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Guide to renting a property

Over a third of people in the UK rent their homes, as more people choose renting over buying.

Anyone renting a home needs to understand their rental agreement, rights and responsibilities, and plenty of other important information about renting.

Choosing a place to rent

Any rental property must be carefully considered, as once the tenancy agreement is signed, the tenants are legally bound by it. As such, they will be unable to move out within a certain period of time, usually six months.

The property will need to suit the tenants and their lifestyle; making the number of bedrooms, the location, parking, and type of property some of the main points for tenants to think about.

However, there is much more to consider than just the obvious. Other key questions tenants could ask themselves are whether they want a furnished or unfurnished property, a garden or outdoor space, and whether the appliances are adequate to their needs.

Where to look for a property

With the introduction of online portals in recent years, there are more places than ever before to start the search for a rental property. However, it can still be difficult to find the right one.

Newspapers are a traditional way to search for a rental property, with many lettings agents and private landlords advertising. However, given the time between print, publication and potential tenants seeing the advert, it’s likely to have already been rented out.

In most cases, the likes of Rightmove and Zoopla, are much more appropriate. Tenants can search by location, as well as enter their requirements, before the website returns suitable properties. Almost all letting agents will list their properties on at least one of these portals, as well as their own website, so it can cut down the time spent searching online.

Those that are looking for house shares or private landlords might also have some luck with online classifieds, such as Gumtree.

Private landlord vs. letting agents

Tenants can either rent their property privately or via a letting agent; and there are pros and cons to both.

For some, dealing directly with strangers can be a worry, and without the need for landlords to be regulated, there can be a security risk. On the other hand, letting agents will offer greater reassurance on this front as they are not only professional businesses, but some will also belong to trade associations, such as ARLA and NAEA.

However, it tends to be more expensive to rent via a letting agents, as they will take a cut of the rental income from the landlord for their services. There will also be additional fees to consider. These fees can differ greatly, so it is important that tenants find out the cost beforehand.

Letting agents must not charge for registering with the agency or showing a list of available properties, but they can charge for reserving a property, drawing up a tenancy agreement, carrying out credit checks, drawing up an inventory, obtaining employer or landlord references, and other administrative costs.

Private landlords rarely charge these fees, so it is often a cheaper route to renting a property. It will usually be quicker to get any problems resolved too, as the letting agent acts as the middle man in these scenarios, passing messages between the tenant and the landlord.

Tenancy agreements

Whether renting privately or via a letting agent, all tenants should have received a tenancy agreement, which is contract between the tenant and landlord. Technically, the agreement can be oral, but in most cases, it is best to have a written document.

The most common type of agreement in the UK is an assured shorthold tenancy (AST), as the majority of new tenancies are automatically this type.

A written AST agreement will contain important details about the landlord, the tenant, and the property. Some key things to look out for include:

  • Name and address of parties involved (e.g. tenant, landlord, letting agent)
  • Tenancy start date
  • Rent, how much and when it is due
  • Deposit
  • Tenant obligations
  • Signatures

Your rights & responsibilities

When an individual signs a tenancy agreement, they are taking on some important responsibilities.

The main responsibilities required of any tenant are to pay the rent in full and on time, pay any other bills associated with the property, such as council tax, TV licence, gas, electricity, and water.

The exact responsibilities will be set out in the tenancy agreement, but tenants can generally be expected to keep the property secure, inform the landlord if the property will be left vacant for 14 days or more, and carry out basic maintenance, such as cleaning of windows and changing of light bulbs.

In exchange for agreeing to the responsibilities, tenants are granted certain rights.

The landlord may want to visit the property on occasion, but they should contact the tenant to arrange a convenient time, rather than turning up and expecting to be allowed in. The landlord is not allowed to enter without permission, and if they do, it is considered harassment, which is a criminal offence.

The landlord is also required to have the property insured, pay for any repairs to the building and utilities, have an annual safety check of gas appliances and fittings, and ensure electrics are safe.

Check your deposit is protected

Tenants with an AST that started on or after 6th April 2007 must have their deposit protected in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme (TDP). The three schemes available in England and Wales are the Deposit Protection Service, Tenancy Deposit Scheme, and MyDeposits.

The schemes require the landlord to transfer the funds within 30 days of receipt. Should the landlord not protect the deposit, they could be ordered to pay the tenant a penalty of up to three times the value of the deposit.

Those that do have their deposit protected by a scheme will receive their deposit back in full at the end of the tenancy, provided the agreement has not been breached; will receive the deposit back within 10 working days; and if there is a dispute, a free resolution service will investigate and make the final decision.