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Renting is tough. Between rental payments that can take up to 70% of your monthly income, dealing with repair problems that can leave you without hot water and heating for weeks, and facing eviction that can leave you and your family homeless, renting is no easy game.
So, we talked with the people behind The Tenants’ Voice – one of UK’s largest tenant communities and asked them their top 10 tips about how to improve your own renting experience.
#1. The Landlord is Not Your Enemy, but He is Not Your Friend Either
Good relationships between landlord and tenant should be fully promoted as the number one method to make your renting experience a little better.
However, remember that your rented property is a subject of somebody’s business. As such, some landlords can and will sacrifice your enjoyment and well-being for the sake of their business. Good landlords won’t, but you won’t know which type they are until something happens and you want to be prepared for anything.
Know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, AND, your landlord’s, AND, of your agent’s before you go off renting. Don’t be a helpless prey just because you see no sharks swimming nearby.
#2. Know What You Sign
One of the biggest mistakes tenants make is to sign a tenancy agreement before reading it or before fully understanding what it means. Once signed, you’re bound by the tenancy agreement for the fixed month period (usually 6 or 12 months). Unless the landlord agrees, which not many landlord do, you cannot undo the contract.
Don’t allow yourself to be hustled by an agent or landlord into signing something you do not understand! Read carefully, ask all the questions you can think of and take time to digest the information before you sign.
If any bit of the contract sounds sketchy, like for example, “The tenant is obliged to repair and maintain the structure of the property at their own expense..”, consult a legal or housing advisor. As a tenancy you have statutory rights, which cannot be overruled by the tenancy agreement. If they are, the contract is illegal and any obligation under it is not valid.
#3. Beware of the Fees
If you’re using a letting agent or the property is managed by an agent hired by your landlord, make sure you know every possible fee they can charge you, before you go further. Many letting agents in the UK are known to come up with a fee for just about any work they do, regardless of the fact, they are paid by the landlord in the first place.
These charges can include, but not limited to:
- Reference fee
- Credit check fee
- Administration fee
- Deposit protection fee
- Inventory report fee
- Late rent payment fee
- Tenancy renewal fee
- Check out fee
Combined, these can make up to 700 pounds upfront, just to enter in the rented property. For the full extent of the tenancy, you might end up paying thousands of pounds for work that’s already paid for by the landlord in the form of monthly management fees.
Four years ago, the housing minister of Scotland, Keith Brown, successfully banned all fees and charges that letting agents used to impose on tenants. However, that measure is only limited to Scotland, and even there you can still find many letting agencies trying to pull a fast one on inexperienced tenants.
If you’re choosing a letting agent, make sure they are a member of any of the following:
- The Association of Residential Lettings Agents
- The National Approved Letting Scheme
- The National Association of Estate Agents
- The Property Ombudsman
There are organizations that enforce a code of conduct on their members, which ensures they will act within the law and ethical practices of their industry. Also, each organisations provides a method to complain against any of their members, if they are not following the established guidelines.
#4. Check if the Deposit is Protected
To make sure your tenancy goes smoothly after moving, there are a few important steps to do at the very beginning.
If you paid a deposit to your landlord, they are obliged by the law to protect it with a government authorised scheme. These schemes are independent of the landlord or letting agents and serve as adjudicators should any dispute arises during the tenancy. Your landlord has 30 days to protect it in a scheme of their choice and provide you with a prescribed information issued by the scheme.
If they don’t, they are breaking the law and you can successfully take them to court for up to 3 times the original deposit sum, plus, the deposit in question.
After paying the deposit, make sure you get a receipt and them check within a few weeks to see if it is protected.
- Check if your deposit is protected with My Deposits
- Check if your deposit is protected with the TDS
- Check if your deposit is protected with Deposit Protection Service
Your landlord also loses their rights to use a lot of their legal tools, like the Section 21 eviction notice.
#5. Check if the Inventory is Right
When you move in, supposedly, you will receive an inventory report from the landlord, noting the condition of the property prior to the move. You want to check the rooms and see if it’s accurate, and more importantly, see whether there isn’t anything missing.
If there is anything wrong, take pictures and send an email to the landlord, asking them to add them to the inventory.
When the time comes, your deposit will be dependent on how well and how accurate the inventory report was conducted. You do not want to be negligent with this one. Upon moving in, request to be present in the check-out inspection. You only have one chance, so be there to make sure no bogus damages are going to be deducted.
#6. Your Landlord is Responsible for Repairs and Maintenance
By law, the landlord is responsible to take care of any maintenance and repair problems. Tenants need to report any issue as soon as possible, to make sure prevention steps are taken at the earliest. This will make the repairs faster for you and cheaper for the landlord.
Of course, landlords only need to repair the property and equipment / furniture that comes along with it. Tenants need to take care of their own belongings.
Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the landlord needs to (quote):
- (a) keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes),
- (b) keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and
- (c) keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water.
You cannot be held responsible for any damage or deterioration, unless, of course, you’ve caused them, which makes you liable to pay for the renovation and recovery.
#7. You Have a Right to Keep Everybody Out
There is something called ‘covenant for quiet enjoyment’. This means you can shut the door to your neighbour, landlord, agent and even the police without the necessary court order.
Of course, you need to use that right reasonably. The landlord can typically make inspections of the property with a minimum of 24 hour notice. The landlord can also require access to make repairs and maintenance of the property, as per his responsibilities. It’s not advisable to prevent this access as it makes sure the property is fit for use and maintained.
The landlord may also need to enter to show the property to potential buyers, or the next tenants, or for any valuation purposes. In that case, you’re free to not allow access to the property if it’s inconvenient to you.
The landlord is only allowed access without your approval in case of emergencies.
If your landlord enters the property without your permission, makes too frequent visits, or during the late hours of the day, you can complain for landlord harassment and even go to court.
#8. Always Pay Your Rent
The single most important thing you do as a tenant is to pay your rent. Tenants often stop paying rent, when the landlord is negligible about repairs or for any reason doesn’t maintain the property. It’s one way to spring the landlord in action, but what tenants often forget is that the landlord can automatically gain a possession order from the court, if you’ve missed to pay your rent for two consecutive months.
This means you can get evicted with little to no notice and may even end up homeless. The landlord can do this regardless if there are repair issues or any other problems in the property.
No matter how bad the problem is not paying rent can only count against you in any formal dispute in the council or the court.
#9. How to Complain About a Bad Landlord
When the landlord doesn’t uphold their responsibilities, or ignores the tenant’s request for repairs, or even if there is a health hazard in the property, there is a procedure, which will guarantee you that somebody will take care of the problem.
- Write a formal letter to the landlord with your concerns and if needed photographs of the problem. You can do this as an email.
- Provide a few days for the landlord to acknowledge the problem. If you think you have not reached the landlord by email, you can phone them, but make sure there is an email in their inbox to document the date.
- Wait for the landlord to inspect the problem, find services and book a date for the repairs. If this doesn’t happen, you should send them another letter or email and inform them you will seek help from the local council.
- If the landlord is still unresponsive, contact you local council and seek the Environmental Health department. The EH will assign an officer to inspect the property. If you believe the EH officer was wrong, you can contact your local council again and request a new inspection.
- Let the EH department serve the landlord with an improvement notice. This notice give them a set period of time to do the required repairs. Afterwards, the council will authorise the repairs in their name and cover the cost.
If the property provides a health hazard, you will get re-housed and the property will be closed down until improvement.
#10. Be a Responsible Tenant
All of the above is useless, if tenants are not acting as per their own responsibilities. You cannot expect a fair treatment, if you’re not already treating the landlord and his property with the fair share of respect.
Tenants need to look after the property and strive to maintain it’s condition unaffected. Normal wear and tear is expected, but excessive damage or negligent care for the property is not acceptable behaviour. Don’t forget that it’s not your property, but it is your home.
You need to act reasonably and maintain good tone in your communication.
As we said in the first chapter, for the landlord you and your home are a business. Business is always better when all sides are happy.
The Tenants’ Voice is the biggest tenant community in the UK. Join them and learn more about your rights as a tenant, the laws regarding housing your relationship with the landlord, seek consultation from industry experts and gain the experience of other tenants like you.