ARLA Propertymark have put together a new guide for students renting in Scotland, to help you find a suitable flat, keep you and your money safe, and know how to get your deposit back after you move out:

Before you start looking

Money

Decide what you can afford before you start flat hunting. Remember you will have to budget for rent, gas, electricity, water, phone, internet and a TV licence, as well as food and general household items.

One of the bonuses of being a student is that you don't have to pay council tax for your house. You should complete a council tax exemption form from your local council to make sure you're not billed. If you rent with someone who isn't a student, they still need to pay council tax but will receive a discount.

Choosing your flatmates

This is really important because disagreements between flatmates are a common problem. Conflicting lifestyles and personality clashes can cause misery and more stress around exam time. Remember you're signing a legally binding contract and will not be able to simply walk away. As a group you will also have to decide on how to split and share responsibility for bills. If your flatmate breaks something or doesn't pay their rent, the landlord or letting agent can use everyone's deposit to cover what is owed.

Have a think about your own lifestyle and what you would like in a flatmate - for example, reliability with money. If you're an early riser who prefers a quiet and tidy house, don't choose to live with a messy party animal - a fun friend is not necessarily a good flatmate!

The search

Choosing a letting agent

Not all letting agents are regulated and rogue agents can cause you stress and loss of money.

Use the ARLA Propertymark Find an Expert search to find your nearest ARLA Propertymark Protected letting agent. These agents have to maintain a set standard in their properties, and ARLA Propertymark regularly monitor the way that deposits and rent are handled.

Look for the ARLA Propertymark Protected logo on letting agents' websites, letting boards and office windows.

Know what's important to you

Start looking early and be prepared to compromise. What are the deal breakers: Number of bedrooms? Parking spaces? How close it is to campus?

Location

Most universities have well-known student areas - ask people who live in that city, other students, or contact a ARLA Propertymark Protected letting agent for advice. If you don't have a car consider how close you are to campus and public transport links. If you're driving, is parking available. Do you need a parking permit?


Protecting you and your money

Safety certificates

Ask to see a valid Gas Safety Certificate and EPC. It's a legal requirement for landlords to carry out electrical safety inspections which includes appliance testing. You should ask to see the Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) and Portable Appliance Test (PAT) report.

Problem with the flat?

ARLA Propertymark Protected letting agents are required to sign up to a redress scheme and belong to either The Property Ombudsman Scheme (TPOS), Ombudsman Services: Property (OS:P) or the Property Redress Scheme (PRS). This means that if you have a dispute with your agent, it can be referred for free to a neutral expert for resolution.

Houses in multiple occupation (HMO)

Your flat is an HMO if both of the following apply:

  • At least three people, who are not family members, live there,

  • You share a toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities with your flatmates.


If your flat is an HMO, your landlord should have an HMO licence. Without a licence, the property may not be safe or have enough smoke alarms or fire escapes.

The tenancy agreement

Read the tenancy agreement carefully. If you have any doubts, speak to your Student Union. If you agree a repair must be done before you move in, make sure this is added to the tenancy agreement before you sign.

The most common type of contract for students is a Short Assured Tenancy (SAT), which means you and your flatmates are "jointly and severally liable". This means that you are legally responsible for all of the rent, not just your own portion, even if someone leaves. If one of your flatmates breaks something or leaves their room in a mess, the landlord can use the deposit from all flatmates to cover the cost.

You may be asked to provide a guarantor who accepts legal and financial responsibility should anyone fail to pay their rent.

No tenant fees

Letting agents in Scotland are legally not allowed to charge any fees or premiums, which include, but are not limited to:

  • Holding fees;

  • Renewal fees;

  • Transfer fees;

  • Credit checks;

  • Reference checks;

  • Inventory fees;

  • Copies of the tenancy agreement;


Deposit

Your landlord or letting agent is required by law to transfer your deposit to a government approved tenancy deposit scheme, like SafeDeposits Scotland, within 30 working days of the tenancy start date. They must also give you the details of where the deposit is being held.

The tenancy deposit scheme will hold your deposit while you live in the flat to keep it safe and guarantee it can be repaid to you when you move out, if you haven't broken any of the rules in your tenancy agreement. If the landlord or letting agent wants to deduct any money from your deposit for reasons which you think are unfair, the schemes also offer a free adjudication service to help decide how the deposit should be repaid.

When you move in, your landlord or letting agent should provide you with an inventory which outlines the condition and cleanliness of the property. If anything details are missing (e.g. dirty grout in the shower, a broken lampshade, etc.) make sure to write it on the inventory before you and your landlord or letting agent sign it. If damage or dirt isn't listed on the inventory when you move in, you could end up being charged for it after you move out.


Moving in

Contact energy suppliers

Let the utility companies know that you're moving in - give them the gas and electricity meter readings, your move in date and the names of you and your flatmates. This makes sure that you share responsibility for the payments.

Arrange insurance

Moneysupermarket.com say one in three university students are victims of crime each year. Items such as laptops are essential for university life, so it's important to get insurance cover. Some students may be covered by their parents' contents policy, but make sure to double-check this is the case.

Buy a TV licence

Go to tvlicensing.co.uk to find out if you need a TV license.

During the tenancy

Let the landlord or letting agent know about any problems or damage as they happen, preferably by email so you have a written record.

If you're leaving the flat empty for any length of time, let your landlord or letting agent know. If you're going away during cold weather, consider leaving your heating on low to make sure that the pipes don't freeze - you'll be responsible for the repairs if they do.

Moving out

Double-check the inventory

Leave the property in the same condition as the day you arrived. It can be helpful to compare your flat to the inventory, to make sure they match up.

Contact your landlord or letting agent at least one month before you move out to ask if they want to check the flat before you leave - this will give them the opportunity to let you know if there are any problems, and give you time to fix them.

You and your landlord or letting agent should contact the tenancy deposit scheme as soon as possible after you move out to claim the deposit back.

This advice is taken from the ARLA Propertymark Student Guide. You can read an electronic version of the guide online.