If you’re not aware of your rights as a renter you are a sitting duck
for the few dodgy letting agents and landlords lurking out there who
will take any short cut possible to save themselves money.
Whatever your reasons for choosing to rent a property it simply makes sense to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than handing out large sums of money every month when your not entirely satisfied with your home, and a home it should be, somewhere you feel safe and happy. If you’ve taken the right steps to renting a place there’s no reason, just because you chose not to or are unable to buy, that this shouldn’t be possible.
Why and what type of place you choose to rent can depend entirely on your circumstances. Perhaps you’re a ‘Young Professional’, happy to delay the commitment of buying a property, looking for a self–contained flat with all the mod cons. Or perhaps you’re a student, embarking on a new frontier, a place without home cooked food and where Breville toasties and super noodles are your main source of sustenance.
If you’re looking for a self-contained flat or the cheaper option of simply renting a room, it’s important to make sure the place is right for you before committing (It’s possible to spend hours meandering in the video shop, give your home the same courtesy!). Make the same checks as if you were buying the property. You might end up living in a rental property for as long as someone lives in a house they've bought, so you should set similar standards. Visit the property at least twice at different times of the day, including rush hour. The earth tremors caused by a cleverly hidden rail track do not make for a peaceful and stress-free home life! Whilst looking around the property remember to ask yourself and the agent these key questions. Write them down if you have to, the excitement of finding a decent flat can often cause the most rational person to go giddy.
- Is the area quiet or noisy?
- What types of people live in the surrounding area? Do
- you feel comfortable there?
- Are the available transport links appropriate for your needs?
- How close is the property to the local shops, supermarkets or schools?
- How much is the council tax?
- Is car parking easy?
- Will the property be cheap to heat and light?
- Does the property look to be in good condition? A badly maintained property can often reveal an illusive landlord and future problems. If the property is in a poor condition but you still wish to rent it, use its faults to negotiate a lower rent.
- Is the property really worth the rent being asked for it?
- Can you really afford it?
Trailing through the property pages and endlessly surfing the web for
the right place can be time consuming, unpractical and often soul
destroying. Once you’ve called up to inquire about the perfect flat for
the hundredth time only to be told it’s taken, and you can’t take
another rejection, why not leave the hard work to a letting agent?
Of course, the easy route comes at an extra price. Letting agents usually charge a fee from between £25 and £150 for their services i.e. the general administration involved in finding the property, taking up references and returning the deposit at the end of the tenancy. Often they also require a holding deposit of £50 to £200, which usually goes to the first month’s rent, unless you pull out in which case you lose it all together.
With this kind of money involved and considering you’ll be dealing with these people throughout your tenancy it’s important that they are reputableContracts
So you’ve found the perfect dwelling for you and your ready to sign on the dotted line. Whoah there! Before you enter into a legally binding tenancy agreement there are some essential things you need to check for.Once again, a tenancy agreement is a legally-binding document between you and the landlord. Make sure you get an agreement in writing. If the landlord does not provide this information within 28 days of your asking, he or she is committing a criminal offence and could be fined. The tenancy agreement should state:
- the landlord’s name
- your name
- the address of the property
- the length of the tenancy (if it is for a fixed term)
- the notice period
- the date the tenancy starts
- the amount of rent
- when the rent will be increased (if it is not a fixed-term tenancy)
- when the rent is due and whether it is payable in advance
- whether the rent includes council tax and/or water rates
- the types of tenancy agreement it is – for instance, assured shorthold
- what the tenancy includes – usually with reference to an attached inventory
- the amount of the deposit, what it is for, whether it will be held in an interest-paying account and when you will get it back
- your responsibilities as a tenant – for example, to keep the property in a good condition, pay your fuel bills, TV licence, not to sublet, not to keep animals etc.
- the obligations of the landlord – for instance to keep the property safe and in a good state of repair
Always a tricky subject. Deposits are usually about four to six week’s rent, required to be paid in advance of moving into a property. It covers any damage you may inflict on the property or non-payment of rent. What is considered as damage on a property can often become a shady area. Twenty percent of tenants say they have suffered from landlords withholding their deposit with no valid reason.
To bring light into this often problematic part of renting and to avoid any future problems in claiming back your deposit, the first essential step is to agree on an accurate inventory. If the landlord hasn’t prepared one draw one up yourself and get them to sign it. It should include a list of all the furniture and other items that belong to the property and their conditions. This way you can be sure if you’re responsible for the red wine stain on the cream carpet found under a strategically placed sofa.
At the end of your tenancy after an inventory check and condition inspection, if there are no missing items or damage, your money should be returned in full after you leave the property. You cannot set your deposit against the last rent payment due.
Until now there have been no official schemes to support tenants who have had their deposits unfairly withheld. If a landlord persists in refusing to return a deposit, the main option has been to use the small claims procedure in the county court to try and get it back.
However more help may soon be at hand. The Government recently announced a plan to safeguard deposits. “It is the right of the tenant to have their deposit safeguarded and it is the responsibility of Government to ensure they do. Therefore new provisions in the Housing Bill will require that tenancy deposits be protected in the future." (Housing Minister, Keith Hill). An important step towards decreasing the tens of thousands of private tenants being cheated out of millions of pounds.
You’ve fought off all the other eager potential tenants, battled through all the initial policies and procedures and you’re finally ready to go through the palaver of moving in. Buying a house and moving is one of the most stressful things in life apparently. However this may also be applied to moving into rented accommodation, particularly when attempting to lug a king sized bed up to a 5th floor flat with no lift.
So to ease those stresses, strains and slipped discs it’s nice to have the peace of mind that your home is safe. Landlords are under a common law duty to ensure that the property they provide is safe.Gas and Electricity
It is your Landlord’s responsibility to ensure that any gas and electrical fittings and appliances are safe. By law they must have their gas appliances checked by CORGI every 12 months. They must keep a record of inspection dates, any defects identified and any remedial action taken. You must be given a copy of this record.
If your landlord does not carry out regular inspections of gas appliances or if they refuse to give you a copy of the inspection record, you could contact the local office of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which has a duty to enforce the safety requirements.Fire Safety
Firstly all furniture provided by your landlord must be fire resistant. If the furniture your landlord provides is not fire resistant your local council trading standards department
can take action.Also, the building regulations require that all properties built after June 1992 must have a mains operated inter-connected smoke alarm fitted on every level of the property. Older properties do not have to comply to this, however most landlords are willing to provide at least battery operated smoke alarm. Again, if they are not you should invest in one. It's cheap, easy to get hold of and easy to fit. There's no excuse for not having one. It should be tested monthly with batteries replaced once a year Safety Checklist (courtesy of Shelter www.shelter.org.uk) There are things that you can do to minimise risks to you in your home, such as:
- report and faulty equipment or problems to your landlord immediately
- make sure that smoke alarms are fitted and in working order
- use carbon monoxide detectors
- plan what to do in case of fire and be aware of all escape routes
- make sure that exit routes are clear
- keep electrical and gas appliances in good condition
- ask your landlord to give you a copy of the gas safety certificate
- if you suspect there is a gas leak, contact the gas supplier immediately.
The Landlord’s right of entry
Once you’ve settled into your new abode it’s important to feel relaxed and comfortable without having someone barge in without notice.
Your landlord has a right to reasonable access to carry out repairs. What ‘reasonable access’ means depends on the reason why they need to get access. For example your landlord is entitled to immediate access to carry out any necessary work in an emergency.
Under any other circumstances they should always ask for your permission and should give you at least 24 hours notice, unless they have a court order.