Stu­dents face a steep learn­ing curve over ten­ancy pit­falls

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Sharon Dale

UNIVER­SITY stu­dents all over the coun­try are com­ing out of their first year in halls and hap­pily sign­ing up to ten­ancy agree­ments on stu­dent houses in prepa­ra­tion for the com­ing aca­demic year in Septem­ber. Vir­tu­ally all will be asked in their ten­ancy agree­ment to com­mit to “joint and sev­eral li­a­bil­ity”, which means each stu­dent as­sumes full in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity for ev­ery­thing in the ten­ancy agree­ment, even in the event of departures or de­faults by their house­mates.

Land­lords nearly al­ways re­quire the par­ents to act as guar­an­tor for the rent. If the stu­dent chooses to live in a house with, say, seven oth­ers, at an aver­age cost of £90 per week – of­ten for a full 12 months even if the stu­dents only live in dur­ing the term time – then that par­ent will be guar­an­tee­ing a fig­ure over £30,000, not to men­tion dam­age and other claims.

John Fos­ter, property part­ner with cor­po­rate law firm Shul­mans LLP So­lic­i­tors and a specialist in stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion, ex­plains that this is only one con­cern. “I’m afraid it gets worse,” he says “While the ten­ancy agree­ment will of­ten im­pose on the ten­ants full re­spon­si­bil­ity for re­pair and up­keep, in many in­stances this obli­ga­tion will not ex­clude dam­age by in­sured risks. I have such a doc­u­ment in front of me where there is no obli­ga­tion on the land­lord ac­tu­ally to in­sure the property.”

Ac­cord­ing to John, the worst case sce­nario can be truly fright­en­ing. “The property burns down, it is unin­sured and the land­lord sees you as the eas­i­est and most ef­fec­tive tar­get. In strict law you will have to meet the cost of re­pair­ing the premises en­tirely, with no re­course against your child’s now ab­sent house­mates or their guar­an­tors.

“In the way that these things are done it is not fea­si­ble ei­ther in cost or time to seek to ne­go­ti­ate the ten­ancy agree­ment, nor to seek counter-in­dem­ni­ties from the other house­mates or their par­ents.

“Of­ten your child is des­per­ate to com­mit to the property and to his/her best friends and will bring to bear the pres­sure that only chil­dren can. One bout of very loud tears over the tele­phone was enough to make me sign up; hap­pily none of the above came to pass, but this did not make it risk-free.”

Un­for­tu­nately, this is a sit­u­a­tion to which there is no prac­ti­cal or fea­si­ble an­swer; the best you can do is to get as­sur­ances, of­ten tele­phoned, but bet­ter in writ­ing or email, that the land­lord has got the property in­sured on terms where the in­surer can­not then sue the ten­ants for breach of covenant. You should also seek con­fir­ma­tion from your fel­low guar­an­tors that they will re­im­burse you if you are the land­lord’s un­lucky vic­tim, in the event of their own child’s de­fault, or in the event of your guar­an­tee be­ing called be­fore theirs to make good any dis­as­trous con­se­quences of a wild stu­dent party. If the land­lord is af­fil­i­ated to it, you can also check with the Univer­sity’s ac­com­mo­da­tion depart­ment, to see if the land­lord’s terms de­part from any agreed pro­to­col, or to check that the land­lord is ba­si­cally sound and re­spon­si­ble.

But, as John warns, this is only com­fort, not le­gal pro­tec­tion, as he knows from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. “I tried to ne­go­ti­ate the guar­an­tee word­ing to limit its scope, but heavy de­mand from other stu­dents meant the land­lord could flatly refuse.”

“I know of a fa­ther who specif­i­cally qual­i­fied his guar­an­tee to limit it to his daugh­ter’s share. One could also qual­ify a guar­an­tee by say­ing that it did not ex­tend to dam­age where the land­lord has in­sured the property or in­deed should have in­sured the property. How­ever the door was slammed in my face when I tried this. And ul­ti­mately, ur­gency and parental com­pas­sion sel­dom al­lows an ex­tended ne­go­ti­a­tion with the land­lord.”

John Fos­ter is a property part­ner at Shul­mans LLP So­lic­i­tors, Welling­ton Street, Leeds, www.shul­mans.co.uk

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