What landlords – and you – are obliged to do isn’t always clear. So let’s declutter the clutter.

If you’re lucky you’ll have a brilliant landlord, someone who picks up the phone to any problem and doesn’t squeeze every penny from your student loan. But the likelihood is you’ll at least have a few teething problems with landlords during your uni life.

The landlord’s commitment to you

Your landlord has a duty to look after the property you’re in on many levels. For example:

  • They should make sure there’s ‘adequate’ means of fire escape.
  • At least one smoke alarm should be fitted on every floor.
  • Many properties will require each floor to have fire alarms, fire blankets and extinguishers too.
  • Any gas appliances that come with the property must be checked at least once a year by a registered engineer, with records kept of each visit.
  • It goes without saying (perhaps) that all electrical installations should be safe and regularly checked too. Portable appliances like kettles and toasters should be PAT-tested every five years.
  • Nasty infestations like mice, rats, bedbugs and beetles are up to your landlord to get shifted – so long as you’re not at fault for luring them in. Get in touch with your landlord asap. If you’re unwelcome guests are rats, contact the local health authority too.

50 shades of grey

It’s not all black and white when it comes to tenant-landlord issues. There are plenty of grey areas. Here are some of the most common

  • Wear and tear – It’s difficult to determine what might be considered reasonable depreciation of a property and what diminished value has been caused by the tenants. It might be easier for the landlord to argue this one out than the tenant in many cases. Make sure you don’t give them too much ammunition, make efforts to repair any glaring defects and you’re more likely to faire well at the end of the tenancy.
  • Wall damage – Similarly, this can invoke a range of landlord reactions. Strictly speaking, many tenancy agreements will say you shouldn’t make any indentations on the wall at all, but who on earth lives without pictures, paintings or posters in their home? Again, if you’re super-careful and ‘make good’ any holes or divots, hopefully you’ll do just fine.
  • Noise disturbance – If push comes to shove, the local council may send round an environmental officer to monitor noise levels in and around your property. Before it comes to that, your best bet is to give your neighbours the least cause for complaining – give them advance warning if you’re having a party. They need to be reasonable too. You’re at university; you’re not going to be living like an 80-year-old church mouse.
  • Guests – Having occasional guests overnight should be fine. Long-term stays and sub-letting is almost certainly going to run against the terms of your tenancy agreement. This issue can cause more upset within the household than with your neighbours, but either way, provided you’re friendly, upfront, honest and respectful, you’ll have a good chance of bending the rules when it suits.
  • Reporting problems – When it comes the end of your tenancy there can be a lot of dirt dished between tenant and landlord around when a problem was actually surfaced. It can become the crux of a major dispute. Report anything amiss asap, and report updates on it regularly, especially if you don’t hear back from your landlord. Keep an email or paper trail of all communications. And have witnesses to the problem.

When things go wrong

First of all, hopefully you’ve been doing all that reporting we just talked about. At this stage, it’s crucial you’ve got your history of evidence to fall back on. Having things in writing can be a powerful weapon.

Technically, if an emergency repair under £250 is needed in your property then the landlord should see to it within 24 hours. If it’s classed as ‘urgent’ but not an emergency then it’s within four days. This is now law under the Right to Repair scheme.

There are plenty of mirror images of this article out there on the web, all geared towards informing landlords of their rights. In brief, they will expect you to take good care of the property and its furnishings, make any minor repairs yourself and inform them of any issues promptly. If you don’t they could evict you. Of course, there main concern will be that you pay your rent on time. If you miss two months’ rent or you’re payments are regularly late then, again, they can evict you.

But if they want you out they need to go about it in the proper way. Harassment tactics, including cutting utility services, making threats, or refusing to carry out critical repairs, are a big no-no.

At the end of the day…

Or rather, at the end of the year… you’ll hopefully come to the end of your tenancy with you and the landlord on the best of terms. If that’s the case, you should get your deposit back in full without question. If there’s a dispute then the deposit can become a big bartering tool towards any kind of resolution. Find out more about how Tenancy Deposit Schemes work.

Your stay-safe tenant / landlord checklist

  • Make sure you have a legal tenancy agreement in place. Sounds obvious but, according to Direct Line, 1 in 10 landlords dealing directly with tenants don’t!
  • Remember your landlord must give at least 24 hours’ notice before they drop by.
  • You’re responsible for: maintenance of internal décor and furnishings, keeping the property heated and ventilated properly, minor repairs (eg, changing lightbulbs), your own appliances, reporting problems.
  • Your landlord is responsible for: the exterior, anything structural, fittings such as pipes, drains and basins, utility connections, wiring, common areas.

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