Renting to students: a guide for landlords
Letting to students is an excellent option for landlords, particularly in a rental recession when competition for renters is at its fiercest. Unfortunately, tired clichés often lead to a reluctance among landlords to trust them with a rental property. Many are concerned by the spectre of the broke, lazy student leaving a trail of devastation through wild parties and a pathological aversion to household chores. In reality, renting to students is a rewarding experience with advantages that far exceed the theoretical drawbacks.
If your property is located in an area popular with students at a nearby university, you can expect to enjoy strong and consistent demand for your property compared with a traditional let. A group of students will usually require a property for a minimum of 12 months and will stay even longer if they are only in their second year of study. This reduces your risk of lengthy void periods, while the higher number of renters occupying your property will produce greater yields.
Renting to students can also be emotionally rewarding. You get to provide the first ‘proper’ home many of your renters will be moving into since flying the nest (halls of residence are a lot of fun, but they don’t entail the freedom and responsibility of private housing). Depending on how involved you want to be, you get to share in the infectious excitement and enthusiasm of your first-time renters as they reach this important milestone.
If you’ve been persuaded to take the plunge and start renting to students (congratulations!), this guide explains everything you need to know to help you set up the perfect student residence.
Referencing and affordability
Many landlords prefer not to let to students for a multitude of reasons, but one of the biggest concerns is affordability. Students are, by definition, not in full-time employment and thus perceived to be at greater risk of falling into arrears than a working professional. In reality, there is little reason to be excessively concerned that student renters won’t be able to make the monthly rent. Most manage through a combination of student loans, part-time work, and family assistance. That said, most students won’t pass the standard referencing process for renting a property outright. However, there are two straightforward solutions that provide landlords with the security needed to proceed with a tenancy: guarantors and upfront rent.
Most students nominate a guarantor to underwrite their obligations under the tenancy agreement. This is usually a parent or guardian - definitely not someone your student renter is eager to upset by falling behind on the rent - but there are some universities that offer guarantor services. Guarantors are referenced according to the same criteria as renters and enter into a deed of guarantee to confirm that they are liable for unpaid rent. Many landlords prefer it if guarantors are based in the UK, but this is not essential. However, you should be aware that it might be difficult to pursue overseas guarantors through the courts in the unlikely event you need to claim for arrears.
The alternative option is payment of rent upfront, either for the full term or in six-monthly installments. This is the preferred option of many international students, as they struggle to find the UK-based guarantor required by many agents and landlords. Additionally, as there are no government-backed student loan schemes for students from other nations, they tend to be more financially secure than their UK counterparts (given they, or their families, are in a position to cover expensive international tuition fees and associated costs directly out of pocket).
If you opt to run a student let then you will almost certainly need an HMO licence to do so. A house in multiple occupation is a property that is let to at least three people who are not from one ‘household’ but share facilities such as the kitchen and bathroom. Mandatory HMO licensing requirements apply where there are 5 or more renters that form more than a single household. Many local authorities also have additional licensing requirements for smaller HMOs (3-4 residents), so it is important to check with your council directly and apply for the appropriate licence before advertising your student let.
It is important to do this before you start advertising your property for let, as you might be required to make some changes to the property (installing new locks, buying fire extinguishers, putting up health and safety signage) to satisfy the criteria for obtaining a licence.
You can learn more about property licensing in our guide.
Joint or sole tenancy?
With an HMO, you have the option of letting multiple rooms under individual contracts or letting the whole property in a joint tenancy. Both options have their benefits and drawbacks, and the best setup for you will depend on your personal preferences and circumstances.
With sole tenancies, each renter is responsible for managing their own rental payments, deposit, and behaviour. It can be an appealing option for student renters who are nervous about how things might go with the housemates because it makes it much easier to leave if things don’t work out. It’s also much easier for you as the landlord to replace a single renter than it is to fill a whole house, particularly the property is vacant in a difficult seasonal market for student lettings.
However, there is significantly more administration involved in managing several sole tenancies. Each renter will require their own contract and each deposit will need to be registered separately. It also means retaining responsibility for payment of all bills as there is no practical alternative - renters in unrelated tenancies cannot be expected to set up joint accounts with utility providers.
Joint tenancies are significantly less time-consuming and are the best option where you are renting to a group of friends who know each other and intend to start and end the tenancy at the same time. All renters will appear on the same AST and you will only need to protect one deposit. Joint and several liability applies in this arrangement, meaning that renters are collectively responsible for paying the rent and caring for the property. For example, if one renter doesn’t pay their full share of the monthly rent then their housemates will be responsible for making up the shortfall.
A little extra TLC goes a long way
Do you remember what it was like when you flew the nest? Living in a rental home for the first time is an experience that is both exciting and daunting in equal measure for your incoming renters! It’s an unprecedented kind of freedom, but one that also involves new responsibilities that were previously taken care of by parents or university halls of residence.
Few students moving into private housing for the first time will have much expertise when it comes to home maintenance. Even if your new renters were model teenagers who kept their rooms tidy and diligently completed all of their chores, it’s unlikely that they will have ever unclogged a sink drain, changed a lightbulb, or replaced the batteries in a smoke alarm. They should get the hang of it soon enough, but they might need some additional guidance at the start of the tenancy.
It is worth taking the time to visit in person when they move in to give them a detailed walkthrough of how everything in the property works. You can also gently outline what is expected from them in terms of home and garden maintenance. Show them where they can find any tools they might need and check that they know how to use them, but make it clear that they are also free to get reach out if they ever need you. The aim is to help them feel confident enough to attempt to resolve minor issues themselves first, but not to the point where they feel reluctant to reach out if there is a problem actually requiring professional attention.
It’s helpful to leave an instruction manual for them to refer back to throughout the tenancy. You can also encourage best practice by leaving them things such as a table to record smoke alarm battery checks, some information about setting up utilities, and a reminder to apply for a council tax exemption. It’s more labour intensive than setting up a typical tenancy, but the extra effort you put in at the start will pay dividends as you enjoy a low-hassle mutual partnership for the duration of their stay.
Setting up your student digs
Most students don’t own any furniture, so you should advertise your student property as furnished. A few simple touches can make each room the perfect study space and help your property stand out against the competition. If you equip each room with the following extras you’re sure to gain an edge with your target renters:
- Desk and chair.
- Small wardrobe (where this isn’t already included).
- Small bookcase.
It is fairly straightforward to source robust but inexpensive furniture that fits the bill and wows prospective renters. Your renters will also appreciate basic kitchen appliances such as a microwave and kettle, and it is prudent to make sure that they have access to a good vacuum cleaner and other cleaning supplies!
You may also need to consider the number of bedrooms you intend to advertise. It’s common for landlords who run student lets to convert reception rooms into additional bedrooms, as more renters means a higher yield. Students are usually content with this as it allows them to live with more of their friends while also reducing their own share of the rent. However, you should take care to ensure that any room you convert would be appropriate as a bedroom before making the switch. You should also consider the size of existing bedrooms - if they are on the smaller side you might struggle to let the property if you aren’t able to offer extra communal space for renters to relax.
If you are renting to students you need to inform your insurance provider, as failure to disclose this information might invalidate future claims. It’s also wise to review and compare alternative policies available on the marketplace, as most providers offer products specifically designed for landlords renting to students. You can probably find coverage that is more suitable for your student let at a more competitive price than your current policy.
Spread the word
Most university accommodation services offer schemes for local landlords looking to advertise directly to their students. Registering with a scheme is a great way to maximise the exposure your property receives during marketing. To qualify, landlords are often required to agree to a code of practice (which includes signing up to their dispute resolution procedure), demonstrate compliance with housing legislation by providing the relevant certificates, and pay a subscription fee to access marketing platforms.
Registering with local universities is a great way to build trust with prospective renters, and you should direct any lettings providers marketing your property to mention this on any promotional materials.
Our team has extensive experience when it comes to student tenancies - both as property professionals and former student renters ourselves! Get in touch if you would like our help finding students for your rental property: we would be delighted to hear from you.