Signing a joint contract means that as a group you will legally be agreeing to joint liability for the full rent (ie. all of you, as a group, are responsible for the full rent). In practice, rent is usually divided amongst students, often reflecting the size and quality of each tenant’s room. However, should any problems arise then a landlord can legally pursue any one of the tenants for any outstanding room rent. This can potentially apply to guarantors also, as they will be signing to accept liability for any outstanding rent owed by the group. The legal term for this is Joint & Several Liability, meaning that the liability is joint and shared. For further information about this please click here.
If one tenant leaves the property and there was another tenant to take their place then the landlord would need to surrender the original tenancy and ask the new group to sign a new tenancy agreement. If this is the case, the landlord would normally provide a written 'Surrender of Tenancy'.
An individual contract is different in that the tenancy agreement is only between the landlord and one tenant. The tenant will agree to liability for their room and their individual room rent only, not for the other tenants in the house. Students will usually share the upkeep of communal areas and so there remains a sense of shared responsibility for the upkeep of the house.
What contract do I have?
It should be clear on your contract if you have a joint and severally liable contract, or an individual contract. If you are unsure, the Student's Union Advice & Support Centre are able to check for you, if you bring them a copy of your contract.