Student tenants - a landlord's rights and responsibilities

Students have something of a poor reputation as tenants. Horror stories abound of students who move in and then virtually destroy a property before moving on. So, if you let students in – what are your rights and responsibilities?

The student tenant market is a perennial favourite for professional landlords. Despite reputation, the student market is a lucrative and important one – and student tenants are, on the whole, significantly better behaved than their reputation suggests.

While investors have in many parts of the country saw diminishing rents as the recession took its toll, areas with a high concentration of students have been remarkably resilient. Similarly, the initial outlay required to get a property to rentable condition for students is significantly lower than for other tenants.

But there are downsides associated with student tenants. Primarily, you will see lower levels of capital appreciation in student-friendly areas. If you are aiming to sell your property on at a higher price, rather than making a living through rental, student tenants may not be your best bet. Furthermore, the increased prevalence of private student accommodation run by large companies like Unite has resulted in more significant competition in this field.

Finally, most students are unable to provide any sort of credit reference. This is one of the most important tools available to conventional landlords when vetting their potential tenants, and you must find ways to protect yourself against the ensuing financial risk. Make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities in order to ensure an easy, uneventful tenancy.

Your responsibilities

Although many students have less stringent requirements than those of conventional tenants, you must still provide accommodation that is in suitable and liveable condition. Basic amenities like heating must all be functioning properly, and the property should be decorated to a reasonable standard.

Health and safety is also of prime importance, so ensure that you have smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and other such items in the appropriate location and that they are working. You should also make sure electrical items and gas supplies are tested before each new tenancy.

With regard to contracts, it is likely that you will use a standard or slightly altered Assured Short Hold Tenancy. This confers certain further responsibilities on you as a landlord. A particularly common malpractice among landlords with student tenants is unannounced or short-notice ‘inspections’. A standard contract will state that you have to give reasonable notice before entering the property and, even if this clause is absent, a court would likely uphold that you owe this responsibility to your tenants.

Your rights

While you do have a set of standard responsibilities that you must fulfil, landlords renting their properties to students understandably wish to take extra steps to safeguard their property and their income. It is important that you know what steps you are legally entitled to take.

Given that most of your tenants will not be able to provide you with a credit reference, you are within your rights to ask for further guarantees instead of this. The most common course of action is to ask for a guarantor to pledge to meet the rent or any other bad debts in the event that the tenant defaults. This guarantor is generally a parent. You should always take a deposit of at least one month’s rent, and this should be secured immediately under the terms of the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme.

Some landlords demand a full term’s rental payment in advance. While you are entitled to do this, you should remember that prospective tenants are likely to be suspicious – and rightfully so. This is not recommended if you wish to build a good rapport with your tenants – who are, after all, your clients.

An increasing number of universities now offer student recommendation services for accommodation, under which the university vouches for the integrity of potential tenants. If they default on the rent or damage the property, they risk losing their place at university. If you can stomach the questionable morality of such a scheme, you may wish to investigate as it is likely to make your investment more secure.

Finally, you are under no obligation to offer tenancies that only run through term time. While some students will request a break in their tenancy during summer holidays, you do not have to accede to this. Some landlords, however, choose to offer periods of half-price rent during extended holidays. This is a good way of filling your property if you are having difficulty finding tenants.

Insurance matters

When you are renting to students, landlord insurance becomes particularly important. If you already have insurance, you should check that it will still cover you for student tenancies. Otherwise, contents cover is essential if you are offering the property furnished, and accidental damage also comes in handy.

In many ways students represent the perfect tenants. By and large they have lower standards than other tenants, and they generally have a parent or other individual that will foot the bill if they default on their rent. However, you should not take student tenants for granted – they are still paying clients. Do not forget, though, to be as cautious as possible in order to ensure that you enjoy a mutually agreeable tenancy.