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Taking an Inventory

Within your contract you may find that there are clauses that describe your obligations to look after and return the property in the same state as you received it. Many problems over return of deposits occur because of disputes over the change in condition of your student accommodation as well as its contents over the period of the tenancy, and the interpretation of the term "reasonable wear and tear".

Therefore, when you first move into a house, it's essential to make a detailed inventory (list) of contents of the house and what condition they are in. Everything (yes that means everything) needs including, from whether the toilet seat is on properly to whether the carpet is without holes. Both you and your landlord should sign and date this and have a copy each. This may seem a bit extreme, but it will be worth it in 12 months’ time when you're arguing over the non-return of your deposit, due to a broken mop!

If you are concerned, you could take photographs. It also helps to obtain witnesses as to the house's condition at both the beginning and the end of the tenancy. At the end of your tenancy you then need to go back to the inventory. Check the condition of all items on the list and take again photos as evidence of the state of the property. This should help with any disputes as to whether the depreciation of the property is fair wear and tear or whether it is acceptable for the landlord to make deductions due to repairs that need to be made. There is a section further on in this guide that describes in detail how to have your deposit returned promptly.

For further advice on resolving disputes in England and Wales please visit: www.direct.gov.uk/en/TenancyDeposit/index.htm

Utility Bills

Utility bills are one of the unfortunate drawbacks of living in a shared house. The bills that you will have to pay will vary depending on which landlord or agency you decide to rent a house from. Check your contract! Some landlords may offer an all-inclusive contract, which covers your bills. Inform yourself about these agreements carefully to be clear if there are any bills (such as the telephone), which aren't covered by the agreement, or any loopholes that will leave you with bills at the end of the tenancy.

All students that live in the house are jointly responsible for paying the utility bills. It is advisable that you register with each company in ALL of your names and not just one person. This ensures that all of you are responsible and should a late payment be made for whatever reason, you will all be held accountable for it.

Each company has a different system of registration and payment. It is essential that you take a meter reading and write it down on the day you move into the property. Then register with the related company and give them your initial reading. This ensures that you do not end up paying for any gas or electricity used by the previous tenants. It is also important that you take meter readings and inform each company when you leave the property to ensure that you do not become liable for the next tenants usage. Some landlords will insist on seeing evidence that all utility bills have been paid before returning your deposit.

You may be aware that the de-regulation of the utility companies means that it is possible to change the supplier in order to save money on your bills. Some tenancy agreements do specify that this can only be done with the authorisation of the landlord, so ensure you are able to do so. Before signing a contract with a new company, find out about how to end the current contract you have. Problems can occur if you do not close a previous account properly, leaving you being pursued by two companies for the same bill. If you do have problems seek advice!

Council Tax

The regulations around Council Tax are complicated, but generally, provided that all residents in your house are full-time registered or 'intercalating' students, you are NOT LIABLE for council tax. Be aware that you may be liable for Council Tax for any period between courses. Even if the first course is a pre-requisite to the next, you are liable from the time the first course finishes until the next one starts.

Those students in the writing up period of a postgraduate course are also liable for Council Tax despite technically being a student. Your eligibility for exemption may also depend on the duration of the course. For example some short language courses do not qualify students for exemption. If, for any reason, one or all of the tenants make your property liable for charges through not being a full-time student, it is the responsibility of ALL the tenants - NOT your agency or landlord. If in doubt, seek advice, as the penalties for non-payment of council tax can be very serious.

From April 2004 this situation will change and students will not be held responsible for Council Tax bills owed by their non-student housemates.

Television License

If you have or intend to have a television set on the premises, it is essential that you purchase a television licence. If you live in Halls of Residence and you have a television in your room, you need your own separate television licence. If you move into private student accommodation, your need for a television licence will depend on the type of tenancy agreement you have. If you have a joint tenancy you can have one licence to cover more than one television used by different occupants. If you share a house under separate agreements, or there are locks on each room/bedroom, you will need separate television licences. If you are uncertain contact the TV Licensing Agency, as if you are caught without a licence you could face a fine of up to £1000.

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