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Since it’s nearing the time to sign contracts for next year, this is a cautionary tale of my recent experience.
I was in my second year, relying on receiving a room on campus since I applied for it early, which did not happen. I found out my application was rejected in January when most accommodation in town is already taken. Under pressure, I signed a joint contract with two strangers who were flatmates I met recently at university. Of course, I read through the contract. But above all, I trusted the agency because when you call them you hear, “Thank you for calling The Lettings Agent. Award winners for the best estate agents in Lancaster for 3 years running.”
With time we had fallings out and I had to leave.
In the UK, you need a guarantor if you want to pay the rent in installments. Being an international student, I had paid all my rent upfront.
I contacted the agency to ask for the remainder of my rent back (£2280) and they told me the only way for that to happen was if I:
1. Create an advertisement on sparerooms.co.uk
2. Organise the viewings
3. Convince the other tenants to sign a new joint contract
Aren’t these jobs supposed to be the agency’s responsibility?
As a student, solving these issues was the least of my concern when I had coursework, a strike going on in my department, COVID-19 affecting teaching, and exams to study for. I still found a girl and introduced her to the other tenants.
The other tenants decided beforehand they would not accept any new tenant due to alleged fear of all strangers, despite being international students who chose to study abroad amidst strangers. If they would have refused a new tenant, I would have lost £2280. They said they can’t do anything about my money because legally they didn’t have to and were so ‘afraid’ they stayed downstairs and could be heard laughing with a friend while I was conducting the viewing upstairs. This friend, along with others, might have needed an unlockable, free, prepaid accommodation open to guests because they often came over to visit.
I attempted to warn the other tenants and their friend that I will share how they behaved to me with others and they said this is ‘blackmail’ and spread this about me, even if I never wrote anything about them nor asked anyone for money.
Not everyone can be compromised with but I have come to terms with having paid for two accommodations at once as a student.
I tried contacting the landlord to ask for my rent back. The contract did not disclose their details so I called the agency that said I could not speak to the landlord. They said they couldn’t help me with my rent as the contract was set up in such a way there was no other way to get my money back.
As soon as I moved into my new accommodation, the agency contacted me. Not to help me but to inform me the collective electricity and gas use was nearing the limit and we will soon be charged. As a student already paying for two accommodations, I called the agency asking if there was anything I could do to prevent this. I hoped if I returned the key they couldn’t charge me for the next 6 months but since I signed, they still could.
What kind of contract only defends the agency and not us students?
In Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Germany contracts are made in a way that both sides have the same rights. That means students have the right to terminate their contract with x months (usually 2) of time to move out, which they pay and then they don’t pay the rest.
In the UK, the landlord has the right to tell the student they must leave in 2 months, so the student should have the same right. There is no such thing in The Lettings Agent’s break clause. In fact, the contract states the rent shall be paid in full regardless of the length of time each tenant occupies the property. Is this ethical?
Why are joint tenancies the norm if separate contracts are fairer to tenants?
Joint contracts seem only beneficial to the agency in case a tenant must leave. They don’t have to put in the effort and get their rent anyway. But through research, I found that if strangers move in, they sign separate contracts. If a tenant leaves, the replacement is likely found by the landlord and any new tenant alone signs a new contract, without the help of other tenants.
So, I leave you with this warning: pay close attention to any contracts you sign as they can lead to massive financial losses. If someone were honestly afraid, which is possible in these times of COVID-19, the contract doesn’t have mutually beneficial solutions. The contract can potentially be taken advantage of and it’s something to watch out for. If these are a student’s rights, it’s time to change that. The agency should take responsibility and show initiative to help students. They should either change the terms in their shared contracts to be more ethical or they should give tenants the choice of separate contracts, so that everyone may benefit.
The Lettings Agent were contacted for a statement but did not give one.