** R is for RENTING **
I’ve moved house in the last year more than I care to remember. Things have not gone well and I have decided to put a ‘top tips’ list as a blog to help any readers who may be on the market to rent a room. I hope you don’t fall into any traps I did!
RENT THROUGH AN AGENT
Not everyone's as honest or human as you. Renting through an Agent protects you much more than renting privately, even if it’s through the landlord is a family member or friend. You never know, you might not end on great terms and it could cause trouble beyond imagination. It may cost more in the first instance (e.g. I had to pay £100 for a credit check and admin fee on my current place), but it’s worth it. Ask for a breakdown of any fees – in the past, friends have been caught out paying £50 for ‘miscellaneous costs’ which turned out to be paying for tea and biscuits in the Agent’s office! Private landlords could be anyone and can really take the piss.
TRY TO NEGOTIATE ON ANY CREDIT CHECK FEES
Ask if the landlord/Agent will require you to pay any fees for a credit check or similar. Ask if they would be satisfied by looking through your recent bank statements, as this could save you a packet. This hasn’t worked for me in the past, but it’s worth asking.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AN EMAIL ADDRESS FOR THE LANDLORD/AGENT
This is so it’s easy to record communication, to back up phone conversations, and to send photos.
ASK FOR A ‘SAMPLE CONTRACT’ TO BROWSE WHEN YOU FIRST VIEW THE PROPERTY
This shouldn’t be a big deal - you can then read at your leisure before signing anything and brood on it when you get home. Of course, you still must read your real contract through thoroughly should you agree to rent this place, as it will not be identical to the sample copy, even if it’s just the tenancy dates which differ.
ENSURE YOUR DEPOSIT IS REGISTERED WITH THE DEPOSIT PROTECTION SCHEME
Legally, landlords have to register your deposit with this national scheme. The DPS become the middle-man between landlord and tenant. No money ever goes via the landlord when you put the deposit down and when it is returned. Keep your log-in details to their online service secret.
TAKE PHOTOS OF ANY DAMAGE PRESENT WHEN YOU MOVE IN
And make sure the photos have a date stamp on them. This way the landlord cannot prove you did the damage when you arrange to leave the property. Trust me, most will try to collar you for any minimal or ‘wear and tear’ damage, even if it’s not your fault. One previous landlord of mine tried to get a new, expensive bathroom suite out of me, when there was no damage whatsoever. Photos and statements to rebuke this claim settled the matter, even though the evidence wasn’t legally binding. Ask for a receipt for any thing they want replaced so you are charged the correct amount.
Remember to include carpets, curtains and any damage to doors/walls/windows/fittings. If the windows need to be cleaned on your exit, photograph them in the state they are in when you start your tenancy. Emailing the photos to yourself that day will time stamp it, even if you cannot get the date to appear on the photos themselves.
If a friend or you does break something, notify any irreparable damage to the landlord ASAP. An email with a photo attached is fine.
ENSURE THE CONTRACT SPECIFIES BILL PAYING ARRANGEMENTS
“Tenant to pay gas/water/electric bills etc.” is not enough. This needs to be spelled out as to which bills you are responsible for (e.g. Council Tax, Wifi, phone, TV Licence). Don’t forget, if you have a TV and you have a lock on your room, this houseshare is classed as separate tenancies and you will each need your own licence.
This might not be possible, but in a houseshare this is easy. Ask if there are any issues which need sorting out as you might be able to bargain with the Agent when you sign up to the contract. The existing tenants may even warn you off! And they might be like Spike from 'Notting Hill'. He's not everyone's cup of tea.
TAKE AN INVENTORY OF ALL FURNITURE WHEN YOU MOVE IN
The Agent will normally do this, but this will set your mind at rest too. The landlord will not, for example, be able to claim there was furniture there when you moved in and it disappeared when you left. Again, email this info to yourself and keep a copy until the move has been settled 100%. Ask when you move in how the exit inventory will be carried out. Sometime there is a compulsory cost to having an inventory done if the Agent employs a special company to do it on their behalf, but it is worth it and this is normally split between the landlord and tenant.
MAKE SURE YOUR BEDROOM HAS A LOCK
Having a lock on your door makes you a tenant, and not a lodger – an important difference. Whatever ‘contract’ you may have signed, you have much fewer rights as a lodger just renting a room off someone than as a tenant. Also, you need to know you and your possessions are secure! Believe me, this is essential for peace of mind. Obviously you should have contents insurance for your things, but having someone prowl through your kit isn’t covered.
CHECK THE LANDLORD OWNS THE PROPERTY
You cannot exactly ask to see the ownership or mortgage papers (awkward!), but you can check this detail no the Local Land and Property Gazeteer. http://www.land-reg.co.uk/propertyownership.aspx This costs about £12-15 but could set your mind at rest that they do actually own the property you want to rent from them. If your landlord is renting the property privately or as a Council property and sub-letting you, this could be against their tenancy agreement and make your stay precarious.
ALWAYS HAND OVER THE KEYS IN PERSON
Never post them back or leave them at the property without having the landlord sign off that you have left the property in an acceptable condition. Get a receipt for this.
GET A RECIEPT FOR RENT AND DEPOSIT PAID
Using your bank statements could back you up, but it is better to have a signed receipt, especially if any of this is paid in cash.
PUT A PASSWORD ON YOUR LAPTOP
This will stop any out-of-order housemate/landlord poking through your computer. I neglected to do this in my previous house and fell fowl to an inconsiderate housemate. Aside from the privacy issues, they could Google anything dodgy. For example, the authorities might have a word with you if your IP address shows activity about bomb making, child porn or terrorist group links!
These are all things I have slipped up on in the past, over about seven years of renting a room/house. Other general tips you should always do when moving into a new place...
CHECK THE GAS SAFETY CERTIFICATE FOR THE PROPERTY - is it renewed annually?
CHECK THERE ARE SMOKE ALARMS ON EACH FLOOR
CHECK FOR DAMP - look in cupboards as a paint job might cover the sins of a leaky house
BE AWARE THAN OLDER WINDOWS OR ROTTING WINDOW FRAMES MAY BE HEAT SINKS
KEEP ANY COMMUNICATION BETWEEN YOU AND THE LANDLORD/AGENT
INQUIRE ABOUT INSPECTIONS - how often do they happen? Insist you are present at all times.
DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND OR HAVEN’T READ.
You can always get advice from the Housing department at your Local Authority or call Citizens’ Advice. I would also take someone with you as a witness or a second pair of eyes when you view the property.
NB. This advice is what I have gleaned from renting in the UK ONLY. This info may not apply outside of the UK.
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