Renting Property in the UK
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Renting accommodation in the UK can be great, but it can also be a nightmare if you don't do your homework. The aim of this guide is give new and also seasoned renters a comprehensive source of information to help them with everything from the questions to ask a landlord, to ensuring that they keep their deposit money. Many of the problems and pitfalls of renting can be avoided if the correct questions are asked early on in the process. This guide will try to use the wealth of experience built up by many current UK renters, to create a reasonable list of questions to ask, and things to look for when inspecting a potential property.
General Note: Don't think you must adhere to everything in this guide to have a successful tenancy. It is likely that if you try and go through every single point, you will end up never renting a property! Just use your common sense and pick out the suggestions that are most important to you. If you are well prepared, and ask the right questions at the right time, then you are less likely to have problems along the way.
Note added June 2008: In the uncertain financial climate of the "credit crunch", some regions are affected differently from others. In some locations rental costs are rising due to increased demand, however in certain cites an excess of newly built flats means there are more properties than potential tenants, so renters should bargain hard for good deal. You need to understand what the market is like where you live, and then take this into account when considering some of the suggestions in this guide. For example, if demand for rented properties is high where you live and you make life too hard for your prospective landlord or letting agent, then they may decide to rent the property to someone who is easier to deal with.
A) Some ideas on what to ask the Landlord or Letting Agent BEFORE parting with any cash
Questions relevant to both a landlord (LL) or a letting agent (LA)
1. Ask what deposit protection scheme your deposit will be held in.
2. It is important to check that your potential LL has the permission of their mortgage lender to let out the property. This is important because if the mortgage lender repossess the property, and they didn't give the LL permission to let, then the tenant can be made homeless immediately. However if the lender did give the LL permission to let, then they will honour the terms of the rental agreement - meaning the tenant will not lose any rent they have paid up front, and they will have time to look for new rental property. If you are not able to ask the LL/LA, then for £3 you can download the property documents from Land Registry Online - this will show the mortgage lender. If the mortgage lender has the landlord down as living in the property then they probably don’t have their lenders permission to let. You can also write to the mortgage lender and ask them directly.
3. Ask the LL/LA if the property is insured for tenants.
4. Find out how long they have been a LL/LA. This will show their level of experience.
5. Ask how many properties they have got. Again this will give an indication of their experience in the rental market.
6. Find out if they are accredited with the local council private sector housing department.
7. If you are applying for a local authority bond in place of a deposit, check that this is acceptable to the LL/LA.
8. Ask how the inventory check will be handled on the first day of your tenancy. Ideally the LL/LA will be able to hand over the keys in person, and then go through the inventory with you. You can then note down discrepancies and get both of your signatures on the completed documents. Then there can be no argument on the state of the property and its furnishings at the start of the tenancy. If in doubt take photos and then get the LL/LA to sign and date them as representative of the condition of an object. (Note: an inventory check is still important for an unfurnished property as the condition of carpets, curtains, white goods, surfaces etc need to be noted down).
9. Ask how the inventory check will be handled at the end of your tenancy. Again ideally this will be a repeat of what is described above, with you and the LL/LA going through the inventory and checking each item against its stated condition at the start of the tenancy - remember you are allowed fair wear and tear. Some LA have a policy of sending in a "professional cleaner" to ensure that the property is in a fit state for the next tenant, and some try and make it hard or impossible for you to attend this check out process.
10. With regard to cleaning, ask if the LL/LA will allow you to clean the property yourself, as some may have a policy of only allowing a professional cleaner to do the job, regardless of if you have cleaned or not.
Questions more specific to a potential private landlord (LL)
1. Ask if the LL can supply any references from previous tenants (if they are a good LL they should have no problem with this). An alternative would be to try and talk to the current tenants, and ask their views on the landlord. If you are still having trouble finding anything out, or if the property is currently empty, you could try asking the neighbours if the previous tenants made any comments about the landlord.
2. Ask if the LL is a member of a professional body such as the National Landlords Association. If they are then there is more chance that they will do things "by the book".
3. Ask if the LL will require you to pay any fees for a credit check or similar. Ask (to save money) if they would be satisfied by looking through your recent bank statements.
4. Ask if the LL will want to regularly come round and inspect the property, and how much notice you would like them to give you for this. Legally they have to give you 24 hours notice, and if it is not convenient for you, you can refuse.
Questions more specific to a potential letting agency (LA)
1. Ask if the LA is a member of a professional body such as ARLA. Again if there are, there is more chance of things being done properly and by the book.
2. Ask what fees you will be expected to pay up front, before you move in. These can consist of some or all of the following: Application fee/holding fee, credit check fee, inventory check fee, tenancy agreement fee, and maybe even a random "admin" fee. Ask for a breakdown of the fees, especially if a credit check is involved. Ask if the remainder of the fees will be refunded if you fail the credit check. Ask if there will be any inventory checking fees when you move out of the property, and whether this is covered by the inventory checking fee when you move in.
3. Ask what the LA policy is on regular inspections, how often they will be coming round to inspect, and what time of day they usually do it (If you are not comfortable with the LA coming into your home when you are out, then a LA that only inspects 9-5 on work days may be a problem for you).
4. If the tenancy is for a fixed term, then ask what the policy is on renewing the tenancy agreement, and if there are any fees associated with this. Ask if the LA would consider allowing your tenancy agreement to become a "periodic agreement", at the end of your fixed term. This means the terms of your AST remain the same, and you can live in your property for as long as you wish without having to constantly renew your tenancy agreement. From another viewpoint, you do not have the same security of tenure with a periodic tenancy, as you could in theory be given 2 months notice to leave. If you prefer the security of a longer "contracted" period of tenancy then sign a new AST, and you will be safe in your home for the period of the agreement.
Before signing anything
1. Don't sign a tenancy agreement without reading everything carefully, including all correspondence and the full text of the agreement. If there is something you don’t agree with in the agreement, ask if it can be removed.
2. If you are unsure about anything in the tenancy agreement, then ask for copies and get legal advice or take it to your local CAB (Citizen Advice Bureau).
3. Take care if you are issued with a "Section 21" notice at the very beginning of your tenancy. The S21 is a legal document issued by the LL/LA which gives tenants two months notice that they must vacate the property, and is usually used near the end of a tenancy. However if one is issued at the start of a tenancy, then in theory the landlord does not need to give two months notice to evict tenants at the end of the fixed term rental period.
If you have asked all the questions which are relevant to you, and are happy to go along with the answers, then there is nothing stopping you from renting through your desired LL/LA.
B) "False deposit fraud" when trying to secure a property from a distance
There are many reasons why someone might have to sort out a rental property without being able to physically inspect the location, or meet the landlord beforehand. Obvious examples are international students needing somewhere to stay as soon as they arrive in the country, or people needing to quickly move somewhere a long distance from their current location. Whatever the reason, these tenants need to be aware of the "False deposit" scam.
This scam involves a fraudster taking a deposit or other payments, for a property which is totally fictitious. When the tenant arrives at their new home and realises it does not exist, the fraudster is long gone, along with their money.
To avoid this kind of scam:
1. Check that the price of the rental is realistic for the area to which you are moving. Research rental prices for properties near to the one you are interested in. If there is a huge difference, this could indicate a scam.
2. Try and find out as much information as possible from the potential LL/LA about the house and the local area. Then try and verify this information, for example through contact with your academic institution or place of work.
3. Always try and contact the LL/LA by phone if possible, a UK landline number will give you confidence that they are legitimate.
4. Question why the LL/LA requires a deposit or fee up front. Some will be happy to take a deposit when you arrive at the property and they hand over the keys.
5. If you need to send money, make sure you use a reputable escrow agent. Avoid using Western Union or MoneyGram (the favourite of many fraudsters) as money send via these services is not secure, and not traceable.
C) Simple things to remember when viewing a property
1. Take someone with you. It is amazing how another pair of eyes can see thing differently, or spot things that you missed.
2. If it has a gas supply, ask to see the gas safety certificate for the property, and confirm that it is renewed yearly. Also check carefully for any small red warning stickers stuck on gas appliances, this could mean there have been gas problems in the past.
3. Try and pay attention to the structure of the property rather than just the aesthetics. For example, beware of things like a leaking roof, rotten windows, draughts, damp etc. This will become less important after October if the proposed Energy Performance Certificates come into force for new tenancies. Things like lack of double glazing can also impact on the cost of utilities. (Some) landlords will cover up damp issues with a lick of paint so looking inside cupboards/wardrobes can often reveal the tell tale signs. Also opening kitchen cupboards, opening windows, looking at the boiler to determine it's age and whether it looks like it is on it's last legs (though not always easy to tell) will show the general state of repair of the property.
4. If it is important to you, check that you can get television reception in the property, or if it has cable or a satellite dish. If you can't receive terrestrial television through an aerial, then cable or satellite TV may be your only option.
5. Check that the speed and availability of broadband in the area is adequate for your internet requirements.
6. Ensure that you have reception on your mobile phone in all areas of the property.
7. Simple things like not having enough electrical sockets could become annoying, so it makes sense to check.
8. As of October 2008, every landlord will be required to provide an energy efficiency certificate (EPC) for each property they rent out for any NEW tenancies they grant. The EPC should be made available to the prospective tenant BEFORE any agreement is signed. It should be available for any prospective tenant to view before deciding to move in, so that they can compare similar properties. It will address things like how much it costs to heat the house, loft insulation, double glazing, boiler age, efficiency etc. It will give the house a rating like you get on fridges A, B, C etc. It will be valid for 10 years.
D) Moving in
1. Make sure you and the LL/LA both note down the gas and electricity meter readings, and you find out what companies the previous tenant was using for all their utilities.
2. Go through every item in the inventory and note down its condition. If it’s not on the inventory, then there is no proof of its condition before the tenancy and you could argue that a small inventory is an advantage for the tenant. However in reality, a good inventory can solve many petty disputes that can arise at the end of a tenancy agreement. If you see damage to a fixture or furniture then make sure you note it down and get the LL/LA to sign in agreement.
3. It is a good idea to take pictures of the fixtures and fittings, in the state they were in when you moved in. Although these may not be legally binding, they could certainly help refresh both yours and the LL/LAs memory if there is an argument over deposit deductions when you come to move out of the property.
4. If the property is not being managed by a Letting Agent, then ask the LL for a list of his "handy helpers" that you can call if there is an emergency especially plumbing. Obviously, only to be used if you can't reach the LL because he is away on vacation.
5. Ask the LL/LA for the user manuals for appliances and heating, and learn the correct way to turn on the heating and hot water. There have been instances of tenants being accused of breaking appliances or the heating as they didn't know how to use them properly, and been given a large repair bill. By asking for clear instructions and by sticking to them, you reduce the chance of this happening.
E) During your tenancy
To avoid deposit deduction disputes when you leave:
1. If you break anything in the property or something is broken by someone else (e.g. a repairman) and it can't be easily repaired by yourself, then notify the LL/LA as soon as possible - an email with photo attached will be useful. Try and sort out the repair during your tenancy. If you can't, then having written proof that you contacted the LL/LA, will mean no surprises on either side, when it comes to the final inspection on the day you move out.
2. Particularly if you rent through a LA, if you agree a change to the tenancy agreement - like having pets, wanting to put up pictures or painting a room, make sure you have some record in writing that the LL/LA has agreed for you to do this.
F) Moving out
1. Ensure that you inform all of your utility suppliers (gas/electricity/phone etc) of your intended date of departure, and give them a forwarding address so they can send you a final bill. Take final gas and electricity meter readings on the last day of your tenancy.
2. All good tenants will have cleaned and tidied the property, and returned it to the same state it was in when you moved in (apart from fair wear and tear of course!). However, if despite your best efforts, the LL/LA refuses to allow you to be present during their "check out" (final cleanliness inspection and inventory check) process, then it makes sense to take a few pictures of the clean and tidy house before you leave, just so you have some evidence of how you left the property.
3. If you are renting with a private LL, and they attend the check out process with you, then try and come to an agreement there and then about any deductions from the deposit that the landlord feels are necessary. Hopefully there will be no deductions, but if there are, a quick verbal agreement means you will be able to get your deposit back much faster than if you have a protracted disagreement about deposit deductions via phone or by letter.
4. If you are renting through a LA, and they do not allow you to be present at the check out process, then you will be waiting for them to present you with a final inspection report, including any deposit deductions they think are necessary. It is very hard to argue with this report, especially if it appears weeks or months after you moved out, which is why it is key to try and attend the check out process with the LA.
5. When you return the keys, get the LL/LA to sign for receipt of all the keys. This way there can be no arguments about if/when keys were properly returned.