Renting can be confusing. We hear from renters every week seeking advice about unexpected costs, poor housing standards or eviction. So here’s our pit-stop guide to renting. A list of situations renters face, and the advice we give out most often.
Looking for a property
1. If you’re going through an agent, check they’re a member of a redress scheme. Most agents should be a member of either The Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme – these schemes make sure agents maintain certain professional standards and can deal with those that don’t.
2. Check the condition of the property and get an inventory. It’s difficult to end a tenancy once you’ve committed, so check the property and your inventory thoroughly. Let the agent or landlord know about any issues straight away.
3. Have a guarantor? Read the agreement carefully. A guarantor will have to cover certain costs if you’re unable to – like rent, or the cost of damage when your tenancy ends. The terms of the agreement dictate exactly what the guarantor’s liabilities are, and for how long, so it’s vital you know what’s involved.
4. Expect up-front costs. Although most letting agent fees have now been outlawed, you’re still likely to have to pay a deposit and rent in advance on top of moving costs. If money’s tight, you might be able to get help – check if there’s a rent or bond scheme nearby that can cover some or all of a deposit. Ask your local council for details of schemes you can apply to.
5. Are you paying too much for your deposit? For most private tenants, the most you can be asked to pay for your deposit is the equivalent of five weeks worth of rent. Any more and it’s probably unlawful.
6. Has your deposit been properly protected? If you don’t live with your landlord, you’re likely to have an assured shorthold tenancy. This means your deposit should be protected in a government-approved scheme. Protecting your deposit means that it’s safer, and you can challenge deductions when your tenancy ends.
7. Paid a holding deposit? Check what’s happened to it. Sometimes the landlord or agent will pay you back directly, but more often they’ll put it towards your main deposit or rent in advance. Try to confirm what’s happening to your money, preferably before you pay it.
8. Make sure you’ve got the right contract. Read your tenancy agreement carefully before you agree to sign it. You should be given an example copy before you pay the landlord or agent any money, and this will allow you to make sure you’re happy with what you’re committing to. If there’s anything you’re not sure about, speak to your landlord or agent before you sign it. If you don’t live with your landlord, you should almost always have an assured shorthold tenancy. If you’re being offered something different, ask the landlord or agent why.
9. Check you have a Gas Safe and electrical safety certificate, Energy Performance certificate (EPC) and How to Rent guide. Almost all tenants should be given access to copies of gas and electrical safety certificates and an EPC, which can help give peace of mind that the property is safe and in good working order. You should also get a copy of the government’s How to Rent guide, which helps explains what your respective rights and obligations are.
10. Don’t ignore arrears. One of the most important things if you have rent problems is to keep in contact with your landlord. Explaining your situation and that you’ll try to clear arrears is likely to make them far more sympathetic to your circumstances. If you can, negotiate a repayment plan, or agree on a time during which you’ll pay a reduced amount of rent.
Also, consider debt advice – organisations like Stepchange or National Debtline can give you practical support to help you manage your finances.
11. See if you’re entitled to benefits. For most private renters this is universal credit. However, often it won’t cover the full rent payment and you’ll have to pay the difference out of any other income you receive.
12. Try discretionary housing payments. If you’re claiming housing-related benefits, you could also apply for a discretionary housing payment from your council. As the name suggests they’re discretionary, but ask your council how to apply if you’re struggling.
13. Work out whether you or the landlord have to deal with the issue. Your landlord should repair things like the main structure and exterior of the property – things like internal and external walls, the roof, windows, floorboards, pipework and electrical systems. But it’s the tenant’s responsibility to deal with many of the basic, simple jobs around the house like changing light bulbs, checking batteries in smoke alarms and keeping the property clean and looked after. It’s usually also the tenant’s responsibility to look after the garden. Again, check your contract.
14. How to tell your landlord about repairs. Unless you need to phone about an emergency, it’s best to write to your landlord to tell them about problems. Generally, this means writing them a letter (sent recorded delivery, so you can show it’s been delivered is a good idea). But if you’ve agreed that emails are OK, this is usually acceptable. Keep a record of anything you’ve sent and your landlord’s responses in case you need to refer back to them later.
15. If your landlord won’t take action, don’t give up. When writing to your landlord doesn’t work, try contacting your local council, especially if disrepair is affecting your health or poses a risk. Councils should have an environmental health department or a private renting standards team. They can investigate and take action against the landlord if necessary.
16. Brush up on your rights if you’re served notice. Unless you live with your landlord, being served notice is the first of three steps the landlord must take to evict you. When the notice expires, they must then go to court to get a possession order, and then go back to court again to get a bailiffs’ warrant. Legally, you don’t have to leave until bailiffs attend your property, which you might have to consider if you have nowhere else to go.
17. Check the notice is valid. For assured shorthold tenants, unless the landlord wants you to leave for a specific reason like rent arrears or because they’re moving back into the property, they’ll have to fulfil certain obligations like protecting your deposit before they can serve you a valid notice. Your landlord will need to use the correct form and give you at least six months’ notice for it to be valid. Usually, it’s two months, but notice periods have been extended because of the coronavirus (COVID-19). This may change, so it’s worth checking our website.
18. Find help if you’re worried about eviction. Our advice services help tens of thousands of people every year, so get in touch. We are always very busy but don’t give up if you don’t get through straight away. If you’re receiving benefits or on a low income, you are probably entitled to free legal support from Civil Legal Advice or a legal aid solicitor. Alternatively, you could see if there’s a law centre in your area, or you could contact your local Citizens Advice, who can sometimes provide housing law support. Anyone facing homelessness can also get in touch with their local council for advice and assistance.
Ending a tenancy
19. Check your contract if you want to leave part-way through a fixed term. Some tenancy agreements have a ‘break clause’, which allows either landlord or tenant to serve notice to end the tenancy before the end of the fixed term. Check the wording carefully, as your notice will need to conform to whatever your contract states. If there’s no break clause, you could try to arrange a ‘surrender’ with your landlord. But your landlord doesn’t need to agree to this, and if they do, you might have to pay fees.
20. Serving notice when your fixed term has ended. If you need to end your tenancy, check your contract to see if it mentions anything about notice periods. If it doesn’t, your notice should be one month long and end on the same day in the month that your most recent fixed term ended. So if you pay monthly and your tenancy ended on the 10th of the month, your notice should also end on the 10th.
21. Don’t get ripped off when you leave. Before you go, read any end of tenancy terms in your contract carefully. Sometimes you’ll be expected to carry out certain tasks, although you shouldn’t be asked to improve the condition of the property beyond what it was when you moved in.
Also, check that your deposit is protected. This is one of the most important ways that you can challenge the landlord if they try to unfairly make deductions. The landlord should provide evidence of deductions, including both proof of what the issue was and also what the costs were to put it right. If they haven’t done so, you can dispute deductions.
It’s worth asking to be present at any end-of-tenancy inventory checks. If you can, get evidence of the condition of the property before you leave and take meter readings. The more you have to support your position, the less the chance that you’ll be unfairly charged money.
And there you have it: 21 tips to help you navigate the private sector. And if you have other questions or need to know more, Shelter’s housing advice webpages cover hundreds of topics, with loads of useful information and tools to help you through your housing journey.
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