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A tenant’s guide to renting

18 September 2020 / Renting

Moving into a new home is an exciting time for any tenant. You’ll have found the perfect property and be ready to put your own stamp on it.   

Whilst renting means you’ll usually pay some upfront costs, such as a tenancy deposit; you won’t need to come up with the kind of money needed to purchase a property. As a tenant, you’ll also have more flexibility to move on when it suits you.   

However, if you’re new to renting, the process can be quite daunting. The private-rented sector is regulated with legislation designed to look after both tenants and landlords.  

Before you sign on the dotted line, we’ve outlined some top tips for tenants…

Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP)

If you hand over a tenancy deposit before you move into your new home, the law says your landlord must protect it in a government-authorised scheme. These third-party schemes will keep your money safe and make sure it’s returned at the end of the tenancy. At Townends, we use my|deposits. After you provide the deposit money, landlords have 30 days to give you a copy of the deposit protection certificate and Prescribed Information. 

Before you move out, you will come to a settlement with your landlord about the return of the deposit money. If you can’t agree, each tenancy deposit scheme runs a free dispute resolution service which looks at all evidence (including the inventory, read more about this below) to reach a fair conclusion.  

Alternatively, landlords can offer tenants the option to purchase a guarantee through Zero Deposit, which reduces the upfront cost of renting and offers the same level of protection. 

Tenant fee ban

From 1 June 2019, letting agents and landlords will no longer be able to charge tenants the majority of upfront fees. This will include administration such as credit checks, inventories, referencing and professional cleaning.

There are a few exemptions to the new law, including holding deposits, rent, tenancy deposits and charges for defaulting on the contract. However, the new Act states that security deposits must not exceed the equivalent of five weeks’ rent and holding deposits will be capped at no more than one week’s rent.

Tenants may also be charged for the early termination of a tenancy and for any fees associated with third-party providers, such as utilities, communication services and Council Tax. 

ARLA Propertymark has helpfully outlined more detail about the impending fee ban here.

Undertaking an inventory

Before you move in, your landlord or agent should complete a professional inventory that documents the current condition of the property. This means you’ll only have to pay for any damage that was caused during your stay and the cost of repair will come out of your tenancy deposit money.  

Most agents use a professional inventory clerk, but if your landlord or agent does carry-out an inventory themselves, make sure it’s detailed and includes dated photographic evidence. Always attend the inventory at the property and check the report is accurate.

Safety checks 

By law, landlords need to complete an annual gas safety check from a gas safe registered engineer and pass a copy of the certificate to tenants. If the property you rent relies on solid fuel (such as coal or wood) then landlords must also fit a carbon monoxide alarm in every room where this is burned. Landlords should also fit a smoke detector on each floor. 

It’s also a good idea to have all electrical appliances (such as cookers and kettles) PAT tested and ensure that electrical systems (such as sockets and switches) are safe – so ask when your landlord last made these checks. 

Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will rate the overall efficiency of a property from A-G and explain what landlords or owner occupiers can do to improve it. As of April 2018, new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) meant all rental properties in England and Wales must have a rating of at least an E, so check to see whether the property is up to standard.

Licensing schemes

If the property you’re renting is a large House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), your landlord will probably need to obtain a licence from the local council. There are also Additional and Selective licensing schemes in certain areas. The laws in this area are fairly complex; find out more information on the Government’s website.

Checking the contract 

Although it’s not a legal requirement, always make sure that you’re issued a fair contract before moving into the property. The most commonly used type is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreement. This contract outlines the responsibilities of both the tenant and landlord in accordance with the law. It should include information such as the names of all involved, the rent and how it’s paid, when the rent will be reviewed, the deposit and how it is protected, and the length of tenancy. 

Make sure you read the contract from start to finish and fully understand your obligations before signing it. 

Before you move in

If you’ve been provisionally accepted for a property, it’s quite normal for landlords to carry out reference and credit checks before they formally agree to a tenancy (and Right to Rent checks if the property is in England). 

Although your landlord should have buildings insurance, it won’t usually include your belongings, so make sure you get the right contents insurance to cover your items. 

In England, landlords also need to provide tenants with a copy of the Government’s How to Rent Guide before you move in.

Getting professional advice…

If you’re looking for a property to rent and need some help, contact your local Stirling Ackroyd branch or click here. We’ll be happy to talk you through the latest homes available for rent.

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