Renting: What every tenant should know.

This guide explains the basic legal and practical issues involved in renting a flat or house. It gives a checklist of the process you will need to go through.

Whether you have rented before or this is your first time, when you rent a home there is a lot to think about:

  • How do you rent a home?
  • Can you afford it?
  • What do agents do?
  • Does the property meet your needs?
  • What type and length of tenancy should you have?
  • What happens at the end of the tenancy?

What can you afford?
Before you even look at a property, work out what you can afford by looking at what your outgoings are likely to be. For instance:

___ The monthly rent
___ The costs of getting your references
___ Inventory and tenancy agreement costs
___ The deposit and any maintenance costs
___ Council Tax
___ Water rates, gas, electricity and telephone charges
___ TV licence
___ Insurance for your belongings
___ Total

The letting and managing agent
Most people find a place to rent by looking in the rental property section of local newspapers, on property websites or by going to estate and letting agents in the area they are looking to move to. But however you find a place to rent, it will be managed either directly by the landlord or more usually by a letting agent.

  • The agent is acting for the landlord and has no contractual duty to you
  • Check whether the agent has a letting code and management code, which protects your consumer rights
  • Find out if the agent is a 'sole agent'. If not, other agents may be trying to let the same property.

When you find a property
Before you go any further:

  • Look at the property - is it clean, what kind of condition is it in and is there anything broken?
  • Find out what furniture, furnishings, and other equipment are included in the rent
  • Ask about any management and maintenance costs
  • Find out what your responsibilities are, such as cleaning or replacing broken furnishings
  • Make sure electrical appliances have been PAT tested (Portable Appliance Testing).

Also check and get assurances or certificates that the property complies with these regulations:

  • Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, amended in 1993
  • Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998
  • Smoke Detectors Act 1991, (if the property doesn't have smoke alarms ask if they can be installed)
  • Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994.

Becoming the tenant usually takes anywhere from a few days to three of four weeks. Before you sign anything the landlord or agent should provide you with a clear statement of rent, tenancy deposit and any costs of setting up the tenancy. This includes the administration costs of getting your references. The letting agent will get references by contacting either:

  • Your bank
  • Credit referencing agencies
  • Current and previous employer(s)
  • Current and previous landlord(s).

If you are self-employed you may need to provide copies of trading accounts and an accountant's reference. If someone is going to be your guarantor you will still need references.

Tenancy agreement and deposit
Once the letting agent and landlord are happy with your references you can sign the tenancy agreement. Before signing, read, and if necessary get professional advice on, any documents you have to sign. You need to check the paperwork that mentions the following important points:

  • Length of tenancy - most lettings are 'Assured Shorthold Tenancies'
  • How often and when to pay rent, as well as any other costs
  • What the deposit is, usually either a month's rent or the equivalent of six weeks rent
  • Who will hold it and how the money will be held. Letting agents who  hold money in a special account are called a 'client account' where it will be protected
  • Is your deposit covered by the Tenancy Deposit Scheme for Regulated Agents? this ensures that your deposit is protected during the tenancy; and that any dispute over its return will be resolved quickly and independently without any further cost. For more details please see the Tenancy Deposit Scheme for Regulated Agents or the TDSRA website
  • Your landlord must, by law, give you an address in England and Wales for serving your notice
  • How you will get the deposit back at the end of the tenancy
  • How much, and who will pay for, work at the end of the tenancy, such as checking the inventory, renewing the agreement or cleaning the property
  • The contact details of the manager responsible for the property
  • Whether gas, electricity and other services have been connected and that meters have been read
  • You will not be discriminated against because of sex, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, marital status or disability.

Moving in
You will not be able to move in until you have paid your deposit, first month's rent and any fees. But once on your way, this can be a very exciting time and it's very easy to forget a few important things:

  • Insure your own belongings at the property - the landlord's insurance will not provide cover for them
  • Make sure you know how all equipment in the property works and you have their manuals
  • Find out the telephone number for the various emergency maintenance services
  • Tell your gas, electricity, water and telephone companies the day you move in, making your own note of the meter readings
  • If you are responsible for Council Tax, speak to your local authority
  • You may also want to speak to your local Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator or the resident's association if the property is in a block of flats.

Looking after your rented property
You will need to pay for fixing or replacing any damage to the property while you are renting it, otherwise it comes out of your deposit. So return the property to the landlord at the end of the tenancy in the same condition as at the start, allowing for fair wear and tear.

Remember, if you are away, for whatever reason:

  • You still need to pay rent on the right date
  • You are responsible for the property's security
  • Make sure the property is not damaged by the weather
  • Let your insurer and your landlord know so that insurance arrangements can be made
  • Give the landlord emergency contact details.