obligations and the issues that sometimes arise.
In light of many student accommodation developments underway across the region and with many having been completed in recent years, landlords should be certain of their obligations so as to avoid any hidden liabilities. With student accommodation, a huge commercial enterprise, unlike times of old, privately owned apartment blocks in towns and cities across England have grown and so too has a Landlord’s responsibilities.
What safety standards need to be met?
A HMO must meet strict health and safety standards, especially fire safety (something which has seen much media attention, especially in the aftermath of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in June).
Landlords must provide a guarantee to their student tenants that their property and common parts meet these standards meaning:
- Each floor must be equipped with fire alarms, extinguishers and fire blankets.
- Gas appliances have had an annual safety check by Gas Safe registered engineers
- Electrical installations have had an annual checked by a qualified electrician, with appliances such as washing machines, kettles, toasters and tumble dryers all having a valid PAT certificate.
Crucially, Landlords must also ensure their HMO Licence is up to date, as a licence is only valid for 5 years. Should a Landlord not be in possession of a valid licence they could face criminal prosecution and potential liability to reimburse tenants for up to 12 months’ rent for the time in which the HMO is not covered by a valid licence.
How to handle deposits and rent
The vast majority of student accommodation tenancies will be Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST), with the duration of the tenancy being for no more than a year (in many cases this is would be the academic year). Landlords should ensure that the terms of the AST are set out in a written agreement, including the duration of the tenancy, the amount of rent which is due and when such rent is due. Landlords should continue to make provision that students be jointly and severally liable for any non-payment of rent and that each student should be backed up by a guarantor.
Why create an inventory?
Landlords should note that deposits paid to them will need to be in a registered deposit protection scheme in the name of any of the designated tenants, as students may ask to see this. The contents of any student property should contain a comprehensive inventory noting the condition of the property beforehand. This is advised in the wake of a group of Bristol students who, in February 2017, successfully challenged a deduction from their rental deposit when pictures were taken to prove that the flat was in a worse state when they occupied it than when they left.
It is therefore vital that landlords ensure that their obligations are met in order to avoid bad press or unwanted litigation and run the risk of being out of pocket.
Not sure about your obligations? Our Commercial Property team can answer any landlord or tenant enquires you may have. We can also draft new or review your current tenancy agreements.