Parents' survival guide to student tenancies

When they buy their first car, every kid is peppered with parental advice: check the tyres, what’s the mileage, when was the cam-belt changed? But at CPS Homes, over the years we’ve been letting properties to students in Cardiff, we’ve found that parents seem a bit more at sea with the ins and outs of student housing than they are on the garage forecourt. We put our heads together with the parents of some of our contract-holders and produced this guide to student lettings from the parents’ perspective, to help bring you up to speed. If the questions listed below don’t quite fit the bill, please feel free to give our student lettings office a ring on 02920 668585.

Step 1

My child has asked me to be their guarantor. What does that involve?

In essence, a guarantor is a financial backer for a contract-holder – they agree to cover the shortfall of any rent that the contract-holder fails to pay, guaranteeing to the landlord that it will be paid. Student contract-holders need guarantors because they cannot get the usual kinds of contract-holder references (employer references, credit checks and previous landlord references). A guarantor is often the parent or guardian of the contract-holder in question, and must be a UK resident, UK homeowner, and over the age of 25. The guarantor paperwork must be signed before the contract-holders can sign the occupation contract – we send it out to the contract-holders to pass to their guarantors after they have paid their holding deposits and taken the property they want off the market.

The responsibilities of the guarantor are to commit to paying the rent should the contract-holder fail to pay, and, if the property is damaged by the contract-holders beyond the reasonable limit of “fair wear and tear” and the contract-holders’ deposit money is not enough to cover the cost of restoring the property to its condition prior to the tenancy, the guarantor agrees to pay the difference if the contract-holder(s) fail to do so.


Step 2

An occupation contract is a legally binding document – what is my child actually signing up for?

When a contract-holder signs for a property, the document signed is an “Occupation contract”. The occupation contract formalises the understanding that the contract-holders, as responsible adults, must abide by particular terms in order to live in the landlord’s property. It’s a legal contract between the landlord and the contract-holders laying out what each party is expected to do during the course of the tenancy and vice-versa. In essence, the landlord must keep the building in a good condition, while the contract-holders must all pay the rent on time and keep the house in a good condition.

Occupation contracts in the UK are typically one joint document, meaning that each contract-holder is equally responsible for the condition of the house and for everyone else paying the rent on time (the legal term is “jointly and severally liable”). A common misperception is that contract-holders are individually responsible for paying their portion of the rent in return for looking after their bedroom, or their portion of the house. This is not the case. Under the terms of an assured shorthold tenancy, the contract-holders are jointly paying portions of the rent for the whole house, so the condition of the communal areas and even their housemates’ rooms are a shared responsibility. Contract-holders also have a joint responsibility to behave in a contract-holder-like manner in maintaining the condition of the property and paying any bills incurred.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the occupation contract is one joint contract between all of the contract-holders as one party, and the landlord as another party. The following example is a rare occurrence in reality, but illustrates the joint nature of the occupation contract: if a contract-holder drops out of the contract, for example, does not move in, cannot be contacted and their guarantor cannot be contacted, the other contract-holders jointly share the responsibility of covering the cost of the absent contract-holder’s rental payment. Again, this is a standard part of occupation contracts in the UK, but it is something that takes people by surprise if they haven’t read and understood the terms of the contract before they sign.

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Step 3

What is “living in a contract-holder-like manner”?

Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 sets out the legal duties of a contract-holder when living in a property and calls this behaving in a ‘contract-holder-like manner’. This doesn’t just mean abiding by the terms of the occupation contract and paying your rent on time, it also involves taking the contract-holder responsibilities of carrying out minor maintenance to the property, such as:

  • changing all light bulbs – including those fiddly ones in cooker hoods!
  • preventing the build-up of condensation and mould by ensuring the property is properly heated and ventilated, especially during showers, cooking and when clothes are drying;
  • leaving the heating on during the winter, especially if the contract-holder is departing for any length of time, so that the pipes don’t freeze or burst;
  • setting up utilities accounts and paying all of the bills;
  • unblocking sinks, toilets and drains;
  • checking the fuse-box trip switches when there is a power outage;
  • keeping the place clean and tidy, including recycling properly and throwing away all rubbish to avoid attracting rodents;
  • topping up boiler pressure in order to keep the system running properly;

  • looking up the manuals for the appliances in the property in order to understand how they work.

It’s also the legal responsibility of the contract-holder to report any other maintenance in a timely manner, allowing your landlord to deal with any issues before they get any worse.


Step 4

What is the landlord of the property obliged to provide?

The same legislation (Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985), states that the landlord is responsible for ensuring that the structure of the house is sound and that it’s fit to live in. This includes making sure the property has:

  • heating;
  • hot water;
  • lights;
  • sanitation and sewerage;
  • no safety hazards;
  • regular (typically annual) checks for gas, fire and electrical safety.

If the property is subject to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing, it is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure it complies with the housing regulations that come with it. Making landlords apply for a HMO licence before being allowed to rent a house out to groups is the local authority’s way of making sure the property is fit to live in and up to the standards they set. In Cardiff’s case, Cardiff County Council inspect each property before granting the landlord with a licence, meaning any potential contract-holders can be safe in the knowledge that it’s been given a thorough once-over by the powers that be.

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Step 5

What rent will the students have to pay over the summer if they’re not living in the property?

Typically, all student occupation contracts in Cardiff start on 1st July and end on 30th June of the following year. If the students register their wish to go home for the summer months, the landlord will often allow them to pay a discounted rent, rather than charging them full rent for a house they’re not living in. If a contract-holder wishes to occupy over the summer, the landlord will typically ask for the entire rent to be paid as if it were a regular month of the year.

Where a discounted rent period is in place, a common misconception is that the tenancy doesn’t begin until the contract-holders move in. This is not the case – whether the contract-holders have chosen to live there or not, they become responsible for the property on the day that the occupation contract begins. If contract-holders choose not to live there over the summer, even though it’s likely that a clean will have been carried out at the end of the previous tenancy, a house that’s empty for eight weeks will gather dust and the lack of air circulation from open windows may well cause some condensation mould.

With little-to-no usage of gas, water and electricity when a property is unoccupied over the summer months, bills will be extremely low, but it’s important to bear in mind that utility companies will apply standing charges as standard.

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Step 6

My child wants to leave his/her tenancy. What do we need to do to arrange this?

When a contract-holder wants to leave a property, it’s important to remember that they have already signed a legal contract for a fixed period of time, so it’s not as simple as waving goodbye to their responsibilities. A landlord isn’t going to write-off the share of the rent he was expecting to get for the remainder of the tenancy, so a contract-holder who wishes to leave will usually have to find a replacement to take his/her place. Bear in mind that until a new occupation contract is signed by both the remaining contract-holders and the new one, the original tenancy remains active


Step 7

What role does CPS Homes play after the occupation contract has been signed? Who will become my child’s first point of contact?

The role CPS Homes plays will depend entirely on whether the contract-holders have chosen a managed or a let-only property. “Let-only” means literally that: the landlord has asked CPS Homes to find contract-holders for the house, prepare legal documentation of the occupation contract and oversee the signing of the contract. After the occupation contract has been signed and the deposit money paid, the management of the property becomes the landlord’s responsibility and the landlord will become the first point of contact for the contract-holders should they have any maintenance issues during the course of their tenancy. They will be provided with all of the contact details they need during the tenancy signing.

If the property is “managed”, CPS Homes will remain the first point of contact for the contract-holders, as the landlord has instructed us to manage the property on his or her behalf. It’s worth noting that CPS Homes is not party to the occupation contract, regardless of whether the property is let-only or managed: the contract is always a contract between the contract-holders and the landlord. A contract-holder in a managed property can bring any maintenance issues to the CPS Homes Maintenance Team on Woodville Road, or contact them on 02920 668585 or

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Step 8

Who is responsible for setting up utilities for the house?

The setting up and payment of the utilities on the property – gas, electricity, water, council tax, internet, TV supplier and TV license – are the responsibility of the contract-holders. Student contract-holders won’t have to pay council tax, but they will have to prove that they are exempt from it. They should get exemption certificates from the registry of their university and we’ll need to see a copy in order to register their council tax exemption for the purpose of the bond returns.


Step 9

My child is (or isn’t) the ‘lead contract-holder’. What does that mean?

The lead contract-holder is a position that has a number of responsibilities. In one respect, they are the spokesperson for the tenancy. They will serve as the first point of contact among the contract-holders for anybody needing to arrange access to the property, such as for maintenance visits or lettings viewings. The lead contract-holder is also responsible for the return of the deposit money to the other contract-holders at the end of the tenancy – they were the person nominated during the signing of the occupation contract to be responsible for the money.

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Step 10

What is a deposit and why does my child have to pay one?

Sometimes known as a ‘damage deposit’, ‘security deposit’ or ‘bond’, a deposit is paid by the contract-holders during the signing of the occupation contract. It’s usually a bit more than a month’s rent, although specific deposit amounts can vary depending on the landlord or on the contract-holders’ situation (for example, a contract-holder with a dog may have to put down a larger deposit). The deposit is a security payment – a guarantee that the contract-holders will treat the property well throughout the time they live there. If there’s no damage to the property at the end of the tenancy and they leave it clean and tidy – “fair wear and tear” is taken into account – the deposit is returned to the contract-holders in full. The lead contract-holder of the tenancy will receive a message from the deposit scheme shortly after the deposit has been paid, and it will contain information necessary on how to retrieve it at the end of the tenancy.

As the occupation contract is one joint contract between all of the contract-holders and the landlord, the deposit is one joint payment for the whole tenancy, so all of the contract-holders have an equal responsibility to ensure that they leave the property in a good state in order to receive the full return of their deposit. A charge for cleaning the property at the end of a tenancy is by far the most common deposit claim, shortly followed by the cost to re-cut or replace locks for keys that have not been handed back, and the replacement of missing lightbulbs. The cost to re-paint a wall to cover blue tack marks is also a frequent claim. However, as explained above, contract-holders will only be charged for anything deemed over and above “fair wear and tear”. For example, a house shared by seven students is expected to sustain more wear and tear than a one-bedroom flat occupied by a single person. The length of the tenancy is also taken into account.


Step 11

Where is the deposit held, and what measures are in place to keep it safe?

Deposit protection was introduced by the government in 2007 and was specifically set up to protect contract-holders’ rights when putting down a deposit for a property. It means that, within 30 days of it being paid, the deposit has to be registered with one of the UK’s three government-approved schemes: the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), MyDeposits, or The Dispute Service (TDS).

Come the end of the tenancy, if anybody wants to claim for money from the deposit to cover any remedial work at the property – and the contract-holder disputes it – the deposit scheme will oversee the dispute and ensure that no deductions are made without the full agreement of both parties, or at least until they’ve carried out a thorough review into the matter.

Should no agreement be possible, the deposit scheme will appoint an independent adjudicator to make a final ruling on the disputed point(s). Seeing as the deposit still belongs to the contract-holder, the onus is very much on the landlord to prove that the items they wish to deduct are fair and reasonable. The adjudicator can only make a decision based on the evidence they’re provided with, which will typically include the property’s schedule of condition upon entry (typically signed by both parties) and photographic evidence both pre- and post-tenancy. Both sides have an opportunity to provide evidence for the adjudicator, which is why it’s important that everything is clearly documented at the start and end of every tenancy.


Step 12

What does my child need to do in order to get the deposit back at the end of the tenancy, and how will it be returned?

For let-only tenancies, the landlord will be responsible for the return of the deposit, just as they have been for the maintenance and inspections of the property during the tenancy.

Where the property is managed by CPS Homes, we will conduct a ‘check-out’ inspection with the contract-holders on the final day of the tenancy, where one of our staff will inspect the property and collect the keys and deposit return information from the contract-holders. A lot of agencies will ask the contract-holders to return the keys to their office and inspect it in their own time, but we like to get the deposit return ball rolling sooner rather than later. It also means that everything is very transparent, so the contract-holders know exactly what issues we’ve picked up on (if any) from the outset. It’s more of a joint inspection where both parties compare the condition of the property now, compared to how it was at the commencement of the tenancy.

At the time of the check-out appointment, we ask that contract-holders provide us with the following items;

  • their final meter readings

  • proof of final utility bill payments

  • proof of council tax exemption (or a £0.00-value council tax bill for the property, dated up to the final day of the tenancy)

Our managed tenancies will have their deposits registered with the Deposit Protection Service. The lead contract-holder will have been emailed with the DPS Repayment ID number shortly after the deposit was paid, and this number will allow the lead contract-holder to log into the DPS website and accept (or reject) the landlord/agent’s claim. They will then be responsible for inputting the bank details of the other contract-holders and ensuring that the money is returned to them correctly. Unfortunately, CPS Homes cannot intervene in deposit disputes between contract-holders, as the lead contract-holders was nominated as the adult legally responsible for the money during the signing of the occupation contract.


Step 13

Why might my child have costs claimed from their deposit?

Costs are claimed where contract-holders breach the terms of their tenancy and these breaches are not rectified before their departure, meaning the landlord has to arrange for remedial work to be carried out. Common causes for deductions are cleaning, damage to fixtures and fittings (over and beyond ‘fair wear and tear’, which is always allowed for), unpaid utility bills, rent arrears, or the cost of replacing lost keys or to install new locks.

As briefly explained above, ‘fair wear and tear’ is always taken into consideration when assessing the condition of a property upon vacation. If an item’s condition has deteriorated since the beginning of the tenancy, but not over and beyond the deterioration that would have been expected during the course of the tenancy, the cost to repair or replace it should not be claimed from the deposit. Instead, it should be put down to fair wear and tear.

If genuine damage or neglect has occurred, it is sometimes necessary for an item to be replaced, but the amount paid for the replacement isn't necessarily the amount that should be claimed from the deposit. ‘Betterment’, as the term suggests, describes a situation in which a person ends up in a better position (financially or materially) than they were originally. If fair wear and tear is considered, then the entire cost of replacing an item may not lie entirely with the contract-holder. For example, a mattress being replaced at the end of year three, when its life expectancy was five years, should only incur a charge of two-fifths of the cost of replacement, seeing as the landlord has already had three years’ worth of its use.


Step 14

Are the contract-holders or the landlord responsible for bills?

Unless otherwise agreed, the contract-holders are responsible for all of the bills incurred in the property after the start date of their tenancy, usually July 1st. This does mean that they will have to pay the service charges to the energy companies who continue to supply the property with energy if they are away over the summer.

If it’s not obvious who the current energy supplier for the property is, calling the telephone numbers below will give you the information you require. Bear in mind that they’re automated and will need the postcode and the first line of the address.

  • Gas: 0870 608 1524
  • Electricity: 01752 502299

The water provider will always be Welsh Water, and their general enquiries and billing number is: 0800 052 0145


Step 15

What does “HMO” mean? Does an HMO licence apply to my child’s property?

“HMO” stands for “Houses in Multiple Occupancy”, so if your child is part of an occupation contract with two or more people who are not related, they will be living in an HMO (but, for example, if a student were living with their partner and child, that would not be an HMO).

However, not all HMOs need an HMO licence. One is definitely required if there are 5 or more unrelated contract-holders occupying a property with 3 or more storeys, but there also additional licensing schemes in place, such as in the Cathays and Plasnewydd areas of Cardiff. Here, a house with three or more unrelated contract-holders must have an HMO licence.


Step 16

What does HMO licensing mean?

HMO licensing is the local authority’s way of making sure certain types of housing are fit to live in and meet a specific standard. Their requirements cover things like size of living spaces, washing/cooking facilities, fire and electrical safety systems, and the security of the building. Cardiff County Council visit each property before issuing a licence, which means anybody due to occupy it can be assured that it meets the required standards.

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To find out how we can help you, e-mail us via or give us a call on 02920 668585. Alternatively, if you fancy calling in for a face-to-face chat, we'd love to see you.