26 November, 2019
If you are considering renting or have just become a tenant for the first time, there is a lot to take on board when it comes to understanding all the steps involved and knowing your legal rights and obligations.
We’ll attempt to demystify the process and answer some of the questions you may have about your financial commitments, what is required when it comes to maintaining a property and what to expect from your landlord.
Setting up your rental
Initially, you will need to decide what length of tenancy would suit you best and whether you require a furnished or un-furnished property. Short term lets are ideal if you expect your circumstances to change in the near future and generally come with agreements of up to 6 months (this is the minimum length of tenancy you can enter into). A longer term let would be more suitable if you can commit to at least 6-12 months in a certain location - the majority of these offer un-furnished accommodation.
Once you have found a property you’re interested in renting, it is common for agents to request a week’s refundable rent as a holding deposit. Once the rental is confirmed, this will then be deducted from your security deposit.
Since 2016, the government has required agents to carry out a series of checks to assess a tenant’s ‘right to rent’. You will be required to produce your passport in order to demonstrate your right to live in the UK and provide other identification such as a recent utility or driving licence. Each tenant over the age of 18 must be able to provide a reference.
Once referencing has been completed satisfactorily, the contract can be finalised with a moving in date confirmed. You will agree a check-in time with your agent who should conduct an inventory so the condition of the property can be recorded at the start of the tenancy - this should be provided by an independent company to be sure of an impartial report.
Read more about renting and the associated charges here.
Your obligations as a tenant
Being a tenant comes with financial obligations and certain expectations with regard to how you look after the property.
The tenancy agreement
The tenancy agreement, with the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) being most commonly used for longer-term contracts, will cover all your legal obligations as well as those of the landlord.
If you share the property with others, your tenancy will likely be a Joint and Several Liability Tenancy, meaning that you are all jointly and individually responsible for paying the rent. For instance, if one person falls behind in their rent, you are all responsible for paying it, or any arrears that arise because of it. If you are contracted to rent just one room within a property, then this doesn’t apply.
It’s essential that upon signing a tenancy agreement, that you set up a standing order with your bank to ensure that the rent is paid on time every month. The same applies for utility bills (including a TV licence), which will need to be paid up to and including the official checkout date of your property.
More about your deposit
The security deposit that typically amounts to 5 weeks’ rent, ensures that monies are set aside to cover any damages. These must be held in one of 3 government-approved tenancy deposit protection schemes. You can find out more about these on the government website.
The landlord or letting agent must provide you with details of the scheme being used within a 30-day period, including: the name and contact details of the scheme, its dispute resolution service and information about how to get the deposit back.
Your deposit can’t be dipped into to pay for everyday maintenance such as refreshing paintwork, as the landlord must cover the cost of what’s officially described as ‘reasonable wear and tear’. However, if damages are sustained to the property, they must be agreed by both parties (the landlord or letting agent and the tenant or tenants).
If there is a dispute about deductions between the landlord or agent and the tenant, the deposit will be protected by the scheme until the issue is resolved, so long as a request for adjudication is made within 3 months of the tenancy ending.
Looking after the property
At the end of the tenancy, the property must be left in the same condition and style as it was found (give or take expected levels of wear and tear). If a professional clean took place before your arrival, then you will need to arrange one for after you vacate the premises.
A property that is managed by an agency will often be required to have periodic inspections in order to check the condition that it’s being kept in. A written report with photographs and recommendations for repairs (if necessary) will be passed on to the landlord.
It’s best to keep on top of maintenance issues throughout your stay, rather than face a big clean-up job shortly before you are due to leave. Here are a few tips to help you avoid any unwanted deductions from your deposit:
- Report any repairs required or faults to your agent asap - not last thing on a Friday!
- Acquire permission from the landlord, either directly or via your agency, before carrying out any decoration or minor repairs.
- If you experience spills on the carpets, deal with them swiftly as they will be harder to remove the longer you leave them. Get professional carpet cleaners in if required.
- Keep the property well-ventilated, especially the bathrooms, and be sure to always use the extractor fans.
- Keep limescale (known to be a problem in this area) at bay with regular descaling/removal
- Make sure rubbish goes out every week and is not allowed to build up (encouraging vermin).
- Don’t smoke in the property!
Your rights as a tenant
Landlords have many obligations to you as a tenant. You have the right to live in a safe and secure property, which is in a good state of repair – including the structure and exterior of the property, drains and pipes, gutters, windows, sanitary installations (baths, basins, toilets and sinks) and gas, water and electric installations.
General and emergency repairs must be carried out by the landlord, agent or their appointed person, but this does not include repairs for damage caused by tenants. A landlord or agent needs to give you at least 24 hours notice to visit the property, at a reasonable time of day, unless there is an emergency.
There are many safety requirements that your landlord has to comply with. Among others, they have to provide a valid gas safety certificate for the duration of your tenancy. The landlord must also ensure that any supplied furniture and furnishings are compliant with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) Safety Regulations 1998.
Your rented home must achieve a certain level of energy efficiency. Energy performance certificates are required for every property-to-let, demonstrating that they achieve an ‘E’ rating or above.