Over five million households in the UK are in private rented accommodation and, with the increasing number of people renting their homes, it shows no signs of slowing down. Whether you are a seasoned renter or are new to the world of renting, it’s really important to make sure you know your rights as a tenant.
Like many others, I have rented for over a decade. I’ve wanted to own a home for a number of years but, with sky high rents to pay, it’s extremely hard to gather together the huge deposits that are now required to get on the property ladder. According the Halifax First-Time Buyer Review, the average deposit is a whopping £32k, or around 16%. So, unless you are wealthy or have very generous parents, it can take quite some time to get a deposit together.
Renting can be tough, especially if you have a bad landlord or greedy letting agent. But if you know what to look out for right from the word go, it can make life a lot easier.
Here are some tips to help you avoid potential pitfalls and be a savvy renter:
Nail down a 12-month tenancy
Most landlords will offer a six-month tenancy, partly because they want to make sure you are a good tenant, but also probably because it provides an opportunity to increase the rent at the start of a new tenancy. Rent can’t be increased within a contract period, so ensure you lock yours in for 12 months before you sign.
Check your contract thoroughly
Get someone else to read your contract through before you sign. You need to make sure there are no sneaky clauses that could cause problems for you during the tenancy. If you need to change anything, the letting agents or landlords should be open to discussion.
Make sure your deposit is registered in a Tenancy Protection Scheme
This is thankfully a legal requirement for all landlords, and stops them unfairly keeping your deposit. Most landlords will do this happily as it supports both parties if there are any disputes. If, however, your deposit is not registered, then you can apply to your local county court who can order a repayment back to you – this can sometimes be up to three times the amount! The housing charity Shelter have some useful information on this here.
Ensure a detailed inventory is in place
I once rented a flat where things were damages missed off the inventory, and this led to the landlord trying to charge me when I left. I now make sure even the smallest of problems are added to the inventory. Most tenants get stung for cleaning, so if the property hasn’t been professionally cleaned, take pictures and note it on the inventory. Document anything you notice, no matter how small, from loose fixtures to marks on the wall.
All landlords or letting agents need to give at least 24 hours’ notice before visiting the property
If a landlord turns up at your house or waits outside in a car (yes, this has happened) you have the right to tell them to go away and give you proper notice.
Get permission before you decorate or make any changes to the property
Yes, it sucks, but a quick email to check you can paint the wall saves a whole lot of hassle when you leave.
Deposit in dispute?
Before the Tenancy Deposit Scheme are involved to mediate, you will no doubt have some back and forth with your landlord or letting agent. There are three really important points I have learnt:
Firstly, a landlord must allow for fair wear and tear, and you cannot be charged for the natural depreciation of an item. Common sticking points are things like carpets, flooring and kitchen appliances – basically anything with daily use.
Secondly, if something has been damaged, you only have to pay for the proportion you have damaged. So, let’s say you’ve burned a patch of the carpet with the iron, you should only have to pay a third of the cost towards replacing it.
Finally, you should never pay ‘new for old’. For example, at the end of my last tenancy my letting agent wanted to take £300 out of my deposit for a new oven. The oven provided at the start of the tenancy was old, and the condition had worsened over the years. I ended up agreeing on £20 goodwill gesture. Sometimes it’s easier to offer a small amount like this for a quiet life!
Can’t agree on how much of your deposit should be returned?
The Tenancy Deposit Scheme is there to help you. Don’t be afraid to use it if you need to, and they will mediate between you and your landlord.
Renting can sometimes feel very frustrating, especially when you’ve got homeowners spouting about how renting is just dead money. Yes, there are renting nightmares and rogue landlords out there, and of course it would be much better if you were paying a mortgage rather than rent. But, if you love where you live like I do, ignore the negativity you hear and don’t be ashamed to rent. Get to grips with your rights as a tenant, try to choose a landlord or letting agent on recommendation, and enjoy living in a place you can call home.