If you are looking to rent a property, it is important to make an informed decision and not get pushed into a bad deal. Follow these tips before moving in to a new home to avoid headaches later.
Check your letting agent and their fees
Check if your letting agent follows a code of practice and ensures the protection of your money and related insurance. A good indicator is if they are a member of a reputed trade organisation, such as:
- The Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA)
- National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS)
- London Rental Standard
Always check for letting agency fees
If you rent through a letting agent, check for any extra fees or charges first, and factor these in.
It is a legal requirement for lettings agents to clearly display certain fees and charges.
Fees - even for preparing your contract - can be a huge cost on top of your rent. Don't be guided by what one agency charges - there are no standard fees and they can vary between agencies. Sadly, there's little regulation over these charges in England - so always ask about them upfront.
You can always negotiate, although there is no guarantee the agency will lower their fees. However, if you get a reduction, make sure it's in writing.
Note of caution: You should not pay any fees before you have an offer of a property.
Checklist guide for renters
This checklist guide will enable renters to check whether a lettings agent or a property management business is meeting the legal requirements.
If, having completed the checklist, you think that a lettings agent is not meeting these requirements, please contact Trading Standards with the name and address and / or the website of the lettings agent. Trading Standards will conduct an investigation.
Phone: 020 8356 4929
Check the condition of the property
Once you've found the place you want, don't think you have to pay the asking price for the rent. Ask if they're open to reasonable offers, and put in a lower price you think is reasonable.
You will have more negotiating power if you note down any flaws. For example:
- carpets are worn in patches
- the bathroom ceiling could do with repainting
- there is no double glazing on the windows
- there is no phone line in the property
Point out the flaws and ask if they'd take a lower price. If not, make it clear that you want these defects put right - and always get this in writing with the contract.
While small issues like a dripping tap or a squeaky floorboard needn't be a deal-breaker, the following defects can be clues to future problems:
- dampness - are there wet spots, mould, peeling wallpaper and condensation. Does it smell musty?
- leaks from upstairs - look for cracks, brown stains, slow drips and leaks
- faulty electrical fittings - turn lights on and off, look at the condition of socket outlets. Has the property got an electrical safety report less than five years old?
- problems with plumbing - flush toilets and turn taps on. Check cupboards underneath sinks are dry. Check water pressure and that water gets hot, and that the central heating's working properly
- substandard locks - make sure they are up to your insurance standards. Some policies insist that front and back doors be fitted with a five lever mortice deadlock. Check windows for locks and the front door for break-in signs
- weak mobile signal - check for a signal to see it's not a mobile dead zone
- old kitchen appliances - their state is a good indicator of how your landlord is likely to treat your tenancy
- problem neighbours - if renting a flat or terrace, look if neighbours' properties are run down. Their problems can quickly become yours. Listen for noise from neighbours and roads. If you can, try to get a second viewing at a different time of the day. Ask if there has been any issues with the neighbours
- no phone sockets or TV aerial - check if the landlord and planning authority allow you to put up a satellite dish or install cable TV and internet
Gas safety and carbon monoxide
It is essential to check the gas safety record for the property before you make an offer. Poorly-maintained gas boilers and fires (often with obstructed pipes conducting gases from boilers or fireplaces to outside) can produce carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas without colour, taste or smell.
By law, your landlord must provide you with a gas safety record before you move in. If your landlord refuses, complain to the Health and Safety Executive.
Failure to follow gas safety requirements is a criminal offence. Please note:
- under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, landlords must do a gas safety check every 12 months to ensure gas appliances and fittings are safe, and keep these maintained
- all checks must also be done by a qualified engineer who's on the Gas Safe Register, the official gas registration body for the UK
If you think the property is right for you
Once you've found your new home, use these tips to help:
- don't be pushed past your budget - letting agents are experts at doing this
- make a good impression - don't forget, you're being checked out too. They're more likely to want a tenant that's professional, prompt and polite
- get your references lined up - if your landlord will need references, eg from your employer, ensure you ask your referees in good time
- be prepared to be quick - good rentals are often snapped up swiftly. Once you've decided, move quickly with your offer
- go through the contract ASAP - raise any issues as soon as you can, so there's time to get them resolved before you move in. Also check who's managing the property, eg the landlord or a letting agent
- have the rent and deposit ready - make sure you have enough cash set aside for the first month's rent and deposit, which is usually about six weeks' rent
Never sign a contract you aren't happy with
Once you get the tenancy contract, read it carefully before signing. It should mention how much the deposit and rent are, when the rent is due, and what it covers (eg, Council Tax, utility bills and dos and don'ts, such as whether you're allowed to smoke or sublet).
Discuss points you disagree on, or don't understand with the landlord or letting agent. If they are happy to change the contract, don't just take their word. Ensure that the document is updated, so you've got proof.
Before you sign, don't forget to double check:
- how long is the contract and are there scheduled rent increases?
- will there be a fee to check out or renew the tenancy?
- what is the Council Tax band for the property and how much is it each month?
- are electrical, and gas installation reports and the property's Energy Performance Certificate available? (landlords have to show these by law)
- is the deposit in a deposit protection scheme, and, if so, which one?
- will there be an inventory check? How much will it cost?
Also consider legal issues:
- what kind of occupancy status do you have, eg a tenancy or an excluded licence
- if the property is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), is it licensed?
- ensure that the whoever manages the property is mentioned as such in the contract along with their name, address and contact information
- is a parking space included, or is a parking permit needed?
- is maintenance of communal areas expected, eg the garden?