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- Research the Area
Think about the area before you move in. Is it near a hospital? If so, can you hear ambulances all the time? Is it near a noisy pub? Check all the surroundings before you sign.
"It is up the tenant to do their own research and inspect the dwelling and surrounding area before they sign the agreement and move in," James Plunkett, head of consumer research at Citizens Advice, tells BuzzFeed Life.
- Discuss Pets Early.
"Bring up pets early in negotiations with your prospective landlord," Plunkett says.
"If the landlord does not want pets at the address, then the tenant should look elsewhere. Having a pet in breach of a tenancy agreement that prohibits pets will generally lead to a possession action and eviction further down the line."
- Check out the white goods.
Inspect the white goods (fridge, freezer, washing machine, cooker, microwave, dishwasher, etc), and report any defects as soon as you move in, Plunkett advises.
"If white goods are included in the inventory on the agreement, then the tenant should visually inspect them and get the landlord to confirm in writing that they all work satisfactorily," he says.
"The tenant should seek clarification in writing as to whether the landlord agrees to repair or replace said items if they break down.
"Responsibility will be determined purely by evidence of what has been agreed between the parties so it’s important to get these agreements in writing."
- Don’t forget to check the water pressure too !
When you first inspect a property, run the taps and the shower.
If there's a problem with the water pressure, you can negotiate with the landlord before signing the agreement.
"If the tenant does not comprehensively inspect the property before entering into the agreement, they may not be able to resolve these problems later," Plunkett warns – although in some cases inadequate water pressure may fall within the landlord’s legal obligations.
- Find out if your contract contains a Release Clause.
There are two things to look out for here:
A break clause means a "fixed-term tenancy can be ended at 6 months", Plunkett explains.
However, it's important to check out the specific wording of the clause to see the conditions: "For example, that there are no existing rent arrears when the tenant wants to activate the clause."
A release clause runs along similar lines, but might involve the tenant "paying a fee to release themselves from the agreement at any time", Plunkett says. It also usually means that the tenant has to find someone to replace them, as well as paying the fee.
- Ask the Landlord if they will repaint the walls before you move in.
If there are tasks you want to landlord to do before you move in (for example, painting the front door or steam-cleaning the carpets), then it's a good idea to have them completed before you sign anything.
Plunkett says: "The tenant can ask the landlord to do this [i.e. clean and repaint the house before you move in], but they can’t compel a landlord to do anything before a tenancy agreement is set up."
The most important thing is to make sure everything is done before you sign the tenancy agreement and before you have made any payments.
"It is not uncommon for tenants to assert that promises of this kind have been broken," Plunkett says, "and because tenants usually can’t supply evidence of the agreement, they are still liable for their tenancy and rent."
So if you want something spruced up, ask for it, agree upon it, and complete it before you transfer any money.
- Conduct a thorough Inventory
When going through the property's inventory, make sure you point out any defects and take a note of the state of the items (by taking photos of broken bannisters, for example).
"Give a copy of the amended inventory to the landlord, keeping a copy for yourself," Plunkett says.
If your landlord has not prepared an inventory, you can prepare your own, and then ask your landlord to sign it. If not, make sure you have taken photographs, and ask an independent witness to sign the document.
- Find out how much money will need to be paid in advance?
There is no "normal" amount of rent to pay in advance. Generally, landlords will ask for one month's rent in advance, although it can be more, Plunkett says.
When it comes to the deposit, the amount is also at the landlord's discretion. "Usually landlords ask for the equivalent to one month’s rent as a deposit, but some ask for more (or less) than that; six weeks’ rent is also common," Plunkett says. "Some landlords do not ask for a deposit to be paid at all."
- Check if you will need a guarantor.
Even if you have a steady job, you might still need a guarantor. There is no set income threshold that will exempt you from needing a guarantor.
"A lot of landlords insist on guarantors before any tenancy can be agreed, particularly if they feel that the tenant is on a low income," Plunkett tells BuzzFeed Life.
"The decision on insisting on a guarantor is down to the landlord’s perception of the risk of the tenant having difficulties paying the rent."
- Challenge any terms and conditions you’re not happy with.
Sometimes you can challenge terms and conditions you're not happy with, but this must be done before you sign the tenancy agreement.
This can also apply to the landlord's repair obligations (fixing a broken cupboard door, for example). "Many repair obligations are legal requirements, but the landlord might agree to additional repairs under the tenancy agreement," Plunkett says.
"If the landlord will not change the disputed term or condition, the tenant should not enter into the tenancy."
- Find out where your deposit will be held.
Landlords are required by law to protect tenants’ deposits in a deposit protection scheme.
This means that any deposits taken (or carried over) on new tenancies have to be protected in a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days.
There are three in England and Wales: Deposit Protection Service (Custodial and Insured), MyDeposits, and Tenancy Deposit Scheme.
The timing is important, Plunkett adds: "Failure to protect the deposit within the set time limits means that the tenant can potentially take action by applying to court for an order.
"The order can force the landlord to either return the deposit or protect it in a scheme, and can also fine the landlord up to three times the amount of the deposit, to be paid to the tenant."
- And when it comes to your money, know your rights !
Remember, Plunkett explains, if the landlord has not protected the deposit within the required 30-day deadline, they cannot serve notice to end the tenancy until:
– They have returned the full deposit to the tenant.
– They return a lesser amount of the deposit with the agreement from the tenant.
– A compensation claim brought by the tenant for non-compliance has been awarded or dismissed by the court, or withdrawn by the tenant, or settled between the parties.
- Understand how rent increase works.
If the tenancy is within a written fixed-term (one year, etc), then the rent cannot be lawfully increased without the agreement of the tenant.
If the tenancy is a periodic assured shorthold tenancy (one which runs from month to month, for example), the rent can only be legally increased by one of three methods, Plunkett says:
1) The landlord proposes a rent increase and the tenant agrees to pay it.
2) The written tenancy agreement allows for a rent increase by a clearly defined formula (such as the rent being increased by 5% every 12 months).
3) The landlord uses a statutory procedure to increase the rent. In this case the tenant should seek advice from Citizens Advice. A tenant can contest a rent increase done this way by appealing to the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).
- Remember if you’re moving into a room rather than a house, you still have the same rights.
"A tenant in shared accommodation with other tenants and no residential landlord will have the same rights as any other assured shorthold tenant," Plunkett says.
"They may have a sole tenancy in their name only, or could be on a joint tenancy with the other tenants."
- But things vary slightly if your name is not on the lease.
"If a person is living with other tenants and they are not on the tenancy agreement," Plunkett says, "they will be known as an excluded occupier living at the accommodation with the permission of the other tenants, who have exclusive occupation of the whole dwelling.
"Tenants in this situation do not have any liability for rent arrears to the landlord, but they could be removed from the accommodation by the other tenants without any need for a court order."
- Understand what an estate agent is allow to charge you for.
"In England and Wales, an agency can charge an unlimited fee once a client has signed a contract to accept the tenancy," Plunkett says.
"Most agencies that do charge fees will expect to be paid the equivalent of one or two weeks' rent plus VAT. The agency can ask the client to sign an agreement promising to pay this fee if and when the agency has found suitable accommodation and the client accepts it. This request is legal only if no money is paid by the client before they agree to take the property.
"In England and Wales, an agency is also allowed to charge a client for extra services it provides, but only if the client requests these services or agrees to the agency supplying them.
"For example, an agency may negotiate the terms of a tenancy agreement with a prospective landlord, draw up the agreement, and compile an inventory. The agency can ask the client to pay for this, whether or not the client finally takes up the tenancy."
If you think the agency’s charge might be illegal, seek free help from Citizens Advice.
- Ask for everything in writing.
"There is no legal requirement for an inventory or survey, or even for a written tenancy agreement, so it is important tenants request these things if they are not provided," Plunkett warns.
The landlord is legally required to provide a gas safety certificate, and the landlord (or agent) has to provide in writing the name, address, and contact details of the landlord on request.
- And read the tenancy Agreement thoroughly !
- The names and the address of the property being let.
- The date the tenancy begins
- Details of whether other people are allow the use of all or part of the property, and, if so, which parts.
- The duration of the tenancy: That is, whether it expires on a certain date, in which case it is a fixed term tenancy, or whether it has no fixed term, in which case it is a periodic tenancy.
- The amount of rent payable, how often and when it should be paid, and when it can be increases. The agreement may also state what the payment includes – for example, council tax or utility bills.
- Whether the landlord will provide any services – for example, laundry, maintenance of common parts or meals, and whether there are service charges for these.
- The length of notice the landlord and the tenant need to give if the tenancy is to be ended within the fixed term ( early termination ).
- If there is a weekly tenancy, the landlord must provide a rent book to the tenant.