Signing a Contract
Housing Law in Wales is changed on 1st December 2022.
After 1st December 2022 the Assured Shorthold Tenancy will be replaced by a Standard Occupation Contract. This means that any Assured Shorthold Tenancy will automatically convert to a Standard Occupation Contract. Your security of tenure or your rights as a tenant should not be affected but your landlord will need to provide you with a written statement of the converted occupation contract within 6 months.
The purpose of the new law will be to make renting a home in Wales more simple and more straightforward.
Student Advice will provide more detail in due course. More information on this can be found here.
Once you sign a contract, you will usually be legally bound by the terms of it for the term specified. A housing contract will likely be the most expensive commitment you make and, given that it is linked to where you will be calling home, also one of the most important. Make sure you have read and understood what you are agreeing to before you sign anything or pay any money.
Before you agree to live in a property, we recommend that you make sure you are happy with:
- The accommodation, location, and price. Detailed advice is available on our Finding Student Housing and Viewing a Property webpages.
- The people. Are you confident that you will be able to live with your chosen group of people? Signing a tenancy agreement is not just a legal contract to say that you will pay rent and live in a house, but it is also an agreement that you will live with these people for an agreed period. A very common issue resulting in students seeking early release from housing contracts is falling out with housemates. It is therefore a good idea to make sure you get to know everyone properly before committing to this with them.
- The landlord/agency. If you are looking at private rented accommodation, the landlord and the address must be registered with Rent Smart Wales. Anyone dealing with the letting of the property must also be licensed. Detailed information is available on our Landlord/Agency Registration and Licensing webpage.
Types of Contract
Your legal rights and obligations differ, depending on the type of contract you are being asked to sign. These differences include whether your deposit has to be protected, how easy it is to evict you, and how easy it is to move out of the address.
There are many types of contract but, the vast majority of students will be asked to sign one of the following:
Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement (ASTs)
These are the most common type of tenancy agreements offered by private landlords/agencies and private halls of residence. ASTs are given where the property owner doesn't live at the address. Some contracts may be legally deemed as AST agreements, even if they say otherwise.
The assured period must be a minimum of 6 months, but in practice typically lasts 12 months.
ASTs at law do not have to be printed documents, although this is considered best practice by the National Residential Landlords Association. If there is no written tenancy agreement, the landlord is obliged, under the Renting Homes Wales Act 2016, to provide a written statement within 14 days of the occupation date, detailing the terms of the contract. If they fail to do so, the tenant(s) can claim compensation.
For the duration of the fixed term, the tenant(s) are liable for the rent, and the landlord is under no obligation to agree to end the contract, even if they find a replacement tenant (although in practice should not be refused unreasonably).
Deposits paid for AST agreements must be protected in one of three independent schemes. The property, landlord and letting agent must be registered with Rent Smart Wales.
The majority of student AST agreements are joint contracts. A joint contract is where all the tenants are named on the same agreement and agree the contract together. Legally speaking, tenants on a joint contract are seen to be jointly and severally liable for all obligations under the contract. This means that the landlord can pursue any or all of the tenants for any breach of contract, such as non-payment of rent or damage to the property. In practice, if tenants A + B + C all sign one of these contracts, and then C stops paying the rent, the landlord could recover the missing rent from tenant(s) A, B and C. They may also be able to pursue all the guarantor(s) for any missing amount, depending on the wording of any guarantor forms signed. This same principle applies for any damages made to the property, should this need to be recovered from the deposits.
If you lived in a shared house/flat but all have individual contracts, you will only be legally liable to pay your own rent and for your own breaches of that agreement. This type of contract should usually be an AST for your room and a license to occupy the communal areas, usually with certain rules as to behaviour and damage etc. This means that only you have the right to be in your room and all housemates have the right to be in shared areas.
You can request an individual tenancy to minimise your liability if you are looking to share with others but the landlord may refuse as it is financially safer for them to be able to pursue all tenants.
If you have an individual tenancy you do not normally have any control over who the landlord rents the other rooms to. If you have a fixed term contract and someone moves in that you do not like, you will likely be bound to pay the rent for the remaining term or have to find someone to replace you that the landlord is happy with.
Any deposit paid under an individual tenancy should be protected separately and the landlord can only make deductions for your breaches of the tenancy.
A contract to stay in someone’s home
A contract to stay in someone’s home with them (often referred to a lodger’s agreement) is provided where the landlord lives in or shares accommodation with the tenants. These agreements give you the legal status of being an ‘excluded occupier’.
An excluded occupier has very few tenancy rights and can only stay in the property until the landlord asks them to leave, or for as long as any written agreement says. The landlord can also evict you if you do are late with, or do not pay the rent.
Importantly, if you are an excluded occupier, the landlord can evict you without a court order, even if you have a written agreement to say you can stay there longer. If the landlord evicts you before an agree term has ended, you can claim compensation for breach of contract but you still have to leave the property. It is a criminal offence for you landlord to use or threaten violence in the process of eviction.
Deposits for this type of contract do not have to be protected in one of three independent schemes, meaning it can be much more difficult to dispute any deductions when you leave.
Occupiers with Basic Protection
If you are signing a contract to live in University owned residences, or to live in the same building as your landlord but not share living accommodation, you will likely be an occupier with basic protection. This offers less protection from eviction than an Assured Shorthold Tenancy but more than an Excluded Occupier.
If you are an occupier with basic protection, your landlord can evict you by applying for a possession order from the County Court. If you have an agreed fixed term, the landlord cannot evict you unless you do not pay your rent. If you do not have an agreed fixed term, the landlord must give you written notice of intent to evict you before they can apply to the court for possession. More detailed information is available on the Shelter Cymru website.
Subletting arrangements can be complicated and most tenancy agreements prohibit it. If you are looking to sub-let a room from someone, that person will be your landlord. If their tenancy agreement does not allow sub-letting, the original landlord can evict you if they find out and pursue that sub-letting tenant for breach of contract.
Important considerations before you sign:
- Check that the property and landlord and letting agent is registered with Rent Smart Wales. Check the property has an House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence if it needs one.
- Has the landlord/agent asked you to pay any prohibited payments and either returned any holding fee or agreed to offset it against your first rent?
- Have you viewed the property in person and checked it for signs of disrepair, particularly any signs of damp or mould? Further detailed information is available on our Viewing a Property webpage.
- Are you confident that you will be able to live with your chosen group of people? Signing a tenancy agreement is not just a legal contract to say that you will pay rent and live in a house, but it is also an agreement that you will live with these people for an agreed period. A very common issue resulting in students seeking early release from housing contracts is falling out with housemates. It is therefore a good idea to make sure you get to know everyone properly before committing to this with them.
- Are you confident that you will be staying in Cardiff for the entire academic year? If not, we recommend trying to negotiate a break clause, to allow you to end the agreement early and without penalty if, for example, the University moves all teaching online.
Checking the contract
- Is it a joint contract (are you all named on the same agreement)? If so, be aware that you will all be liable for all breaches of the contract. You can ask the landlord/agency for individual tenancies if you prefer but they can refuse.
- Are all tenant names correct and present on the contract?
- Are all of the amounts (rent, deposits etc) correct and as you agreed?
- Who manages the property, the Letting Agent or Landlord?
- Is the landlord’s name and address included? Some landlords have a managing agent to deal with queries and repairs at their property. However, the contract is with the landlord, who has legal obligations and responsibilities. Your contract should provide an address for tenants to contact about their tenancy. This must be an address in England or Wales.
- If you do not have direct contact with your landlord it can be useful to have his/her full details. You can find out the landlord's name and address by making a written request to the person who last collected rent, pointing out your right to this information under Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. You should keep a copy of the letter, and send it by recorded delivery. The law says that the information should be provided within 21 days of the request. If you find that you make this request and the agent refuses to give you the contact information, you may wish to remind them of their legal obligations to provide this.
- Are any promises made by the landlord/agency written into your contract? If the landlord/agency have promised to complete any work in the property, to add or remove any furniture, or have said that bills are included, you need to have this in writing prior to signing the contract or you will have no evidence if they later deny it.
- Are there any hidden charges? Be clear on any hidden costs, and read the small print carefully. You can try to negotiate your rent before you sign the contract, but not after. You can also negotiate terms of the contract, such as summer rent.
- What does it say about summer rent? If people want to live in the property over summer then make sure this is an option and get it in writing. Sometimes letting agents will only allow full or half rent for the entire property, with either all or none of the tenants living there.
- Does any term that mentions the landlord/agency/tradespeople entering the property state that you will be given at least 24 hours’ notice, except in an emergency? You have a right to live in the property as your home. The landlord should ask your permission before he or she enters the premises and should give you 24 hours' written notice of an inspection or to carry out repairs (or to show prospective tenants around, if your contract gives permission for viewings during the contract). This should also be at reasonable times for you.
Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410