While there are some excellent landlords and property agents out there, not everyone in the industry is trustworthy. There are countless stories of badly-maintained properties, overpriced rents, and of housing deposits being dishonestly and illegally kept when they should have been returned.
Deposits are often a huge amount of money, sometimes equivalent to two months’ rent or more, and most people cannot afford to lose this amount. Fortunately there are several things to can do to protect yourself during your tenancy, and when you move out.
Whether you are thinking about renting from a private landlord or a letting agency, it’s a good idea to make a few enquiries about their reputation right from the start. Have a quiet word with current tenants, or try an internet search. If you find many negative comments, think carefully about renting from them.
Starting to rent a property
If you’re still happy to proceed with the rental process at this point, check the small print of any paperwork you’re asked to sign as carefully as possible. Occasionally contracts contain unfair clauses, such as asking the tenant to automatically pay for full redecoration of the property at the end of the tenancy – remember that the landlord is responsible for footing the bill for everyday wear and tear, not the tenant.
Be wary too of clauses that demand you pay for a full professional deep clean of the property at the end of the tenancy, especially if this must be carried out by one specific company. This often translates into a huge bill for a minimal amount of very basic cleaning, and a huge profit for the agency or a close relative of the landlord. At the very least, find out what the deep clean includes and how much it costs.
If you’re worried about specific clauses in the contract, or don’t understand what some of the complicated legal wording means, get the paperwork checked by an independent non-profit organisation. You can call the Shelter helpline for free on 0808 800 4444, or visit your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau.
There are several different types of tenancy, each with its own rights and obligations, which can sometimes be confusing. Find out more about them at the Shelter website.
In addition to the rental deposit, look out for other charges such as agency fees, deposits for house keys and so on. Be sure to find out how much these cost, and whether they are refundable.
Moving into your new home
If you’re happy to sign the contract, make sure you are given copies to keep, plus any relevant receipts and an inventory of the property before you move in. On the day that you move in, check very carefully around the flat or house before you start unloading your belongings.
It’s a very good idea to go around the building with a friend at this point, taking photographs of the property, including any meter readings. Ideally these pictures should be time-stamped, and you need to ask your friend to agree to be a witness if there are problems later.
If there are any problems, such as missing inventory items or unexpected damage, report them immediately. Write it all down on the inventory in detail, even if it’s as small as a missing lightbulb or a tiny stain on a wall or a carpet, then sign and date it before taking a copy back to the landlord or agency. Keep a copy for your own records too.
All you need to do after that is settle in, abide by the terms of the contract, and not trash the place. Which is what the vast majority of tenants do.