What students look for in accommodation. Advice/links for Landlords
Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) writes for Inside Letting about the advice they provide to tenants looking for accommodation and useful links for landlords.
We, at The Advice Place at EUSA, provide free and impartial advice on a range of topis, including housing, to students at the University. Most of our members let properties within the private rented sector, so providing them with clarification on their rights and responsibilities as tenants constitutes a key component of our work. Last academic year, we dealt with 3697 housing enquiries, including over 1200 enquiries about searching for accommodation and large numbers of enquiries on deposits, guarantors, repairs and letting agent fees.
We deal with large numbers of enquiries from students searching for accommodation. Such enquiries come from a diverse range of members, including international students who are unfamiliar with Scottish tenancy law and students who are renting for the first time. In the process of dealing with these enquiries, we always seek to provide information that pre-empts future difficulties.
In February 2016, we delivered a series of outreach events providing housing information and advice to students across five different locations. In the course of these, we distributed over 400 copies of our flat-hunting checklist (see link below). This checklist includes a series of questions designed to encourage students to check on the condition of a property (and the landlord’s responsiveness to requests for repairs) before they decide whether to commit to a tenancy or not. The checklist also prompts students to check whether a property has an HMO license where relevant. It also serves to increase students’ awareness of landlords’ responsibilities in terms of ensuring that fire safety and carbon monoxide detection devices are in place ans that a tenant information pack is provided.
Students often ask us to check through their tenancy agreement prior to committing to a tenancy. In this process, we take care to highlight their key contractual responsibilities and to provide clarification on aspects of the contract that may not be immediately obvious to persons who have no prior knowledge of Scottish tenancy law. Many of the students we work with require further clarification on issues such as:
- the meaning and implications of joint and several liability
- inventories and their importance in resolving disputes over deposits at the end of a tenancy
- understanding their obligation to provide notice prior to ending a tenancy
- their responsibilities concerning upkeep of communal areas.
Time spent ensuring that all tenants possess a clear and accurate understanding of their rights and responsibilities prior to entering into a tenancy can go a long way towards preventing future difficulties.
Sometimes, of course, unforeseeable circumstances prevent tenants from fulfilling their contractual obligations. We occasionally encounter students who have amassed significant rent arrears. The reasons for this are many and varied, but can include delays in student funding, fluctuations in international exchange rates, difficulties in securing holiday work and change in circumstances (e.g. redundancy). We have a team of experienced money advisers who can help students to resolve any funding issues and support them in exploring their options in terms of maximising their income, minimising their expenditure and dealing with any debts they have accrued. If you encounter any student tenants (from University of Edinburgh) in this situation, please make them aware of our service.
Useful links for landlords:
City of Edinburgh Council - landlord responsibilities
Scottish Government - HMO advice/information
Scottish Government - Tenancy Deposit Schemes
EUSA - Flat hunting checklist
Are you a contractor?
You might not consider yourself a contractor, but HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) could. Richard Montgomery, Symington Mackell writes for Inside Letting about existing taxation rules affecting landlords.
Over recent years, landlords and letting agents have become used to the ever-increasing obligations placed upon them by HMRC. Whilst much has been written about the recent tax changes affecting residential letting, it’s worth considering some existing areas of taxation which might catch out the unwary. One such area is the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS).
CIS was introduced by HMRC to tackle the issue of cash payments in the construction industry and the consequential lost tax resulting from such transactions. Whilst one might assume construction concerns larger commercial projects, from HMRC’s perspective it covers any area of construction work. This includes site preparation, decoration, alteration, repair and refurbishment, however there are some exclusions, such as carpet fitting and delivering materials to site, amongst others. CIS applies to you if you are a builder or property developer and also if your business is not in the construction industry but spends an average of more than £1 million annually in any three-year period. If you fall into any of these categories and you pay subcontractors to carry out construction work, you are a contractor and subject to CIS.
In practice, this means you are required to register as a contractor with HMRC and must deduct tax at source from payments to a subcontractor and pass it on to HMRC. Subcontractors don’t have to register for CIS, but by not doing so, deductions made by the main contractor are subject to a higher rate deduction of 30%. It is more sensible for subcontractors to be registered so they may be able to benefit from a lower rate of tax deduction or no deduction at all, depending on their circumstances.
Many landlords and some letting agents regard themselves as being property developers as well, so care should be taken when considering construction related work that it doesn’t push them into the category of ‘contractor’. We keep hearing that HMRC are taking a tougher line on the collection of tax, so it makes sense be well informed about which taxes apply in order to protect your business.
More information can be found on the government website