A Guide for Tenants
There's more to renting a property than the cost of the rent, the number of bedrooms, and its location. This guide will take you through the stages of checking the landlord and property; your responsibilities as a tenant; and how to finish a tenancy. The information given here applies to England and Wales.
Feel free to download this guide, so you can take it with you when going to view a potential new home, share it with your friends, even pass it to your landlord.
Finding the property
Decide whether you want to use an agent, or deal directly with a landlord.
- Look for membership of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), or a Safe Agent.
- Pros: You should receive a professional service & the repair and maintenance service may be quicker.
- Cons: You may pay more for the service so be absolutely clear what charges are being made before you sign anything & staff change so you may not see the same person each time.
- Look for membership of a professional association such as the RLA, or for accreditation by a university or council.
- Pros: May take a more personal interest in their property and tenants & costs to enter the tenancy may be cheaper.
- Cons: Being a landlord may be a part-time business; they may be difficult to contact at times, administration may be less professional, and repairs and maintenance may take longer.
Viewing the property: Checklist
Make an appointment and tell the landlord who will be attending the viewing. Take someone with you (hopefully someone who knows a little about property (e.g. a builder) who can advise you whether or not the property is suitable, in the same way you would do as if you were buying a used car.
Arrive promptly - remember the landlord is making a decision about you too.
Check the outside and the appearance of the property - are any gutters leaking? Is the outside generally tidy?
Do you need parking or outside storage space, e.g. for a bike?
If there is a garden, who is responsible for maintaining it?
If current tenants are present, find out why they are leaving and if they have had any problems.
Check that doors and windows open easily and close securely. Front and back doors need 5-lever dead-locks, Eurolocks, or dead-bolts for most insurance companies.
Is their a burglar alarm fitted, that is working, and serviced annually?
Are there fire/smoke alarms? In a family house you should have a heat sensing alarm in the kitchen and smoke alarms in other parts of the house. Shared houses need smoke sensors in bedrooms with a sirens in escape routes and for larger properties in bedrooms. Preferably the alarms should be hard wired to a control panel as battery alarms are unreliable.
Check for signs of damp or mould.
Ask to see the gas certificate, electrical certificate and the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). For further details visit http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/HomeAndCommunity/Privaterenting/Repairsandstandards/DG_189195.
Is the property furnished? If so, is the furniture in reasonable condition for what you need. Check to see if any of the furniture present belongs to the existing tenant so it could be taken away when they move out.
Before signing a contract
Read the tenancy agreement through and any other paperwork the landlord gives you.
Find out what the rent includes & if you pay separately for Council Tax, water charges and utilities, if the telephone line and internet are already connected, and, for flats, if there is a management charge to be paid.
Tell the landlord if you smoke or have pets.
How long will the tenancy last? Will it be for a fixed term, e.g. six months or a year, or periodic such as weekly or monthly. Even if it is to be periodic on an assured shorthold tenancy you are guaranteed a minimum of six months (so long as you pay the rent and comply with the tenancy terms).
Remember, if you are signing up to a fixed term tenancy you are committed to the duration of that term. Even if you move out the rent can still be claimed from you until the term has run out. If it is a periodic tenancy you can give notice (minimum one month) but this does not apply to the fixed term tenancy (unless you have a "break" clause written into the tenancy allowing you to leave early).
Before you move in
Refurbishment of the property
If the property is being refurbished get a written agreement setting out the work being done and the completion date.
Tenancy agreements and contracts: You will have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) for 6 months to 3 years, which will include rent information; the named tenants; the responsibility for household bills; any services provided by the landlord; and the rights to end the tenancy by both parties. If there are any aspects of the contract you do not understand ask the agent, landlord or Citizens Advice Bureau before signing it.
Guarantor Forms: Often used for students or young professionals who may not have a credit rating. The Landlord will require another person to agree to pay for outstanding rent or damage to the property.
Tenant Checks: Your landlord or agent may use a commercial tenant referencing company to check your details, including credit rating and history and Electoral Register status. They may also ask for additional personal information.
Liability: If more than one person is named on the AST, either one or more of you may be responsible for the rent of any damage repair costs.
Deposits: Make sure that any deposit you have paid is protected in one of the Government tenancy deposit schemes. There are three different ones. In the case of a dispute, the scheme operator will retain the disputed amount and will undertake arbitration to reach an agreement. Details can be found at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/HomeAndCommunity/Privaterenting/Tenancies/DG_189120. You should receive as part of the scheme a) a certificate with details of the tenant(s), the amount of deposit protected and the address of the property; b) a form entitled "prescribed information" c) a leaflet with further details of the scheme and the processes involved where a dispute over the payment of a deposit back occurs. The landlord will want the signed receipt to confirm that you have received this information.
Inventory: You must be given an inventory recording the condition and contents of the property. Check the details carefully, and sign each page if it is correct. Make a note of anything you disagree with and discuss with your agent or landlord prior to signing.
Bills: Take meter readings. Call the supplier and tell them the date that your tenancy started.
Living in your home
The landlord is required to give reasonable notice of visits (except if there is an emergency) & must agree maintenance visits with you.
Always report damage or if something is not working as soon as possible.
Make sure you have contents insurance for your belongings; the landlord is not responsible for your possessions.
Find out when rubbish and recycling collection is. What are the recycling arrangements
To minimise the risk of damp, open doors and windows and avoid drying washing over bannisters.
Be considerate to your neighbours and the wider community.
Pay the rent on time
Give your landlord at least one month's notice if you wish to renew the tenancy.
If dealing with an agent, you will most likely be charged for the new tenancy agreement unless there are no changes to the original agreement e.g. no names change and the rent remains the same. Even then you may have to pay an administration fee. If this happens, ensure that you are issued with a fresh inventory and that your deposit is protected for the length of the new contract.
A landlord may decide not to issue a new tenancy agreement at the end of a fixed term tenancy even though you stay on; in this case the tenancy becomes "periodic". To end this periodic tenancy you will need to give notice to the landlord to end it; at least a month's notice.
The landlord will arrange a check-out inventory and provide you with a list of deposit deductions. If the landlord has taken a deduction you can either:
- Agree the costs;
- Negotiate the costs, replacements, or repairs; or
- Refer the dispute to the deposit scheme adjudication service.
Moving out checklist:
- Rent payments are up-to-date;
- The property is clean and tidy, and all rubbish and personal items are removed;
- All furniture is in the rooms listed in the inventory;
- Meter readings are taken and bills are paid;
- A forwarding address is left;
- All sets of keys are returned (you will be charged for any missing).