By Adam Sampson
Adam Sampson, Director of Shelter
Thousands of young people are starting college or university in the next fortnight.
For many, it will be their first taste of an independent life in a rented home of their own.
Like many things, there are pitfalls and problems that people can fall into.
This basic guide should help you deal with some of the common problems.
Getting a place to live
Finding a home to rent can be difficult, especially if you are on a tight budget.
First you need to work out what you can realistically afford to pay and decide where you want to live.
Your college accommodation office or student union may have a list of approved landlords or agents.
Try to use an agent or landlord that belongs to a reputable trade association.
Avoid anyone who charges a joining fee or charges for a list of properties.
Perhaps you have found somewhere to live that seems just right. But before you sign anything ask for a written tenancy agreement and read it, agree the rent, as well as when and how you should pay it.
If you and your friends sign up to the same tenancy agreement you will probably have a joint tenancy.
This means that if one of you does not pay their rent the landlord can claim off the rest of you. Get advice if anything seems unfair or unclear.
Your landlord or agent will probably want a deposit, which they will hold onto in case you damage anything or fail to pay the rent.
The deposit, or loss of it, is one of main problems many tenants find themselves having to deal with.
To help protect your deposit:
- Check the agent belongs to the Association of Residential Lettings Agents deposit protection scheme or ask if they can hold the deposit in a separate account
Request a Gas Safety Record for the property
- Together with your landlord or agent, fill in a full inventory and note the state of the décor and fixtures and fittings. Take photographs if you are at all worried
- Get a receipt and agree the terms of the deposit's return
- Leave the property in a clean and tidy condition and get the agent or landlord back to review its state. Agree when the deposit will be returned. Again take photos if you are worried
- If there is a problem seek advice. Remember that you are not liable for fair wear and tear
Repairs and safety
There is a great deal of legislation designed to protect your health and safety.
Your landlord must keep your home in good repair and ensure electrical and gas services meet the minimum standards.
Shelter advice line: 0808 8004444
Trading Standards Central (see link) has an online advice leaflet on consumer safety in rented accommodation
ODPM has a range of fact sheets for consumers on tenants rights, which are available on its website's housing sub-index
You should request a copy of the Gas Safety Record if there is gas at the property.
Any soft furnishings in the home must meet fire regulations. The laws are complex and you need to seek advice if you are unsure about something.
Let your landlord know of any repairs that are needed as soon as possible.
Damp, particularly, can be a real problem and the chances are that your landlord will want to deal with it to prevent any major damage.
If your landlord will not carry out necessary repairs get advice.
You are responsible for getting anything you break or damage being repaired or replaced. Let your landlord know about it as soon as possible. Hiding it will only make things worse in the long run.
Communication is key to a good relationship.
Most of the time things will be fine, but if there are problems contact your landlord or agent as soon as possible. For instance, tell your landlord as soon as you know your rent is going to be late and agree how you will sort it out.
If your relationship with your landlord breaks down, contact Shelter for free confidential advice.
If you have a problem, need help or need advice contact Shelter (see website link on right) or your local Citizens Advice office (see link on right).
Shelter's online advice pages contain lots more information on your rights as a private tenant.
Most people who rent privately will have an assured shorthold tenancy and this article covers these tenancies.
For instance, people living with their landlord would have different rights.
Always check your tenancy agreement and seek advice if you have a problem you do not know how to deal with.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.