Housing

Council Tax

Council Tax is a tax on domestic property collected by the local authority. Council Tax helps to fund local services such as Education, Libraries, Street Lighting, Refuse Collection, Social Services, Police and the Fire Service. The charge is based on the value of the property and is payable annually (1st April-31st March).

 

Council Tax exemption

A property can be an ‘exempt’ dwelling, where no Council Tax is payable if:

•   All adults living in the property are full-time students, or

•   The accommodation is a hall of residence and has permanent exemption.

 

Who is a full-time student?

A person is a qualifying full-time student if s/he is enrolled on a course of education and

•   On a course which lasts for at least one academic year or one calendar year and

•   Is attending the course for a least 24 weeks a year and

•   On a course which requires an average period of tuition, study or work experience of a least 21 hours a week and

•   Over the whole of the course spends less time on work experience than on study or tuition to qualify as a full-time student. There is one exception to this rule, which is a course for the initial training of teachers in schools and

•   Studies at a ‘prescribed educational establishment’, i.e. a university. Students who meet this definition are exempt from paying Council Tax from the first day of their full-time course until they have completed, abandoned or been dismissed from the course.

 

How to apply from exemption from Council Tax

 

Unless you are living in Halls of Residence (which are permanently exempt), it will be necessary for you to provide your Council Tax Office with confirmation of your student status.

Council Tax require you to provide your Student Status Certificate which you receive at enrolment.  The certificate indicates your name, as well as the start and end dates of your programme of study.

If you are a fulltime student studying in a part-time mode i.e.: you have deferred or resitting part of a year, you are still classified as a full time student for council tax purposes.  If you have issues around proving your status please contact the Student Union Advice Centre (SUAC) for support.

If you live in a property which is divided into self-contained flats, then each flat will get its own bill. If you live in a shared house or flat, the property is usually considered as one dwelling and only one bill will be received. In order to ‘exempt’ the property from Council Tax, all students living in accommodation, must prove their student status by showing the Council Tax office their Student Certificate.

If one person fails to do so, the property will not be exempt from Council Tax and will be a chargeable dwelling. The responsibility of informing the Council Tax Office lies with the new tenants and this must be done as soon as they move into a property so that correct billing can be made. Students failing to apply for exemption will be issued with a bill, which, if ignored, will result in a court summons (plus costs).

 

If you live in:

University halls of residence – you don’t need to do anything as University halls are already exempt, but check with your House Manager that it is a University hall!

Private accommodation – students need to register with Coventry City Council:

• Visit www.coventry.gov.uk/counciltax

Visiting Council tax

Monday, Wednesday and Thursday: 9.00am – 4.30pm,

Tuesday: 10am – 4.30pm and Friday: 9.00am – 4.00pm

Council House, Earl Street, Coventry, CV1 5RR

E: counciltax@coventry.gov.uk

T: 024 7683 1111

 

You can notify the local authority of a change of address or circumstances online at: http://www.coventry.gov.uk/info/64/council_tax-change_of_circumstances

 

 

Part-Time students

Part-time students are not exempt from paying Council Tax. However, if you are a part-time student on a low income you may be eligible to apply for Council Tax Support. If you live alone you may be eligible for a 25% reduction. Please contact your Local Authority or the Student Union Advice Centre for more information.

 

Student Nurses

Both Diploma and Degree Nursing students qualify for council tax exemption. Nurses who are already qualified and registered who are taking a further course do not qualify.

 

Interrupting Students

An interrupting student is a full-time student who has taken time out from their studies – they have not withdrawn from their course. Such a student is still classed as a full-time student (SI 1996/636) and, provided they remain enrolled at the University, they will continue to fall within the definition of a  full-time student for Council Tax exemption purposes.

 

Students with non-student spouse / partner

If you share accommodation with your spouse (husband or wife) / partner and they are not a full-time student, the property will not be exempt from Council Tax. If you are the only adults living in the property, you will get a 25% discount from the full bill. If your total household income is low, your non-student spouse/ partner should apply to your Local Authority for Council Tax Support.

 

International and European students

International and European students are treated like UK students when it comes to Council Tax liability.

• If you live in an ‘exempt’ dwelling such as Halls of Residence you will not have to do anything as your dwelling is permanently exempt.

• If you live in other accommodation such as a private flat you must follow the instructions above to avoid getting a court summons.

International Students with non-student spouse / partner International students who live with their non-student spouse or partner will also be exempt from the tax if:

• The only other adult in the property is your spouse / partner and

• They are not a British Citizen and

• They have been given ‘leave to enter/remain’, with ‘no recourse to public funds’, or they are not permitted to work.

 

If your non-student spouse / partner, who is living with you, is a British citizen, EEA national, or has ‘settled status’ (indefinite leave to enter or remain), the property will not be exempt from the tax. They (not you, as you cannot make recourse to public funds) should apply for Council Tax Support if you have a low income.

 

If you are an international student, please visit the following link for further information: www.ukcisa.org.uk select ‘Fees and Finance’ then ‘Council Tax’.

 

Other circumstances when a student will not be charged Council Tax

• If you live and share basic facilities with your landlord, (i.e. bathroom, kitchen) it will be your landlord’s responsibility to pay the Council Tax.

 

• From April 2004, rules have stated that students living with non-students are not jointly and severally liable for any Council Tax that the non-student attracts to the property. This has implications for people who cease being students whilst sharing accommodation with other students. In this instance the dwelling would stop being exempt and the nonstudent would be billed for the full amount of tax payable on the property. The students living in the property would not be legally liable for the charge.

 

Further information

For further information about Council Tax, discounts and exemptions, please visit:

www.direct.gov.uk select ‘Housing and Local Services’, then ‘Council Tax’.

 

If you require advice regarding your council tax please contact SUAC

Updated June 2014

 

Going Home for the Holidays

Before you head off home for the holiday give some thought to protecting your home while you are away. Although you can’t remove out all risks, with a little forward planning you can do a lot to minimize the potential for a disaster. So take some time to work your way through the SUAC checklist and then enjoy your vacation

Checklist

  1. Does your landlord or agent need to know?

It is a requirement of some tenancy agreements (contracts) for you to let your landlord or agent know when you are away from the property for any length of time. So check your tenancy agreement or you may find that you have invalidated your landlords’ buildings insurance and breached the terms of your contract.

 

  1. Protecting the property

Turn off or adjust your gas/water/electricity supply according to the weather. This may also be a condition of your tenancy agreement. You could find yourself having to pay for damages if your fail to meet the terms of your contract but even if it’s not a contractual obligation it makes sense to minimize the risk of a fire or flood from  such things as a burst pipe or water tank.

  • During the winter months set the central heating timer to come on for an hour or so each day or set the thermostat to frost protection

 

  1. Security

Students are high on the statistics list when it comes to being burgled: partly because “Students own more expensive consumer goods per head than the rest of the population”… (and  partly because) …“young people (aged 16 to 24 year old) are around three times more likely to be victims of burglary than people in other age groups”www.homeoffice.gov.uk

So if you want to avoid becoming a victim of the opportunist thief, use a bit of common sense before you set off on holiday:

  • Lock all opening windows and doors fully, even if you have to buy extra window and door locks yourself
  • Lock the shed and garage as securely as you can
  • Don’t leave ladders, tools or anything else lying around  in the garden that would make a break-in easier
  • Make alternative arrangements for Amazon/book club/catalogue or any irregular or one off deliveries that are due while you are away
  • Set timer switches in several rooms to come on and go off at different times
  • Don’t leave a message on your answer phone advertising the length of time you will be away
  • If you’ve been a good neighbour you may be able to call in a favour and ask someone local to close and open curtains for you and remove any mail/free newspapers/leaflets etc. from the letter box
  • Inform your neighbourhood watch co-ordinator
  • Consider taking valuables home with you
  • Set the burglar alarm if you have one

 

  1. Insurance

Unfortunately even your best efforts can’t guarantee that you won’t become a victim of crime. So make sure that you are insured. Not just for the vacation period but all year round. At least then you will be able to replace what has been lost providing you’ve taken reasonable steps to protect your property and not done anything that will invalidate your insurance.

  • Shop around for quotes from at least three insurance companies
  • Postcode your possessions with a security pen
  • Record the serial number/price/place of purchase of valuable items such as PC/DVD etc.

Deposits

Deposits are often taken at the beginning of a new tenancy to afford landlords some protection if damage is incurred or rent withheld during the term of the tenancy. However there are clear rules relating to the management of the deposit which must be followed.

Deposit rules

From 6 April 2007, all deposits paid in connection with assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) must be protected by a government authorised tenancy deposit scheme. There are currently three authorised schemes. The organisations running the schemes are:

mydeposits www.mydeposits.co.uk  0844 4980 0290

The Tenancy Deposit Scheme www.tds.gb.com  0845 226 7837

The Deposit Protection Service www.depositprotection.com  0844 472 7000

Any deposits previously protected by Capita Tenancy Deposit Service have now been transferred to Mydeposits.

Ask your landlord which scheme is protecting your deposit. For more information about the Tenancy Deposit Scheme and to download a leaflet visit:www.gov.uk/tenancy-deposit-protection

 

The following video, produced by Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) has some useful information for students.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DD47oiw1bE

 

When you pay a deposit

Whilst there is no requirement for a Landlord to take a deposit, most landlords choose to do so. A typical deposit is often equal to the first month’s rent although the amount requested can vary. It is payable when you sign the contract. You should not pay any earlier than this. If you do so your deposit might be treated as a non-refundable holding deposit.

Deposits covered by tenancy deposit protection

Landlords are required to protect a deposit and provide you with information of the scheme used within 30 days of receiving the deposit. They must protect it with one of the authorised schemes and provide the tenant with “prescribed information”. This information will include, for example, the contact details of the relevant scheme and what to do if there is a dispute.

Once you have received this information it is important to keep it until you have received your deposit back at the end of the tenancy or, if there is a dispute, until the dispute is resolved.

Some landlords include this information in the contract but it can be provided separately. If a landlord fails to protect a deposit or provide the agreed information, the tenant/s can take the landlord to court. For more information, see the section on going to court in “Deposits 2 – What if I have a problem with my deposit?”

Deposits not covered by tenancy deposit protection

  • The new rules on tenancy deposit protection only apply to assured shorthold tenancies. (If you are not sure what type of tenancy you have contact SUAC for advice).
  • They do not apply to other types of private tenancy or to accommodation let by the University or Coventry City Council.
  • The new rules only apply to deposits paid on or after 6 April 2007.

If your contract mentions your deposit, you need to make sure it records

1. How much you have paid

2. What the money can be used for

3. How long you can expect to wait until it is returned

If you contract fails to do any of this or is not detailed enough, ask your landlord to amend it using SUAC’s fixed term assured shorthold contract as a model (copies are available free to students ). If your landlord is not willing to do this or wants to charge you, ask for a receipt instead but try to make sure it covers the points above.

 

How can I increase the likelihood of getting my deposit back?

At the beginning of the contract

When you sign a tenancy agreement the agreement should indicate the “term” of the tenancy. The “term” is the agreed and fixed period of time during which the property is let. An example of a term would be 1st September 2014 – 31st July 2015.

It is important to remember that the dates of the term may differ from the dates that you occupy the property from. Even if you are not planning to move straight in, it is advisable to visit the house on the day your contract starts. There are three key things you need to do.
• Check the inventory and, where possible, take date stamped photographs of the condition of the property when you move in (particularly any stains on the carpets or other signs of wear and tear)
• Report any necessary repairs
• Read the utility meters (i.e. gas, electricity and water)

Inventory
An inventory is a list of all the furniture and other equipment provided by the landlord. A good inventory should also describe the condition of the items listed; for example, “dining table and six chairs, minor tear on one chair seat cover, all seat covers have dirty marks”.

If your landlord provides an inventory, make sure you check it very carefully and comply with any contract clauses for completing and returning it. This is really important if you are recording any problems. If your landlord does not provide an inventory use SUAC’s model inventory instead (copies available free to students). If you move in after the contract starts, check the house and the inventory again and notify your landlord of any problems that remain outstanding or have arisen in the interim. Do this in writing and keep a copy of your letter.

Repairs
It is also important to report any necessary repairs. Do this in writing and keep a copy of your letter. Send the letter recorded delivery and then you will have proof the landlord has received it – this costs extra. If you are very unhappy with the condition of anything in the house it is worth taking photographs (make sure they are date stamped) or a video.

Utilities
Make sure you read the gas, electricity and (if applicable) water meters and arrange for the accounts to be put in the name of everyone who is living in the house. You may also need to contact the telephone/internet provider if there is a connection.

If you do not know who provides the gas and electricity to your property you can find out by telephoning:

0870 608 1524 to find out your gas supplier
01384 343 838 to find out who supplies your electricity

Living in the house
Look after the house as well as you can. This will involve not only making sure that you, your housemates and any friends and visitors do not cause any damage, but also taking reasonable steps to protect and maintain the house and its contents. Check your contract for details of what is expected. If you do not have a written contract or are unsure about what your contract means contact SUAC.

Fair wear and tear
Tenants are not liable for damage caused by fair wear and tear. Although reaching an agreement on what counts as fair wear and tear can be difficult, landlords are expected to take into account the age, quality and condition an item was in at the beginning of the contract. In addition, landlords are not allowed to replace old items with new at your expense.

DIY
Some tenants do their own repairs or pay someone else to do repairs for them rather than risk losing their deposits. This can be problematic. Landlords may not be satisfied with the quality of the work and may get it done again at your expense so you would end up paying twice. It may also be a breach of contract to employ anyone other than the landlord’s own approved contractor so check your contract.

If you have a break-in
If the house is damaged as the result of a crime make sure you report it to the police as well as your landlord. Landlords have a basic responsibility to maintain the structure of the property and the water, gas, electricity and sanitation systems (this does not include things such as cookers or products using such systems) and the landlord may be subject to extra responsibilities if the tenancy agreement indicates this. It is not the case that your landlord is automatically responsible for repairing the property after a break in. If you require advice on this please make an appointment to speak to an advisor.

It is also advisable to consider contents insurance to provide some protection should your personal possessions be stolen or damaged as a result of fire or flood.

When you move out
Some landlords give detailed instructions about what to do when you move out. If your landlord does not do this, it is advisable to contact him or her a few weeks before you leave to discuss what you are expected to do.

Most landlords carry out an inspection on the last day of the contract or as soon as possible afterwards. If the inspection takes place after the end of the contract the landlord does not have to allow you to attend. If you are very worried about getting your money back try asking for a preliminary inspection a few days before you leave so you have a chance to put right any problems before the final inspection takes place. The landlord does not have to agree to this and some may find it impractical to do so. If your landlord is not able to carry out an inspection before you leave, it is important to be able to prove that you left the house in good condition.

The following points will hopefully help you avoid any problems:

• Clean the house thoroughly, making sure you comply with relevant clauses in your contract (e.g. to clean the windows). Remove and properly dispose of all rubbish.

• Use the inventory to check for damage and missing items. Make sure that anything which has been moved has been put back in its original place.

• Take final meter readings. Contact the suppliers and arrange for the bills to be sent to you at your new address. Many landlords who let to students will not refund deposits until they have received evidence that the final bills have been paid.

• On the day you leave take dated photographs or a video of every room.

• If you are worried it may also be useful to ask someone unconnected to the contract to witness the condition of the house when you leave.

• Return your keys. If your landlord has not already told you where to take the keys contact him a few days before you plan to leave. Some landlords are strict about the time by which keys should be returned and may charge a fee if you are late.

• Make sure your landlord has an address for you so your deposit can be returned. Some landlords ask for stamped addressed envelopes for this purpose.

Getting your money back:

Deposits covered by tenancy protection

You should receive a refund within 10 days moving out and satisfying any requirements in the contract e.g. proving you have paid the final utility bills. If your landlord takes longer than this or you cannot agree on the amount to be refunded contact the relevant tenancy deposit scheme.

Deposits not covered by tenancy deposit protection

There is no time limit on refunds unless one is set out in the contract. If there is no time limit or the time limit has expired and you have not received your deposit back you should write to your landlord and ask for it. Keep a copy of the letter.

Sample letter

Ms Bloggs
1 Bedsit Street
Coventry
CV2 3DX

Mrs Bond
1 Paradise Mansions
Coventry
CV4 1XX

18 July 2014

Dear Mrs Bond
I am writing to remind you that I have not received my £300 deposit refund from1 University Street, Coventry, CV1 5AY. I moved out on 30 June 2014. Please send my refund to the address above within 7 days of the date of this letter. Alternatively if you have decided to withhold all or part of my deposit please send written details including costs and receipts if applicable.
Yours sincerely….

Many landlords provide a list of deductions (e.g. for damage). If your landlord does this, carefully consider each deduction and any supporting evidence (e.g. photographs) supplied. If you still feel you are entitled to get all or part of your money back and your landlord does not agree, you will need to take further action. For information on how to do this see What if I don’t get my deposit back?

 

What if I don't get my deposit back?

 

Deposits covered by tenancy deposit protection

All three government authorised schemes offer free Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services. Both landlord and tenant have to agree go to ADR. If they do so, the decision made by the adjudicator will be binding.  Where the dispute concerns a deposit protected by an insurance based scheme, the landlord will be required to hand over the disputed amount until the dispute is resolved.  If either the landlord or the tenant does not agree to use the ADR service the dispute can go to court.  The deposit will be held by the scheme until the court reaches a decision.

 

Going to court: small claims track cases

This section is applicable to deposits not covered by tenancy deposit protection and protected deposits where there is a dispute and the parties have not agreed to ADR.

 

Most legal cases which involve claims for less than £10,000 are allocated to the small claims track in the County Court.  SUAC has experience of dealing with small claims cases and can help students at every stage of the process.  Alternatively, solicitors and legal advisers can offer assistance. State funding for legal advice is not normally available in cases where the tenant wishes to sue the landlord for failure to return the deposit (some exceptions apply).

 

Final warning letter

Before issuing a claim you need to send a final warning letter to your landlord.  This is known as a “letter before action”.  You should include your name and address as well as explaining the reason for your claim. You should set out the facts of the matter clearly and indicate what solution you are seeking. If you do not send a “letter before action” the Courts are likely to look less favourably on your claim. You should also indicate that you intend to make the matter to Court if the matter cannot be resolved.

 

For further advice please consult an advisor

 

Court fees

Many students do not have to pay court fees or if they do they usually qualify to pay at a reduced rate.  To apply for a concession on fees you need to complete form EX160A. You can download the form and the accompanying explanatory leaflet EX160A from the Court Service website www.hmcourtsservice.gov.uk If you have to pay fees the following apply

 

Starting a claim

Claim issued in court                                         Money claim online

 

UP TO £300

£35

UP TO £300

£25

£300.01 TO £500

£50

£300.01 TO £500

£35

£500.01 TO £1000

£70

£500.01 TO £1000

£60

£1000.01 TO £1500

£80

£1000.01 TO £1500

£70

£1500.01 TO £3000

£115

£1500.01 TO £3000

£105

£3000.01 TO £5000

£205

£3000.01 TO £5000

£185

Hearing fee

 

UP TO £300

£25

£300.01 TO £500

£55

£500.01 TO £1000

£80

£1000.01 TO £1500

£115

£1500.01 TO £3000

£170

MORE THAN £3000

£335

 

If you win your case, you get your fees back.  You may also be able to claim other costs such as loss of earnings if you have to take time off work to attend a hearing, but recoverable costs are very limited in small claims cases.

Please note that, depending on how your case progresses, additional charges may be incurred.

Claiming online

Claims for fixed amounts of less than £10000 can be made online provided the claim is against no more than two people and the address of the defendant(s) is in England or Wales.  Fees are payable by credit card or debit card but you cannot claim online if you qualify for a fee exemption or remission.  See the Court Service website for more details www.hmcourtsservice.gov.uk

 

Filling in the claim form

If you cannot claim online or prefer not to do so, you can make a claim using form N1 (and accompanying notes form N1A.  Copies are available from any court and the Court Service website www.hmcourtsservice.gov.uk

 

Defendant

The defendant is the person against whom you are making your claim.  If you do not know their address try searching the Land Registry website www.landregistry.gov.uk If the defendant disputes your claim, the claim will be transferred to the defendant’s local court.  This could mean you have to travel to any hearings.

 

Brief details of claim

A typical claim might read – “Return of £300 deposit paid in connection with former tenancy at 1 University Street, Coventry.”

 

Value

If you are claiming a fixed amount of money write the amount you are claiming followed by the words “plus statutory interest from (insert the date on which the deposit should have been returned to you) at a daily rate (insert rate of interest).  For information on how to calculate the interest rate see the leaflet EX302 How to make a claim available form the Court Service website www.hmcourtsservice.gov.uk

If you are not claiming a fixed amount of money and want to make sure your claim stays within the small claims track, you need to write “I expect to recover not more than £5000.”

 

Court fee box

If you are applying for a fee remission you should leave this box blank.  Submit your completed EX160 with your claim.  If your application for remission is rejected or only partially successful the court will return your form to you to amend.

Particulars of claim

Although there are no set rules, this section should probably cover –

  •     The amount of the deposit and who you paid it to
  •     The terms on which it was paid (the terms in your contract)
  •     Details of any previous attempts to get it back, and
  •     Details of any response

 

A typical example might read:

“The claimant is a former tenant of 1 University Street, Coventry.  The claimant occupied the property on a fixed term assured shorthold tenancy from 1 September 2009 to 30 June 2010.

The defendant was the claimant’s landlord.  The claimant paid the defendant a deposit of £300.  The terms of the contract stipulated that the deposit would be returned to the claimant at the end of the tenancy provided the claimant 1) left the property in good order,  2) paid all the outstanding bills and 3) returned the keys.

The claimant complied with these conditions in full and has requested a refund on numerous occasions.  The defendant has failed to return the deposit and has given no explanation to the claimant.

The claimant therefore claims a refund of £300 plus court fees and interest from the date the deposit was originally due to be refunded.”

 

If your claim is in connection with a protected deposit you should also identify which scheme and explain that it was not possible to resolve the dispute through ADR.  The particulars of claim can be included in the space provided on the form or attached as a separate document.

 

If the particulars are attached as a separate document use numbered paragraphs and only write on one side of the paper. The paper should be signed and dated and must include a statement of truth (you can use the same wording as on the N1 form).

 

What happens next?

Make three copies of your N1 form and particulars of claim (if separate).  Take or post all three copies to the court along with your completed EX160 or the relevant fee.  Cheques should be made payable to HMCS. The court will send a copy of the claim to the defendant.  When the defendant receives it s/he can either;

  •   Pay the amount claimed
  •   Admit all or part of the claim and ask for time to pay, or
  •   Dispute the claim

 

The defendant is normally given 14 days to reply this but can be extended to 28 days.  If the defendant fails to reply within the time limit, you can ask the court to enter a judgement by default.  The court will send a copy of the judgment to the defendant and will also inform Registry Trust Ltd.  This will make it difficult for the defendant to obtain credit.  However the court will not take any other action against the defendant unless you decide to enforce the judgement (see below).

 

If the defendant disputes the claim, the court will send you both the allocation questionnaires which must be completed and returned by the set date.  If you fail to return the allocation questionnaire on time the court can order that the case is struck out.  If you need help completing the allocating questionnaire contact SUAC.  Be aware of the possibility that the defendant might issue a claim against you.  This is called a counterclaim. If the defendant issues a counterclaim you will need to submit a defence to the counterclaim.  This must be returned with the allocation questionnaire.

 

Before the hearing

You will receive written notification of the date and time of the hearing. You should contact the court immediately if you are unable to attend.  The letter you receive back from the court will also contain directions. The standard direction in a small claims track deposit case is to send copies of your evidence and witness statements to the court and to the defendant no later than 14 days before the hearing. Even if you are the only witness and you will be attending the hearing in person you still need to supply a witness statement.

 

The letter from the court might also say that your case has been referred to the Small Claims Mediation Service.  If this happens you will be offered a free mediation appointment.  This can be a telephone appointment. If both sides consent to mediation and agreement is reached, the agreement is legally binding so there is no need for a court hearing.

 

Witness statements

A witness statement is where you explain what happened in your own words.  It should be set out in numbered paragraphs and structured chronologically if possible. Only write on one side of the paper.  Any statements should be headed with the following information –

•       Name of the court
•       Claim number
•       Name of the claimant
•       Name of the defendant
•       Date and time of the hearing

 

The first paragraph should identify the author of the statement and, if necessary, the person on behalf of whom it is written.  Examples –

 

“My name is Jane Bloggs.  I am the claimant in this case.  I live at 1 Bedsit Street, Coventry.  I am a student in the Faculty of …. at Coventry University.”

 

“My name is Joe Bloggs.  I live at …  This statement is made on behalf of my sister who is the claimant in this case.”

 

The statement should conclude with a statement of truth e.g. “I believe that the facts stated in this statement are true.”

 

At the hearing

Although most claimants represent themselves at small claims hearings, landlords sometimes use a solicitor even though they are unlikely to recover more than a fraction of the costs involved.  This can be intimidating but should not automatically mean that you lose.  In fact, most judges are very sympathetic to claimants who represent themselves (“Litigants in person”) and will usually try and make sure they fully understand what is going on and the implications of any judgement made.

Small claims hearings are open to the public but usually take place in small rooms in front of a district judge who sits alone with no other officials present.  The hearings are relatively informal (in comparison to other court hearings) but anyone who attends is still expected to behave appropriately and tell the truth.

The judge will normally ask the claimant to explain their case first.  The judge will then ask questions.  The defendant will then be allowed to ask questions and comment on what has been said.  The same thing will then happen in reverse with the defendant explaining their case and being questioned etc.  The judge will then make a decision, normally with both parties still present in the room.

 

Appeals

You can appeal against the decisions in small claims cases but the grounds are very limited and you have to act quickly.  See the Court Service leaflet EX340 I want to appeal available from the Court Service websitewww.courtsservice.gov.uk for more information.

 

Getting your money back

Deposits covered by tenancy deposit protection

If you win your case your deposit will be refunded by the relevant scheme.

 

Deposits not covered by tenancy deposit protection

If you win and the defendant does not repay the deposit you will need to take enforcement action.  There are four methods of enforcement.  These are

  •  A warrant of execution
  •  An attachment of earnings order
  •  A third party debt order
  •  A charging order

 

A warrant of execution is probably the best known method.  It gives court bailiffs the authority to collect the money you are owed or, alternatively, take some of the possessions belongings to be sold at auction to raise the money.  To find out more about enforcement go to www.courtsservices.gov.uk

 

Eviction

 

Seek advice

You need to act quickly and get help straight away if you are threatened with eviction.

Eviction

If you are a tenant and your landlord wants to remove you from your rented property s/he must follow the proper legal process. If your landlord makes you leave your home without following the proper legal process, this is an illegal eviction and it is a serious criminal offence.

 

Your tenancy agreement

A tenancy agreement will give you certain rights and protection under the law and the type of tenancy agreement you have will determine which process your landlord must follow. For most students renting private accommodation, this will be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) for a fixed length of time, for example 10 months.

 

The process

If you have an AST your landlord can only evict you by giving you written notice and then getting a Possession Order. You have the right to stay in your home until court bailiffs enforce that order. However, if you stay in your home after the end of the notice period you may have to pay some of your landlord’s legal costs.

Remember your landlord has an automatic right to regain possession without having to give reasons (grounds) for wanting his property back once a fixed term has ended otherwise he must have a valid reason for wanting to remove you. These reasons may be mandatory (the court must make the Possession Order) or discretionary (the court will make the Possession Order, but only if it is reasonable to do so).

 

Mandatory grounds

  • The mortgage payments are in arrears and the lender wishes to take possession.
  • The tenant owes at least two months’ rent (if paid monthly) or eight weeks (if paid weekly)

 

Discretionary grounds

  • The tenant is in arrears with the rent when the landlord seeks possession and court proceedings begin.
  • The tenant is persistently late with payments.
  • The tenancy has breached the tenancy agreement.
  • The tenant has damaged the property or through neglect has allowed its condition to worsen.
  • The tenant is causing a nuisance – or has used the property for illegal or immoral purposes.
  • The tenant has damaged the furniture, or allowed its condition to worsen due to neglect
  • The tenant provided false information when the tenancy was agreed.

 

If any of the above applies to you or you experience any problems with your landlord or the property you are renting, contact SUAC for further help and advice.

 

Moving in and Moving out

Moving In

 

Fuel supply

• Read your gas and electricity meter and contact your fuel supplier(s). You need to let your supplier know you are the new tenant(s) and give them the current meter readings otherwise you could end up paying the previous tenants bill.

If you aren’t sure who your suppliers are telephone; 0870 608 1524 to find out who your gas supplier is 0845 600 0102 to find out who supplies your electricity

Gas safety

Make sure you have a copy of the gas safety certificate. Your landlord is required to arrange for a gas safety check to be carried out by a Gas Safety Registered Engineer every 12 months.

Fire safety

• Check the smoke alarms work. If smoke alarms haven’t been installed already fit them yourself, they’re cheap and effective. Just make sure they comply with British Safety Standards and remember to regularly check they’re working.
• Work out your exit route. In the event of a fire you need an adequate means of escape from wherever you are in the house.

Inventory

• Ensure you have a detailed list of all the items in the household supplied by the landlord. Make sure you note the condition of the contents as well. You don’t want a deduction from your deposit for damage caused by a previous tenant.
• Take photos when you move in and out of the property to document the condition it is in
• Contact the landlord immediately if anything is damaged or missing

Deposit

Make sure you know how your deposit is being protected. If you are an assured shorthold tenant living in privately rented accommodation your landlord or agent must protect your deposit by using a government authorised “custodial” or “insurance-based” tenancy protection scheme. For more information visit;

http://www.direct.gov.uk/tenancydeposit

Insurance

Take out personal belongings (contents) insurance. National Crime Statistics show students to be top of the at risk list when it comes to being burgled.

Rubbish and Recycling

You can find out what day your bin is collected, what to put in your recycling bin, how to report a missed bin collection and everything rubbish and recycling related if you download the “Your Rubbish” app or go to the Coventry City Council webpage

www.coventry.gov.uk/rubbishandrecycling

Being a good neighbour

Make sure you go round and say hello to your new neighbours and introduce yourselves, you are going to be living next door to each other for at least a year

Moving Out

Notice to quit

Give notice to your landlord of your moving out in writing and in the time specified in your contract if this is a requirement of your tenancy agreement.

Bills

Finalise all your bills for gas, electricity, water, telephone, internet, television etc., by contacting all the relevant suppliers. If you don’t you may not get your deposit back

Final inspection

Make arrangements for your landlord or agent to check the property and the condition of its contents. Allowances should be made for fair wear and tear but if you have caused damage expect to come to an arrangement about deductions from your deposit.

Deposit

Use the free service offered by the scheme that is protecting your deposit if you and your landlord or agent are unable to resolve any dispute over the amount of deposit to be returned to you. For more details visit www.direct.gov.uk/tenacydeposit/ for more details

 

Where to live

Coventry is a great place to live.  It is really easy to get around, has a good, simple bus system and many of the areas popular with students are in walking distance of Uni.  This also means when you do have to get a taxi they don’t cost too much!  Coventry is generally a safe city but you will need to be sensible and not walk home by yourself in the dark, after a night out so think about that when you are looking at houses as well.

 

City Centre – there are places to live in the City Centre which obviously has great advantages.  Not far too walk, close to loads of shops and places to eat and drink.

 

Hillfields – Hillfields is just around the corner from the University and has lots of student accommodation, including Uni Halls.  Parking can be an issue in Hillfields.  It is hardly worth getting a bus home as it is so close but you can if you want!  A taxi will be around £4.50.  Hillfields has its own shopping centre with many ethnic food shops and convenience stores.  Hillfields was traditionally the “red light” district of Coventry (everywhere has one) but don’t let this put you off as lots of work is being done to transform Hillfields image.

 

Spon End – is literally on the fringes of the city centre, just outside the famous ring road.  This means it is really close to Uni, 10 minutes walk and approx £3.50 for a taxi home.  There are a number of “corner shops” which it is always a good idea to use, even if you only buy your milk there, as then your neighbours will get to know who you are and will keep an eye out for you.  There are less students here than in other areas.

 

Lower Coundon – just outside the city centre and close to a large Morrison’s.  Popular with students and about a 20 minute walks into Uni.  A taxi will cost you approx £5.00.  Again there are some corner shops and takeaways and it is on a main bus route into Coventry with a choice of buses depending where you live in Coundon.

 

Earlsdon – a really popular area with both Coventry and Warwick students.  Earlsdon is also a place where people, including students go to in the evening as there are nice pubs and places to eat.  You can walk to Uni from most places in Earlsdon in about 25 minutes.  A taxi home when you need one would cost around £6.00.  Three buses from Earlsdon go into town as well. Bonuses for anyone living in Earlsdon are the great shops including lots of charity shops, organic store and nice cakes.

 

Chapelfields – very popular with students from both Universities.  Takes around 25 minutes to walk onto campus and a taxi is £6.00ish.  There aren’t many shops in Chapelfields but you can walk to Morrison’s (5 mins), Sainsbury’s (10 mins) or into Earlsdon (10 mins).  The bus service is great here a choice of around 8 buses into the city centre.  Parking your car isn’t a problem in Chapelfields.

 

Stoke – this is a really popular place to live with Coventry students.  It takes around 25 minutes to walk and £6.00 for a taxi.  It is on main bus routes to the super hospital so there are loads of buses.  Stoke has a main shopping centre which sells everything.

 

What about the rest of Coventry? – there are loads of other places including Foleshill, Cheylesmore, Tile Hill, and Radford.  Students live all over Coventry.  These areas are further away and so take longer to get to Uni, taxis will cost more. There is nowhere in Coventry that students don’t live but there may be fewer students in these areas.

 

Your Rights and Responsibilities

As a tenant you have certain rights and responsibilities.  The majority of students will have Assured Shorthold Tenancies which allow them certain legal rights but other rights and responsibilities may be added to your contract after discussion with the landlord.

If you are a member of a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) you will have additional rights as your landlord has to hold a valid license. Contact SUAC for more information, details at the end of the leaflet.

Tenants’ rights and responsibilities


Your Responsibilities:

  • To pay your rent on time
  • To allow your landlord access to do repairs etc (normally with 24 hour notice of his arrival)
  • To avoid causing nuisance or disturbance to other people within your community
  • To report repairs which need to be carried out
  • To take care of the property and its furniture, fixtures and fittings
  • Ensure there is a Gas Safety Certificate for the property
  • Request a current Electrical Safety Certificate
  • Ensure the property is fire safe
  • Keep to any agreement with regard to utility bills etc. and make sure they are paid before you leave
  • Supply copies of your Council Tax Exemption letters to the local authority
  • To take out contents insurance for your personal property

Your Rights:

  • To be left alone to live in your accommodation without interference from the landlord
  • To have repairs carried out promptly and to a decent standard
  • To be covered by a current Gas Safety Certificate
  • To have furnishings that comply with the Furnishings and Furniture (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988
  • To have a written copy of the tenancy agreement
  • To live in your accommodation without fear of harassment

 

Harassment

Harassment is anything that your landlord, or other tenants, do to make you feel unsafe in your own home.

Some common forms of harassment are:

  • Entering your accommodation without prior warning (especially your own room)
  • Not carrying out repairs and leaving the property to fall into a dangerous state
  • Changing locks while you’re out
  • Refusing guests entry
  • Making threats
  • Sending repair workers around without notice
  • Being abusive
  • Harassment, especially due to race, culture, sex or sexuality.

If you feel you are being harassed

  • Keep a log of dates, times and occurrences, and take photos if appropriate
  • Try to get an independent witness to any conversations you have with the person who is harassing you
  • Write to the person complaining about their actions
  • Keep copies of all letters

Should you run into any difficulties with regards to your rights and responsibilities contact the Students’ Union Advice Centre (SUAC), first floor, The Hub, Jordan Well, 024 7765 5200,suadvice@coventry.ac.uk

 

Tenancy Agreements and Contracts

 The benefits of having a written contract

 A contract can be a verbal or written agreement. However, it is much better to have a written than a verbal agreement as this way both parties know what is expected of them. This clarity helps to avoid disputes that might otherwise arise.

 Reviewing a contract before signing

 Do not sign a contract if you're not happy with the terms or there are any aspects of the agreement you don't understand. You should always be given at least 24 hours to read the contract through. Where possible always get your contract checked - this service is available through the Students' Union Advice Centre. Never sign on the spot. Once signed, the contract is legally binding on all parties - you do not get a chance to change your mind.

 Types of contract in use: what to look out for

 The type of contract you sign will depend on where you’ll be living:

• a house, flat or bedsit rented directly from a landlord/agent

• a room or flat rented from a university or college or

• in the home of an owner to whom you pay rent

 If you’re planning on moving into a shared property, you need to be aware that your contract will make you responsible and accountable to your landlord in one of two ways (e.g. for rent arrears and damage to the property):

• joint liability

• individual liability

 Check your fixed term tenancy agreement

 The tenancy agreement should include:

• the names of the tenant/s

the name and address of the landlord

• the rental price and how it’s paid

• information on how and when the rent will be reviewed

• the deposit amount and how it will be protected

• when the deposit can be fully or partly withheld, eg to repair damage caused by tenants

• the property address

• the start and end date of the tenancy

• any tenant or landlord obligations

• which bills tenants are responsible for

 It can also include information on:

• whether the tenancy can be ended early and how this can be done

• who’s responsible for minor repairs (other than those that the landlord is legally responsible for)

• whether the property can be let to someone else (sublet) or have lodgers

 Renting from a landlord/agent

 Most landlords/agents use an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement. This is for a fixed term of 12 months; that is, it has a start date and an end date. If you sign a fixed term contract you are liable to pay rent for the full period, unless there is a specific clause allowing you to give notice to quit (which is very rare). This type of agreement means that you are a tenant and have exclusive possession of the property. The landlord/agent can have access to the property (e.g. for repairs/inspections), but you should be given notice and they should only call during reasonable working hours.

 Living with an owner

 This can be a complex area and if problems occur you should seek advice. Normally, if you live with the owner of the property and share the accommodation, you will either be a licensee (if the owner of the property has unrestricted access to your room) or an excluded tenant (if you can lock your individual room(s). The length of the agreement will vary depending on whether the owner wants you to stay for a specified period of time, or if they are happy for you to stay on a periodic basis (e.g. month to month). You will have a bedroom and probably share the rest of the property with the owner and possibly other students.

 Living in university accommodation

 You will normally sign a fixed-term agreement covering the full academic year (unless this is a short let). You will not be able to give notice to quit within the period of the contract. You will be an unprotected tenant and will have the right to occupy a specific room and common areas (i.e. bathroom/kitchen). Persons acting on behalf of the accommodation services can have access to the common parts (e.g. for cleaning purposes), but should not enter your individual room unless written notice is given.

 Joint liability

 If you have signed the same contract as your housemates and you all agree to take the property at the same time; you will be jointly and severally liable with each of your housemates for any rent arrears and/or damage to the property. So, if one tenant moves out, the landlord/agent can pursue the remaining tenants (as well as the tenant who has left) for any monies due.

 Individual liability

 If you have a separate agreement between you and the landlord/agent, and another tenant leaves, the landlord/agent cannot ask that you cover their rent. You would be liable for any damage to your room. The landlord/agent can make a charge for any damage to communal areas but they have to first try and find out who was responsible.

 You will also need to be absolutely clear about the terms and conditions. It is essential you read through and fully understand all the terms and conditions stated on the contract. This includes any handbook or additional contract sheets you are given. If there is a dispute then the contract is the first point of reference and would be used as the main source of evidence in any court case.

 The contract should include the full contact details of the landlord/agent. If you are renting via an agency make sure you also have the landlord's full contact details. You are legally entitled to this information. If you have just a name and telephone number, it could be very difficult to pursue the landlord/agent should a dispute arise.

 The contract should also make clear what rent payments are due and when. In addition to this, it should be clear who is responsible for the bills, e.g. water rates. Before you sign a contract, check that the advertised rent is what is stated on the contract. Errors do occur and if you sign the contract, it may be difficult to argue later, especially if you do not have the original advert.

 Once a contract has been signed the terms and conditions cannot be altered unless both parties agree.

 Never sign a contract on behalf of your housemates. Even if their name is on the contract, if they do not sign the agreement and decide not to move in, you could be held liable for the rent of the whole house.

 Restrictions on the terms and conditions a landlord can write into a contract

Landlords are not free to write into contracts any terms and conditions they want. They are restricted in what they can do by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999), which apply to all rented tenancies. Any clauses deemed unfair could be unenforceable. This only refers to the standard terms of a contract (not clauses that have been separately negotiated). Examples of Unfair Terms could be penalty charges, exclusion by the landlord/agent of accepting responsibility for loss or damage to personal property and ambiguous legal clauses.

 If you have any queries, you can contact the Competition and Markets Authority (formerly the Office of Fair Trading) or your Students' Union Advice Services.

 Guarantees and parents' financial liability

 As part of the agreement, some landlord/agents will present you with a guarantee and ask you to get your parents to guarantee your rent. It is very important that any such guarantee specifically limits your parents' financial liability to just their son's or daughter's rent/damages. Before anyone signs, it is important that both you and your parents understand that if you default on rent or the cost of damage they will be responsible for making payment.

 It is also important to understand that if you enter into a contract with joint liability and your parents sign a general guarantee, there is a significant financial risk to your parents. If another tenant moves out or fails to pay the rent, your parents could be taken to court under the terms of the guarantee, even if you have paid your rent. The advice is: don't ask your parents to enter into any guarantee which does not specify the limit of financial liability being guaranteed.

 If you are an international student, a parent who is abroad is also unlikely to be appropriate because legal proceedings to enforce any arrangement outside the UK can be difficult.

 Some common problems and questions

 Q: I don’t get on with my housemates anymore and I want to move out – can I give the landlord/agent notice?

 A: You must first check your contract. If there is a clause allowing you to give notice to quit, then, providing proper notice is given, you could move out. If you have signed a fixed term agreement with no such clause then you remain liable for the rent and need to find a replacement tenant.

 If you are housed by your parent institution or by a larger supplier, you may be able to obtain a transfer to a different room in the same building or another part of their portfolio. This way there is no loss of income to the owner and you get to move away from the problem.

 NB: if there is a serious household dispute and you feel forced to move out, seek advice from the Students' Union Advice Centre or Accommodation Office before taking any action.

 Q: We have signed a joint contract but one of our housemates has moved out. The landlord/agent is asking us for the money but we feel the tenant should pay - is this fair?

 A: Fairness does not really come into it, the landlord's/agent's primary concern is to collect the rent. If a joint contract has been signed, the landlord/agent can decide who they want to chase for the rent. If the rent remains unpaid, either it can be taken from the collective deposits or if court action is taken, the landlord/agent is likely to issue a summons that names all the tenants. The best option is to try and find a suitable replacement as soon as possible.

 Q: I want to move out of university accommodation but I have signed a contract for the full academic year.

 A: Living in university accommodation can give more flexibility. It may be possible to transfer to another hall or flat or just to another room in the accommodation you are already in. The first step is to contact your Accommodation Office. If you simply move out or refuse offers of a transfer, it is likely that you will remain liable for the rent.

 You can try and find a replacement through advertising. The replacement must be a student at your institution and ideally be in the same year as you.

 Q: I have moved out of a shared house but my former housemates are refusing to accept my replacement tenant. What can I do?

 A: If the contract is joint and several, the remaining household have the right to refuse a replacement tenant. However, they can only refuse on reasonable grounds such as the replacement tenant not being a student (liability for Council Tax). If they continue to refuse suitable replacements, it is important to notify the landlord/agent. They may decide to take action against the tenants if rent remains outstanding.

 If you have an individual contract, you do not need to get the permission of others in the house. However, the landlord/agent does need to agree. It is rare that the landlord/agent refuses a replacement tenant and they would have to give good reasons for doing so.

 Q: I have moved out of a shared house and found a replacement for my room. My housemates are happy with the replacement. What do I do next?

 A: You need to contact the landlord/agent and see whether they will draw up a new contract to include your replacement. If they refuse, the next best thing is to sign an Assignment Notice. This will state that you are leaving, who is replacing you and from what date. The notice needs to be signed by you, your replacement tenant, the landlord/agent and the remaining tenants. Normally this would secure your release from the contract and you can request your deposit back. However, some Assignment Notices do include a section stating that you remain liable for the rent should your replacement fail to pay. This is legal and would mean that you have not been released from the contract.

 Q: Our house is in a poor state of repair - can we move out?

 A: It is very difficult to get out of a property on grounds of disrepair, unless the property lacks the basic facilities and services such as heating and running water; or you are in immediate danger. Disrepair is normally an issue of compensation rather than moving out. Seek advice from the Students' Union Advice Centre before you take any steps to move out of the property.

 Q: Can our landlord/agent evict us if they want to?

 A: All landlords must comply with the Protection from Eviction Act . Court action must be taken to remove you from the property/room. Under no circumstances can a landlord change the locks, refuse access or remove your possessions. This would amount to an illegal eviction and you could sue for damages. This applies to university accommodation as well as the private sector. However, if you live with an owner and are classed as an excluded tenant, your protection against eviction is more complicated and you will need to seek advice about your position.

 If the housing provider (landlord/agent/university/private owner) wants you to leave early, you must look at the terms of your contract. If you have a fixed term agreement, possession will not normally be granted unless you are in breach of contract or the landlord/agent has stated in the contract that the property was recently their principal home (this is rare). There are set mandatory and discretionary grounds for eviction. Mandatory means that if the case is proven, the court will have no option but to grant possession (e.g. eight weeks’ rent arrears). A discretionary ground can be proven but the court will then make a decision whether it is reasonable for possession to be granted (e.g. if the landlord/agent claims the property has not been looked after by the tenants and the condition of the property has been adversely affected).

 Repossession by lender (building society/bank) - a court may grant possession if the landlord has failed to make the mortgage payments. If the landlord has not informed the lender that they were renting the property out, the lender will not recognise you as tenants. As such they have the power to repossess the property with a Court Order. You can apply to the court for the order to be suspended for a short period of time, so that you can find alternative accommodation.

 If you receive a notice seeking possession or a possession order, you are experiencing other housing issues or would like us to check over your contract the Student Union Advice Centre can help.

 

 Unipol, 2016. Contracts. Available at: . [Accessed 8 September 2016].

www.unipol.org.uk/advice/students/know-your-rights/contracts

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