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Top Tips for Renters - Finding A Property and Key Things You Should Know

Renting a home is an exciting step. Whether you’re looking to downsize or move into a new area, renting gives you flexibility and independence.

However, there can be a lot of unanswered questions and at times it can feel overwhelming or even a tad scary.

There’s a lot to remember during your search for a property, but our guide for renters means you’ll know what to look out for and the questions to ask at every stage.

BEFORE YOU START LOOKING

There are some things that you must consider before you start looking for a new rental property. For example how long do you want the tenancy for? Generally, tenancies are between six months to seven years long.

Checking your finances

Before you start house hunting, work out how much you can afford each month.

The average monthly cost of rent is 35% of your regular wage, but remember to budget for amenities like gas, electricity and water, phone and internet connections, TV licence and council tax (if you’re not a student).

Remember to put enough aside for food, household items and any other regular outgoings. You may also need to pay a deposit, this should be no more than five weeks’ rent due to a change in the law.

Listing what’s important

Draw up a list of the non-negotiables you need from your new home.

  • Is parking important?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • How many bedrooms do you need?
  • Are you taking furniture with you?

After listing the vital things, prioritise what else you’re looking for in a rental property. Other factors such as storage, outdoor spaces and the speed of local broadband connections may also be important.

Once you have your list, the letting agent should be able to clarify anything that’s not clear with a property. 

Choosing a trusted letting agent

Make sure you find a responsible and knowledgeable letting agent to help with your search. Seek out local recommendations and test the agent’s knowledge of the area. How many properties do they rent at the moment? How long have they been in the area? 

Search for an ARLA Propertymark protected agent. These agents are experienced and trained professionals who are required to undertake regular training to keep up-to-date with complexed legislation and best practice.

They are also backed by Propertymark’s Client Money Protection (CMP) Scheme which means that you and your money are safeguarded. You won't get this protection if you rent directly from a landlord or through an unregulated letting agent.

Use our find an expert tool to search for your local property agent.

Choosing your housemates

If you’re sharing a home, you’ll be entering into a legal agreement as a group, so it’s important that you choose people you feel will positively contribute towards a household.

You may be living in the property for some time and it’s not uncommon to disagree when sharing a space, so make sure you understand how your lifestyles will work around each other. Ask the letting agent if they’ve received good references for all tenants.

If you're going to be living with housemates you might find this useful guide on surviving in a house share useful.

LOOKING FOR YOUR NEW HOME

Finding the right location

Once you’ve pinpointed an area, check out the local transport links, especially if you have a daily commute. Work out how long your journey will take and the cost, especially if you’re relying on public transport.

Get a feel for the area and find out where amenities such as supermarkets are located. Ask current tenants if neighbours have caused any issues. The letting agent should also be able to answer questions about the local area. 

Viewing properties

Draw up a shortlist and view them. Whilst you’re at the properties, check to see whether they’re safe. All landlords are legally required to complete an annual gas safety check, so ask the agent for the Gas Safety certificate. Note the carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, although the law in this area is different in England, Scotland and Wales.

The property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will rate its energy efficiency from A-G and help you understand typical running costs. It’s also worth knowing that as of 1 April 2018, all landlords in England and Wales need to make sure their rental properties reach a minimum EPC rating of E for all new tenancies.

Landlords are legally required to make sure electrical systems and appliances are safe, so check to see whether appliances have a PAT (portable appliance test) sticker on plugs. Look out for any signs of leaks or damp and check furniture is in good order. Either the landlord or a managing agent is usually responsible for the general fabric of the property along with maintenance of any communal areas but make sure you check the details on your contract so that you can report any concerns promptly.

Property viewing checklist

CONDITION

  • Keep an eye out for damp patches: mould, peeling wallpaper and musty smells.
  • Test the plumbing: check the toilets and taps, water pressure, and drain flows.
  • Check the central heating, including the boiler and radiators.
  • Is there double glazing?
  • Look out for cracks, mould and rot in the outside walls, slipped tiles on the roof and gutter leaks.

SAFETY AND SECURITY

  • Are there working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors?
  • Is there a working burglar alarm?
  • Ask the landlord how they will protect your deposit.
  • Are all windows lockable?
  • Ask to see the Gas Safety Certificate. This shows that gas fittings have been inspected and approved.

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE CURRENT TENANT

  • How long have you lived in the property?
  • Why are you moving?
  • How much is the council tax on the property?
  • What are the neighbours like?

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE AGENT OR LANDLORD

  • How long is the tenancy for?
  • How many viewings has the property had?
  • Why are the current tenants leaving?
  • Can the décor be changed?
  • Are animals allowed?
  • Does the property come fully furnished?
  • Which bills are included?

USEFUL INFORMATION

  • Ask to see a copy of the Energy Performance Certificate.
  • Check for noise levels (from the road, local church, local shop, local pub)
  • Check for phone signal and internet black spots.
  • Is there adequate parking?

Tenancy Agreement

SIGNING THE CONTRACT AND MOVING IN

Right to Rent

Before you sign your contract, you might be asked to provide some identification such as a driving licence or passport to prove that you have the right to live in the UK. Be aware that landlords or letting agents in England are required to do this for all prospective adult occupiers to ensure they have the legal right to rent. If you have a time-limited right to rent, landlords and letting agents will need to conduct follow-up checks. These rules do not currently apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The contract

Once you have the agreement, remember to read it carefully from start to finish. The most frequently issued type of contract is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST). This type of contract usually names all listed tenants as “jointly and severally liable” – which means that you are all legally responsible for all of the rent.

An AST contains a lot of crucial information, such as the length of the agreement, notice period and areas where you are responsible as a tenant. For example, it should tell you who is responsible for sourcing contents insurance. Although you should have outlined your ‘non-negotiables’ and checked these with the letting agent before beginning your search, make sure the contract is reflective of anything that was verbally agreed.  

Remember to look at who will be managing the property to see whether you’ll be dealing with a letting agent or landlord. The contract should also contain emergency contact details should there be an urgent problem. 

If you are unsure about any part of the tenancy agreement, speak to an impartial solicitor.

Know your rights

Make sure you are given a copy of your new home’s Gas Safety Certificate (if the property has gas), Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), the Government’s How to Rent Guide or tenant information guide, your Deposit Protection Certificate and the Prescribed Information (this may take a few days) and any licence issued by the local authority (if the property is subject to any form of local authority landlord licensing scheme).

In England, the landlord or agent must provide you with a copy of the Government’s How to Rent Guide, so use the checklist and keep it safe to protect yourself from problems at every stage.

Similar guides and information have also been produced by the Government’s in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Fees

Agency charges

Whilst upfront fees are banned in Scotland and England, letting agents in Wales and Northern Ireland may charge you for their services. The Welsh Government is currently working on legislation to ban fees charged to tenants in Wales.

Fees vary and should be transparent, but make sure to always ask for details of costs that will or could be incurred. In England and Wales, agents have a legal obligation to clearly display all fees, charges and penalties you might incur (including VAT) on their websites and in their branches.

Deposit

If you are renting a property on an AST and paid a deposit, this must be protected in a government-backed tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme. The landlord or letting agent is required by law to register your deposit within 30 days of you handing it over. They must also give you the details of where the deposit is being held, so ask to see this information. At the end of the tenancy, you will get your deposit back unless you have damaged the house, its contents or not paid the rent. 

Find out more about tenancy deposit schemes for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Professional Inventory

Before you move in, the agent should complete a professional inventory which records the property’s condition. Make sure they take dated photos of any damage, even small marks on carpets or walls. Get the damage agreed in writing by the letting agent. A detailed inventory means you should only be liable for any damage made during your stay and could save you money.

Once all the paperwork is complete, you can collect the keys from the letting agent and move into your new home!

Family

OTHER NEED TO KNOWS

Make sure your new home is safe

The legal requirements in rented properties can vary across the UK. It is the law in England to have smoke alarms fitted on all floors of a rented home, and carbon monoxide detectors in any room where solid fuels are burnt (such as wood, coal or biomass).

In Wales, carbon monoxide detectors must be fitted if a new solid fuel appliance is installed. Any properties built after 1992 must be fitted with mains-powered, interlinked smoke alarms on every floor of the property, and in older properties, landlords should provide at least battery-operated alarms.

Scottish law requires all rented properties to have a carbon monoxide detectors fitted regardless of when the tenancy started and landlords must provide fire-detection equipment for your property. There should be at least one working smoke alarm in all circulation spaces such as hallways, one smoke alarm in the living area and a heat alarm in the kitchen.

In Northern Ireland, gas appliances must be inspected every year and a record of this should be given to you, the tenant, within 28 days of your tenancy starting. If a new or replacement fuel-burning appliance is fitted, your landlord is then responsible for installing a carbon monoxide detector. To comply with building regulations, all new properties must have a fitted fire alarm.

All alarms and detectors must be tested and working on the first day of the tenancy. This is usually done at Check-In when the landlord or agent will probably also undertake an Inventory and Schedule of Condition. Make sure you go through these documents thoroughly and notify your landlord or agent if you disagree with what they contain as it will affect how much of your deposit you get back at the end of the tenancy.

For more information, take a look at our guide on a landlord's safety responsibilities.

Bills and insurance

You will need to notify the utility companies and give them meter readings, your move-in date and the names of all tenants if your agent hasn’t already. The landlord is responsible for insuring the building and their own contents but you need to cover your own belongings so make sure you have contents insurance.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO)

HMOs are properties which house tenants from more than one household with shared facilities such as the kitchen or bathroom. Large HMOs need to be licensed. Large HMOs are defined as properties that are rented to five or more people who form more than 1 household and some or all tenants share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities. need to be licenced.

Details of HMO licences vary according to local authority so search ‘HMO licence’ and your town to find out what is needed in your area. Without a licence, the property you're moving into may not be safe or have enough working smoke alarms and fire escapes.

What if you have a serious problem with the house?

Don’t be afraid to report repairs to your landlord or agent. It’s much easier, faster and cheaper for your landlord to fix an issue when you first notice it than further down the line.

All letting agents are required to sign up to a property redress scheme. ARLA Propertymark Protected members in England and Wales will belong to either The Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme.

ARLA Propertymark Protected members in Scotland fall under the remit of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber).

This means that if you have a dispute with your landlord, the case can be referred to a neutral expert for independent redress - note which scheme your agent is signed up to.

Leave the property as you found it

The most common deposit disputes are over the condition of the property at the end of the tenancy. Make sure you give the property a thorough clean before you move out and leave the property in the same condition as the day you arrived.

We also have a helpful guide that will give you tips to try an make sure you get your deposit back.

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