The fundamentals of flatting
Remember going flatting for the first time? It’s an exciting time, but it can present problems for young people if they’re focused on fun and not the fundamentals. Wouldn’t it have made life easier if someone had explained your legal obligations from the start? Here’s a quick how-to guide for parents with children about to go flatting.
Getting off to the right start
When the time is right for your children to gain their independence and go flatting, you’ll want them to make a success of it rather than coming home again.
When you find a suitable flat, the first step should be to have a clear discussion with the landlord about who will tenant the flat, how much the rent and bond will be, if you’re allowed pets or to smoke inside, and if the flat includes any extras such as furniture.
If you want to proceed, carry out a thorough inspection of the property with the landlord before you sign the agreement. Take pictures or video the condition of the property with your smartphone. The house will need to be in the same condition when you leave.
Signing the lease
Before you move into the flat, you must have a signed agreement with the landlord. What is often referred to as ‘the lease’ is a residential tenancy agreement. It’s best to get this agreement in writing as unwritten agreements are difficult to enforce.
The agreement sets out obligations for all parties. Make sure you read the agreement thoroughly and talk to your landlord if you aren’t clear about any aspect it contains. We can’t stress the importance of this enough. Understanding all the details in the agreement will mean there are no unpleasant, unexpected surprises.
Types of agreements
There are two types of residential tenancy agreement: fixed term and periodic. A fixed term agreement means the tenant has to pay rent for the set period of time set out in the agreement. If you have flatmates that leave during holidays, you still need to pay rent for the full term.
Periodic leases continue until either party decides to end the agreement by providing notice in writing. As a tenant, you’re required to give your landlord three weeks notice. If your landlord ends the lease, they have to give you 90 days. There are two exceptions to the 90 day notice period which reduce it to six weeks: the house gets sold and the new owners don’t
want tenants, or if the landlord needs the house for their family.
You’re usually required to make a bond payment at the start of the lease, most often the equivalent of two or four weeks rent. Your landlord has to give this money to Tenancy Services. It’s held if there is a need to settle a dispute at the end of the tenancy, such as to repair damage or if there is outstanding rent. The bond is returned to you at the end of the lease if everything is in order.
What happens if there is damage to the property?
It’s important to understand your liability as a tenant, which is usually classified as ‘jointly and severally liable.’ The ‘severally’ part refers to the individual’s obligations and the ‘jointly’ part refers to the responsibilities of the group as a whole.
What this means is if one tenant causes damage to the property, all the tenants of that property could be liable for the cost of repairs. The same applies to rent. If one flatmate doesn’t pay their rent on time, the other tenants could be asked to make up the arrears.
Aside from compatibility as people, you need to be careful when choosing flatmates so you’re not left with a bill. The same applies to parents who are asked to guarantee a lease. It’s not just your child who can damage a property or fail to pay rent.
If there is an accident, the best course of action is to immediately tell the landlord what happened. The same applies to potential problems that may become larger ones, such as a leak. Quickly reporting accidents and problems may help the landlord with their insurer.
If the landlord knows you’re doing your best to care for their property, you’re more likely to have an ongoing and favourable relationship.
How does insurance apply?
You need contents insurance for your belongings. Only the landlord can take out house insurance. Personal liability insurance may also be useful to protect you from accidental damage to the house if you are expected to cover costs. It’s important to remember that every tenant is responsible for damages and this includes the actions of any visitors you invite over.
Tips for ending your tenancy
You can only benefit from ending your tenancy on good terms with your landlord. Firstly, you’ll want your bond repaid. Make sure everyone has removed all belongings, the house is clean and the property tidy. Ask your landlord to join you for a final inspection. If there are concerns, refer to the pictures or video you took at the outset. Secondly, if you need to get another flat in the future, you may need a reference from your landlord.
You can find more information at Tenancy Services. If you have a child who is about to go flatting, share this article with them. If you have any questions or concerns, speak to our property lawyers for advice and answers.