All over the country, parents are anxiously studying the small ads in the hope of finding a suitable flat for their student sons and daughters. While flying the nest is a big adventure for school-leavers, funding their new lifestyle can be an expensive problem for the folks back home.
The cost of living for students is high, but cutting corners by opting for the cheapest accommodation can be both costly and dangerous.
â€œAlthough the market can be quite tight in university towns, parents and students should shop around to find a flat that offers a safe environment as well as value for money,â€? says Mairi Scott, managing director of risk consultants Leaseguard who offer specialist insurance for tenants and landlords in the rental sector.
â€œSadly, in the worst cases, we have even seen young people die because of very poor safety standards in their student flat. Others have had money or items like mobile phones or iPods stolen, weâ€™re also seeing an increase in cases of identity theft where flatmates or other people using the property have impersonated the victim to â€˜borrowâ€™ money from banks.â€?
Before signing a lease, she recommends some simple steps to check whether a landlord is complying with the law and with good practice.
If the flat is designed to accommodate more than two students, ask the landlord whether he or she has permission for its use as a Home of Multiple Occupancy (HMO). Rules have been tightened up on HMOs across the UK, and if the landlord doesnâ€™t have the right licence, tenants could be chucked out when the local council gets to hear that the landlord is in breach of the rules.
â€œIf your son or daughter is studying in Scotland, check whether the landlord has registered with the local council under the Scottish Executiveâ€™s compulsory Landlord Registration Scheme. This new law aims to ensure that landlords are â€˜fit and properâ€™ persons and that their properties are both safe and of a reasonable quality,â€? says Mairi Scott.
It is also important to satisfy yourself that gas appliances are inspected annually by a Corgi-registered plumber â€“ and that all portable electrical appliances are checked by an electrician. Professional landlords will have records to prove that they meet these legal requirements. Landlords are also obliged to ensure that all furnishings are fire resistant.
Read the lease carefully, paying particular attention to:
â€¢ The rent â€“ is it the same as the one quoted on the telephone?
â€¢ The payment date.
â€¢ The period of the lease.
â€¢ The deposit required (normally equivalent to one monthâ€™s rent in advance).
To ensure a record of your rental payments, it is best to pay by standing order or cheque. If paying by cash, ask for receipts. You should receive, and sign for, an inventory of all furniture, appliances, equipment and other items in the flat. If one is not provided, draw up your own and ask the landlord to sign it.
â€œBear in mind that many landlords may expect someone to act as a guarantor if rent for the period of tenancy is not paid up-front, which will mean that the person may have to undergo a credit check and have employer references taken up,â€? says Mairi Scott. â€œGuarantors should make sure they are aware of their responsibilities, such as paying any outstanding rent, and if the property is shared that they are joint and severally liable for all those named on the leaseâ€?.
When your tenancy is over, have your mail redirected to your new address. Uncollected mail is often used as a means of identity theft.
â€œParents should check whether their own contents insurance covers their children while living away from home. If not, itâ€™s important to insure your childrenâ€™s possessions â€“ but make sure you donâ€™t under-insure. Lap-tops, DVD players, game consoles, MP3 players, phones, clothes, bikes and books are costly to replace,â€? says Mairi Scott.
She lists the things to look out for in a tenantâ€™s insurance policy:
â€¢ Is accidental damage included as standard?
â€¢ Is tenantâ€™s liability covered?
â€¢ Is there a low excess (e.g., Â£100)?
â€¢ Does the policy treat students as a standard risk? Some policies load the premium for students.
â€¢ Is the replacement of locks covered following loss of keys?
â€¢ Does it cover personal money and credit cards?
â€¢ Is there an option to include personal effects away from the premises?
For further information, contact: Chris Knight, General Manager, Leaseguard Ltd
Direct Tel no. 01698 368899
Mobile: 07980 626504