A tenant’s guide to renting

News at Townends | 04/03/2019

A tenant’s guide to renting

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

Whilst renting means you’ll usually pay some upfront costs, such as a tenancy deposit; you won’t need to hand over the kind of money needed to purchase a property. As a tenant, you’ll also have greater flexibility to move on when you choose. 

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 the interests of both tenants and landlords.  

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

Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP)

If you hand over a tenancy deposit before you move into a property, 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 fairly at the end of the tenancy. At Townends, we use my|deposits. After you supply the deposit money, landlords have 30 days to give you a copy of the deposit protection certificate and Prescribed Information.

At the end of the tenancy, you will come to a settlement with your landlord about the return of the deposit. If you’re unable to 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 records the current condition of the property. This means you’ll only be liable to pay for damage that was legitimately caused during your stay. If any damage has been made to the property, your tenancy deposit will cover the cost of repair.  

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 double-check the report is accurate before you sign.

Safety checks

Landlords legally 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 advisable to have all electrical appliances (such as cookers and kettles) PAT tested and make sure that electrical systems (such as sockets and switches) are safe. Ask your landlord when these were last checked.

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 make sure you ask to see a copy of the EPC.

Licensing schemes

If the property you’re renting is a large House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), it’s likely that your landlord needs 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, but you can find out more information on the Government’s website.

Checking the contract

Although it’s not a legal requirement, you should make sure that you’re issued a 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

Bear in mind that it’s quite normal for landlords to undertake reference and credit checks before they 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.

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

Getting professional advice…

If you’re looking for a property to rent and still aren’t sure where to start, contact your local Townends branch or view our latest properties to rent now. We’ll be happy to talk you through the latest homes available for rent.