housing advice

Contracts, deposits and inventories

Select from the list of topics below to be taken to the relevant section:

Contracts and contract checking



Deposit Protection Schemes

Getting your deposit back



Contracts and contract checking

Contracts (in this case a tenancy agreement or license) are legally binding agreements that you should take very seriously. By signing one you are agreeing with the contents of the contract.

You should always read your contract before signing it, and you should never feel pressured to sign a contract without feeling confident that you understand it.

You can read more in this section about types of contracts, common terms, unfair terms and how to see us about checking your contract.


Types of contract

There are a few types of contract or tenancy agreement that you could end up having when renting. What kind of contract you are signed up to determines the amount of legal rights and protection you could have.

If you want to know what type of contract you have and want to find out, contact us or use Shelter's tenancy checker.


I’m renting from a landlord or an agency

The majority of private landlords and their agents use an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement. Most of these last for a ‘fixed term’ of 12 months, but there is no harm in negotiating a shorter term if you can and want to.

Once you’ve signed the contract you must pay the rent as agreed until the end of the fixed term.

Sometimes there can be “break clauses” in your contract where if you give your landlord notice you can leave before the 12 months is up.

Signing one of these agreements gives you and other named occupants “exclusive possession” of the property. Your landlord or agent can only access the property for repairs or inspections by giving you at least 24 hours notice and can only come during reasonable hours.


I live with my landlord

In this case you may be referred to as a ‘lodger’. You could either be a ‘licensee’ (this would be the case if the landlord/owner has unrestricted access to your room) or an ‘excluded tenant’ (you can lock your room).

The length of the tenancy can be different depending on what you agree with the landlord. You should have a bedroom and share the other spaces with the landlord and potentially other people.

Shelter say that “being an excluded occupier means that you have few rights and can be evicted very easily”.

“Your landlord only has to give you ‘reasonable notice’ when asking you to leave. This notice may only be verbal and it doesn’t have to be for any particular length of time. After the notice period has ended, your landlord can evict you without a court order.”

You can get more information about your rights from Shelter.


Common terms and conditions

You should always read your tenancy agreement thoroughly and more than once as once you have signed it you are tied in. The best contracts are very clear and easy to understand, not legalese!

That includes any other extra documents that come with it.

The contract will be the central source of evidence in any dispute so you need to understand it.

If you don’t agree with any parts of the contract or if you don’t understand it, then don’t sign it.

Do not feel pressured to sign a tenancy agreement on the spot if you have not read it, or if you are not confident you understand what it says.

You should always be given time to consider the tenancy agreement/contract and should request

The contract should usually include:

  • What repairs the landlord/agent agrees to undertake (beyond those that landlords are legally responsible for)  and how to notify the landlord/agent of necessary repairs.
  • Details of how the deposit will be returned, or what happens in the case of disputes.
  • Details of the amount of deposit, how this is payable, and how this will be protected in a deposit protection scheme.
  • Who is responsible for any utilities and bills, as well as council tax.
  • The start and end date of the contract/tenancy.
  • What happens if rent is missed, and whether you will incur any charges for this.
  • How much rent you will pay and when. Make sure this matches to the amount that was advertised.
  • The name and full contact details of the landlord, agent, and yourself. You are legally entitled to the full contact details of the landlord, even if you are renting through an agent. Make sure you aren’t simply provided with a name and telephone number, you need an address and other details too.
  • Your responsibilities when it comes to repairs.
  • Details of reasonable behaviour while a tenant, such as not playing loud music beyond certain times.
  • Details of any guarantors and what the guarantors are obligated to do in the case of rent arrears.
  • How and where to serve any notices, such as ending the tenancy.
  • What happens at the end of the tenancy (turning over keys, inventory checks etc)

Never sign a contract on behalf of someone else who isn’t there, such as a housemate you have agreed to live with. 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.


Unfair terms and conditions

The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999) applies to housing contracts such as those you might enter into as a student.

This only refers to the standard terms of a contract and not clauses that have been separately negotiated.

Tenancy agreements are important documents and should be something that you can understand and should be written in straightforward language.

There should be no unfair terms in the agreement.

Examples of these could be:

  • your landlord can change the terms of the tenancy agreement whenever they like and that you will have to accept the new terms
  • you have to pay for repairs that should be your landlord's responsibility
  • your landlord can enter the property whenever they like, without giving you notice.
  • your landlord excludes themselves from responsibility for loss or damage to your personal property
  • penalty clauses

Unfair terms are not legally binding. That means they cannot be ‘enforced’, or they cannot apply.

If you think your tenancy agreement may include unfair terms, or if your landlord is holding you to something you don't think is fair, you can ask a housing adviser to look at the agreement for you and provide some advice. We reserve the right to refer you to more specialist services if need be.

Gov.UK has more information on unfair terms in contracts and how to complain about these.


Students’ Union contract checking service

The Students’ Union Housing Advice service is happy to check your contract for you before, during, or after you move in or departure from the property.

We will check for general unfair terms and conditions, and help you to understand the obligations you are under with the contract.

We’ll let you know if we reach the limit of the advice we are able to provide and refer you to any external services for more specialist advice if we feel the need to.

Please make an appointment by following the instructions on this page.

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A guarantor is somebody you know that has agreed (‘guarantees’) to pay the rent on your behalf if you were to “default” on your tenancy and paying the rent. This would usually be a parent/guardian or other family member.

The landlord/agent may require you to have a guarantor if they think you do not earn enough money, and also may ask that you pay large amounts of rent up-front.

When your guarantor signs the contract they will be agreeing to pay the landlord and the landlords agent losses incurred as a result of you failing to fulfil your obligations under the tenancy agreement. This includes overdue rent or other money owed under the agreement (for example, for damages).

If you have a joint contract with your housemates you need to be careful of whether the tenancy agreement you sign or any guarantor documents supplied by the agent/landlord are worded to mean that guarantors could risk being held liable for the unpaid rent of your flatmates as well if they were to default, and not just you. You should clarify this in writing with your landlord/agent before signing the contract if you are concerned about this.

If you are in a joint tenancy with other people you will be described as “jointly and individually responsible” for paying the rent and if one tenant moves out you may be held responsible.

Shelter suggests that “to limit the liability of a guarantor, make sure the guarantor's written agreement clearly sets out each of these details”

  • the name of the person whose rent is being guaranteed
  • the start and end dates the agreement applies to
  • the precise amount guaranteed, rather than a general commitment to pay an outstanding rent liability.

If the guarantor form supplied is not clear on these points, the letting agency or landlord may agree to accept an amended form or negotiate on this with you and other tenants.

Shelter suggest that “potential guarantors may wish to seek advice from a housing adviser, or make use of legal services available through any legal insurance cover provided under home insurance, union or employee benefits”.

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You can encounter two different types of deposit when you’re looking for somewhere to live:

Holding deposit

You would pay this before any contract is signed to ensure that you actually take up the tenancy when the time comes. This may be described as “taking the property off the market”.

If you decide later not to sign a tenancy and move in then you may not get this fee back, but you should definitely try. If you are in this situation you should come and see us.

Holding deposits often go toward your first month of rent or your security deposit.

Always request a receipt.


Security deposit

This will be paid at the beginning of the tenancy to a landlord or their agent to secure the property against any damages, unpaid rent.

Ensure that this deposit will be covered by a tenancy deposit protection scheme before you pay any deposit or sign an agreement. This is required of the landlord by law.

Always request a receipt.


Deposit Protection Schemes

When you pay a tenancy deposit your landlord or letting agent must protect your deposit through a government-backed tenancy deposit protection scheme.

These organisations provide government-backed schemes:

Use Shelter's tenancy deposit rights checker to check if your deposit should be protected.

For tenancy deposits paid to a landlord or agent, within 30 days of receiving it from you they must:

  • protect your deposit with one of the UK Government-backed schemes above
  • provide you with certain information covered below

Your landlord or agent should, within 30 days, give you all the information the law requires as outlined below. This includes:

  • the landlord's name and contact details
  • the amount of deposit paid and the address of the tenancy
  • details of the tenancy deposit protection scheme they are using
  • a copy of the deposit protection certificate signed by the landlord
  • information about the purpose of the tenancy deposit protection scheme
  • how to get your deposit back at the end of the tenancy
  • what to do if there is a dispute about the deposit.


When doesn’t a deposit have to be placed in a protection scheme?

If you are a lodger (excluded occupier/licensee) then your landlord does not need to place your deposit in a protection scheme.

Only assured shorthold tenancies require landlords to place deposits in protection schemes.


I don’t know if my deposit is protected, how do I find out?

First you should ask your landlord or your agent whether the tenancy is in a government-backed scheme.

Your landlord/agent should have placed your deposit in such a scheme within 30 days of receiving it and should have let you know the details of this.

You can check whether your deposit has been placed in a scheme by contacting one of the government-backed schemes. You can often check online. You should of course allow for at least 30 days from when you have handed over your deposit.

You will need to provide your name, your postcode, when you paid your deposit and how much you paid.

My deposit is not protected, what do I do?

You should follow the information above to first check if your deposit is not protected.

If 30 days have passed since you paid your deposit and you think your landlord or agent has not placed it in a protection scheme then you should write to your landlord/agent and ask for it to be placed in a protection scheme.

Come and see us at the Students’ Union for more advice on how to write to your landlord about this.

It’s likely that if asked or reminded your landlord will place it into a deposit protection scheme. However, Shelter warn that “some landlords, if pushed to protect the money, may try to cut short a tenancy by evicting the tenant instead”.

If you are concerned about this it may be worth considering whether it is worth pushing for the deposit to be protected, or waiting until the tenancy has ended to recover the deposit considering the deposit should be protected by law.

Court action

Courts can order landlords who do not place deposits in a protection scheme to pay compensation to tenants. Courts can order landlords to pay between 1 and 3 times the amount of the deposit if:

  • They took longer than 30 days to protect the deposit

  • They failed to give you the details of the scheme within 30 days

  • They didn’t protect the deposit at all

The court can tell a landlord to put a deposit in a scheme.

If you have tried everything and you are now considering Court action you should make sure you get all of your evidence together.

This could be:

  • Your tenancy agreement. This will be a very important piece of evidence.
  • Evidence of the receipt you paid such as a receipt and amount paid
  • All correspondence with your landlord (emails, letters)
  • Any evidence you have that your deposit is not protected. This could be correspondence with all three of the UK government backed schemes, or written confirmation of this from your landlord/agent.
  • Other relevant documents from your tenancy

You should seek specialist or legal advice if you wish to consider court action. The Students’ Union Housing Advice service will not be able to provide this advice.

We can assist you with gathering your evidence but we cannot provide any kind of legal advice on a court case, or representation in court.

You may want to consider visiting the UEL School of Law & Social Sciences Law Clinic for further support.

You should also read more information about this here 

If you have lost part/all of your deposit and your deposit is not protected then you should not withhold any rent as this may put you in breach of contract.

You should write to the landlord asking for evidence of any damage and receipts for things such as cleaning/repairs for this. If you have evidence that what they are saying is incorrect you should send this to them as this may cause your landlord to back down.

If you get no response or if you don’t agree with their response you should request a return of your deposit for a final time and provide a deadline. If this deadline passes and you do not get your deposit back you should consider court action and seek advice.

Evictions when your deposit is not protected

If a landlord doesn’t protect your deposit then they may not be able to use the standard Section 21’ notice procedure for evictions. 

If your landlord takes steps to evict you by serving you with any type of notice, or starts court proceedings, you should seek legal advice.

You should ensure your deposit is protected and if not you should bring this to the attention of anybody advising you.

Shelter say that “the court should not allow your landlord to evict you if your deposit should have been protected. Your landlord will have to protect your deposit in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme before starting the eviction process again - this will delay the date you will have to leave”.

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Getting your deposit back

At the end of the tenancy if there is no dispute about the amount of deposit to be repaid, (minus any reasonable deductions), the landlord must pay your deposit back within a maximum period of 10 days. This scheme should hopefully reduce the numbers of students who have problems getting their deposit back, as a third party will be able to make decisions about fair deductions from deposits, rather than landlords deciding themselves.

How do I avoid losing parts (or all) of my deposit?

When it’s nearing the end of your tenancy you need to start thinking about what you need to do to avoid losing part, or all, of your deposit.

Landlords can withhold your deposit for many different things so it’s best to keep yourself covered:

Check all of the items on the inventory  and make sure they are in the same condition as when you first got them. If you don’t have an inventory then you should make one. See here for more information.

Throughout your entire tenancy you should have been reporting any necessary repairs. If damage gets worse due to lack of repair you can prove this isn’t your fault if you have told them about it.

If you damage anything let them know. Sometimes honesty goes a long way, and sometimes paying to resolve something early can prevent the problem worsening and getting more expensive to fix further down the line.

If you have a garden check the tenancy agreement to make sure who is responsible for it. Your landlord should provide any equipment for you to maintain it if the responsibility is yours. If it is, cut the grass and keep the place tidy for when you leave.

Regularly clean your house. Draw up a rota with others in the house and take turns to do the big chores. Cleaning regularly will mean that the job won’t be as big or hard at the end when you move out.

Don’t let a dirty cooker or toilet catch you out when it’s time to move out.

When it comes time to move out:

  1. Clean the entire place extremely thoroughly. Do this as close as possible to the date of moving out so it is spotless for the inspection. If anyone has drifted away since the end of term try and get them to come back to help you.
  2.  Make sure all your belongings are out of the house before the inspection. Again, if any of your housemates have left without clearing out their belongings it’s going to be your responsibility to store or remove these before the inspection or your landlord may charge you part of your deposit to do this. Check your contract.
  3. Take photographs of everything. This includes the level of cleanliness of key items such as the bathrooms and kitchen, and take photos of the condition of all items listed on the inventory. Datestamp these photographs.
  4. Pay all monies owed to utility companies. If the companies try to chase you for unpaid bills your landlord may try to take this out of your deposit. However, the contract to pay utilities is between you and the company and does not involve the landlord. For this reason your landlord cannot deduct deposit from you for unpaid utility bills. The companies will ask you for final meter readings, which should be taken on the day you leave the property and hand over the keys.
  5. Ensure you are in and attend the inspection with the landlord.
  6. If your landlord doesn’t want to do an inspection doubly ensure that you have photographed everything and datestamp the photos.
  7. Return all keys, including all cut keys.


So long as you follow the above advice and have not caused damages, and so long as your deposit is protected, you should receive your deposit back within 10 days of your tenancy ending.

If you find out that you are not covered by a deposit protection scheme then follow the advice at this link, and ask your landlord to return this money giving him a clear deadline (around 10 days).


My landlord has deducted part/all of my deposit and I don’t agree with this, what do I do?

Come and see us for an appointment and we will provide you with advice.

If your deposit is protected by one of the deposit protection schemes then you should use the dispute resolution service for that scheme.

You should come to see us about gathering any evidence for this, or for us to help you through the disputes process of the scheme.

If your deposit is not protected in a scheme you should read the information on this page and follow the advice there.

You should not withhold any rent because your deposit has been withheld as this may put you in breach of contract.


What landlord/agents can’t deduct deposit for

Your landlord shouldn’t make any deductions for what is known as “fair wear and tear”. This is damage that gradually occurs to things over time, for example a carpet wearing thin. What constitutes “fair wear and tear” can often be the object of disputes.

The landlord or agent should not deduct unpaid utility bills from your deposit if your tenancy agreement states that you are liable to pay utility bills yourself.

Outstanding utility bills are a matter between you and the utility company as per your contract with each utility provider, and therefore the company should be chasing you for these unpaid bills and not your landlord.

Your landlord should not deduct any deposit for repairs that they are legally required to do.

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Whenever you move in to a new property you should check and agree an inventory with your landlord. This should be a detailed document which includes information about the condition of things such as:

  • Furniture
  • Walls and floors
  • Carpets and upholstery
  • Appliances (white goods)
  • Fixtures and fittings
  • General condition of rooms
  • Any other items in the property

Having an inventory can really help if your landlord tries to withhold any deposit from you at the end of the tenancy. An inventory agreed and signed on the move-in date protects both parties.

For example, if something was damaged when you moved in then if this is noted on the inventory this is proof you did not do this during your tenancy.

A good inventory will also include photographs of the items in question.

Make sure yourself, the landlord/agent and a witness sign the inventory.


Things to watch out for

If you think that the landlord/agent has played down any damage or omitted anything from the inventory then you should note this on your copy of the inventory and send this to the landlord/agent within a week or so of moving in.

Most agencies or landlords will require you to do this anyway, and you should always note discrepancies or disagreements with the inventory as a matter of course.

If you don’t agree with the inventory don’t sign it until the disagreement is resolved and the inventory is amended.


My landlord/agend hasn’t performed an inventory, what can I do?

There is nothing stopping you creating your own inventory shortly after moving in and sending this to your landlord. This should be detailed and include photographs.

Ask your landlord if they agree with the inventory document. If they don’t or don’t reply, don’t worry. You could still use this document and correspondence about this as evidence if there are problems later.

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