NUS alerts student tenants to the dangers of the Housing Act

October 4, 1996

Booze, buddies, boogie and boredom. Alan Thomson samples the ups and downs of freshers' week. The National Union of Students issued special guidelines this week amid fears that new legislation will seriously undermine students' rights as tenants of private landlords.

A separate leaflet will hammer home the safety message to student tenants.

The NUS has produced the Students Guide to Housing in response to the 1996 Housing Act. It says that the act will make it easier for landlords to end tenancies thereby further eroding tenants' security of tenure.

Paul Allender, housing research officer for the NUS, said: "Currently landlords must issue notice if they are setting up an assured shorthold tenancy but from January next year they no longer have this duty. "This means that tenants may not know that they have an assured shorthold tenancy with security of tenure for just six months."

The guide, which was written by solicitor Christine Wilson, of Macfarlanes, in London, explains what rights students will have as private-sector tenants, including their security of tenure and information about contracts.

In conjunction with the booklet, the NUS has produced a leaflet called Home Sweet Home.

It was written in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and offers advice on a range of rights including having repairs carried out, fire safety, overcrowding and the law relating to gas and electrical appliances.

Mr Allender said that while standards and safety could never be guaranteed, the best advice to all students, particularly freshers, was to seek private rented accommodation through their university's accommodation office.

What the changes will mean

Student tenants ought to be aware of two main types of tenancy agreements: the assured tenancy and the assured shorthold tenancy.

The first can be made to last for a fixed period of time or for an indefinite period. Such tenancies can be created by written or oral agreement. An assured shorthold tenancy agreement, by far the more common, is for a fixed period of at least six months.

But students should also be aware of a subtle but significant change relating to shorthold agreements brought about by the Housing Act 1996, which comes into effect from January.

At present landlords are obliged to give tenants and prospective tenants special written notice of any assured shorthold agreement. Failure to do so means that the tenancy is assured.

The new legislation reverses the current position meaning that all tenancies entered into are assured shorthold unless the landlord gives the tenant prior special notice that it is an assured tenancy. Landlords must give shorthold tenants at least two months' notice, which cannot expire before the end of the six-month fixed term.

As a result of the new legislation, tenants who feel their rent may be too high may only apply to the Rent Assessment Committee during the first six months of their tenancy.

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