Ten things you need to know or do if you're thinking of renting a home

Most of us will rent at one time or another.  For those tenants in receipt of housing benefits, renting a property is a long-term commitment, so there are various factors that can make or break enjoyment of a property.

Tenants face many potential pitfalls when it comes to finding the right property. It's important to go through all the elements with a fine tooth comb to make sure you're clear where the responsibilities lie.

A tenancy agreement is legally binding, and while landlords may make allowances beyond what is in the paperwork, they can also use it to enforce the law rigidly. 

So make sure you're happy with the whole of the rental agreement and not just the property itself.

Here are some top tips from us to ensure you have a happy rental.

1. Research

Before you start the process work out what you can afford by knowing your current housing benefit allowance. It's not just a case of the monthly rental payments. 

You can expect an agent, acting on behalf of the landlord, to ask for a deposit - typically one month’s rent as well as one month in advance. When you know your budget make sure you thoroughly research the area as well as what is available to rent. 

2. Hidden Costs

The agent, working on behalf of the landlord, will probably ask you to pay for a credit search and other admin fees which could be in the region of £40 - £100. Make sure you also consider how you may move all your belongings from your current home to your new one.  You may need to store some items which is when the costs can start to mount.

3. Terms & Conditions

Make sure you go through these carefully with a fine tooth comb.  Be sure to look at the obligations of both landlord and tenant, such as upkeep and maintenance of the property, respective liabilities, renewal processes and costs and query anything with the agent by email so you have a record.

4. Maintenance of the property

Make sure you're aware where the responsibilities lie.  Who will react to any maintenance issues?  If you think the property needs some maintenance make sure you request for it to be done before you sign, or at the very least ask for it to be written into the contract or perhaps negotiate less rent until the issues is resolved.  Often overlooked are the boiler and the windows.  In summer these are rarely an issue but a few months later, when the temperature drops and winter sets in, you want to make sure you have a fully working boiler, so ask to see any maintenance certificates.  Similarly if you're tenancy starts in winter a few months later when summer arrives, you don't want to find that the windows don't open.

5. Renewal costs

Some agents will charge renewal costs for extending / taking out a new contract so don't be caught out and ask these questions up front.

6. Utilities/Services

Look at who is providing the utilities and what the process is to take over these services.  Perhaps you may be able to ask the agent to speak to the Landlord or existing tenants to ensure the service are still running thereby avoiding and re-connections fees.

7. Break clause

Check if there is a break clause.  It's important to understand that it can be activated by both the tenant and the landlord.  You don't want to be caught out with a week's notice.  A month is the standard notice time for both tenant or landlord, but these will vary.

8. Insurance / Tenant Deposit Scheme

Tenancy deposit protection (TDP) schemes ensure that money paid by tenants (as deposits) is kept safe.  Landlords must use one of three government approved schemes. Whilst the letting agent may take the money, it is the landlord’s responsibility so make sure you receive proof that this has happened within 30 days of the start of your tenancy.

9. Insurance

Is the landlord insuring the contents or is it your responsibility as the tenant?  It is unlikely the landlord will pay for all contents, and is usually just his/her belongings.  Check what it covers.  At the very least it should cover the building.  As with most of our advice, it pays to find out the answers before signing your contract.

10. Inventory / moving in

Go through the inventory thoroughly.  It should schedule what is the Landlord's property and will be used at the end of the tenancy to attribute responsibility for any damage and ultimately, who should pay for the replacement costs.  This is where many tenant disputes originate.  Don't be afraid to take pictures of walls, rooms, carpets and so on to record the state of them as you move in.  If you do this, make sure you email them to the agent so they can be kept on file.   


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