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Financial advice for first time tenants

Renting gives you greater flexibility than owning a property, but it still takes time and money to find the right place and to move in, so it is worth putting some careful thought into finding somewhere that will suit you. 

The current housing market has made renting property an increasingly important part of the way we live now. House prices have outstripped wages significantly, making it difficult to get on the property ladder, so renting can often be the best option.  

Property for rent doesn’t simply appeal to tenants who may be waiting or hoping to get onto the property ladder, but it also offers flexibility for those downsizing or moving into a new area.  It isn’t uncommon for estate agents to arrange viewings for potential tenants that include everyone from young singles moving into their own place for the first time to mature couples who are downsizing.

PREPARE FINANCIALLY FOR THE RENT AND THE FEES

Once the landlord decides you will be a good tenant, you will need to pay fees to set up the tenancy to cover the cost of references, credit checks and arranging your rental.  Before you move in you will also pay a security deposit and probably one month’s rent in advance.  These initial checks establish that you can afford the rent and therefore will make a good tenant.

Other things to consider:

How long do you want the tenancy for? A tenancy is usually a minimum of 6 months. If you are not sure, you can ask for a tenancy to be extended but remember there are costs involved in extending your fixed term tenancy agreement.  Start gathering together documents that your agent will need to confirm your identity, immigration status, credit history and possibly employment status.

FIND A PLACE TO RENT

Before you start looking here are some factors to consider:

  • Have a careful think about what sort of property you want and which best suits your current lifestyle
  • Do you have a car and therefore need off street parking or a garage?
  • Do you own a lot of furniture so need an unfurnished rental, or own a little so part-furnished would be more appropriate?
  • Have you just left university and have no furniture so need a fully furnished place?
  • If you choose a furnished or part furnished you will have to look after the furniture or will lose some or all of your deposit to cover damage.
  • Do you want or need a garden for yourself, children or pets?
  • Where do you want to live?
  • Do you need to be close to work or your children’s school?
  • If you don’t drive do you need to be close to public transport links?
  • Do you want to be close to town for nights out?
  • Once you have done this make a list of your essential search criteria

BUDGET FOR YOUR TENANCY

You will have a few significant outgoings when you first set up a new tenancy:

  • A tenancy set up fee charged by your letting agent to conduct a credit check, seek references from previous landlords and employers, setting up the tenancy agreement and protecting your deposit. (Tenant fees do not apply in Scotland.)
  • Your first month’s rent.
  • Your deposit which will be at least the same amount as one month’s rent, and is often more.
  • In addition, you may encounter other initial fees (not applicable in Scotland), such as:
  • An additional person fee charged for every other person included in the tenancy.
  • A guarantor fee. You may need a guarantor (usually a parent or guardian) if you cannot provide appropriate references (for example, students who have never rented a property before).
  • Other initial outgoings might include the purchase of furniture if you rent an unfurnished or part furnished property

Once you have moved in, you will have ongoing costs:

  • Your monthly rental payments.
  • Your council tax payments. Sometimes these may be included in the rent.
  • Your utilities including gas, electricity and water. Sometimes these may be included in the rent.
  • Phone bills, broadband and line rental.
  • Make sure you take all of these costs into account when you’re thinking of renting a property.

TENANT APPLICATION PROCESS

  • Read your written tenancy agreement carefully to understand your rights and responsibilities.
  • If you have any concerns about the agreement, seek advice before you sign.
  • Agree an inventory (or check-in report) with your landlord and, as an extra safeguard, make sure that you take photos. This will make things easier if there is a dispute about the deposit at the end of the tenancy.
  • If you are happy with the inventory, sign it and keep a copy.
  • Remember to take meter readings when you move in.
  • This will help make sure you don’t pay for the previous tenant’s bills.
  • Make sure that you have the correct contact details for the landlord or agent and you keep them handy. These should be given to you.

Documents Your Landlord or Agent Must Provide:

There are a number of documents that your Landlord or Agent must provide you with at the start of your tenancy, by law. Use the below list as a checklist, and make sure you do receive a copy of each.

  • A copy of the guide 'How to rent'. 
  • This guide is only applicable to tenants in England.
  • A gas safety certificate.
  • The landlord must provide one each year, if there is a gas installation.
  • Deposit paperwork.
  • If you have provided a deposit, the landlord must protect it in a government approved scheme. Make sure you get the official information from the scheme, and that you understand how to get your money back at the end of the tenancy. Keep this information safe as you will need it later.
  • The Energy Performance Certificate.  This will affect your energy bills and the landlord must provide one (except for Houses in Multiple Occupation). If your landlord doesn’t provide these, they can’t evict you until they do.
  • A record of any electrical inspections.  All appliances must be safe and checks every 5 years are recommended.

TENANT RESPONSIBILITIES

Your Responsibilities As a Tenant

Your number 1 responsibility is to pay your rent in full and on time. Not doing so would put you in breach of your tenancy agreement and at risk of losing your home.

  • Look after the property. Keep it clean, and take care of any furniture and appliances. Don’t attempt any repairs or decorating without first contacting your Landlord or Agent to seek permission and guidance.  If you notice any issues contact your Landlord/Agent to arrange repair. Not reporting minor issues that turn into major problems can be a risk to your deposit.
  • Get familiar with how the boiler and major appliances work. Find out where the stop cock, fuse box and any meters are located. Much better to know now, than wait for an emergency to try and find them. Ask your Landlord or Agent if you need to.
  • Last but not least be considerate to the neighbours. Anti-social behaviour could get you evicted, so just be considerate of the neighbours.

Your Landlord’s Responsibilities

  • Your Landlord/Agent has responsibilities to you as a paying tenant:
  • Maintain the structure and exterior of the property.
  • Insure the building to cover any damage from flood or fire.
  • Install smoke alarms on each floor.
  • Fit carbon monoxide alarms in rooms using solid fuels (coal or wood for example)
  • Deal with problems related to water, electricity and gas supply.
  • Maintain appliances and furniture they have supplied.
  • Carry out most repairs. If something is not working, report it to the landlord (or their agent) as soon as you can.
  • Arrange an annual gas safety check by a Gas Safe engineer (where there are any gas appliances).
  • Give a minimum of 24 hours notice of visits for repairs or maintenance.
  • Get a licence for the property, if it is a licensable property. This applies to properties where you rent a room in a shared house known as HMOs.

EXTENDING YOUR TENANCY 

Should you wish to extend your tenancy after any initial fixed period, there are a number of important issues to consider.

  • Do you want to sign up to a new fixed term? There will likely be costs for this, check with your Landlord or Agent.
  • It is sometimes possible to be on a ‘rolling periodic tenancy’. This means you carry on as before but with no fixed term – you can leave at any time by giving one month’s notice. Or your landlord can end the contract at two months’ notice.
  • Your landlord might want to increase your rent. Your landlord can increase your rent by agreement, or as set out in your tenancy agreement, or by following a procedure set out in law.

ENDING YOUR TENANCY

If you or the landlord want to end the tenancy There are things that both landlords and tenants must do at the end of the tenancy:

Giving Notice

It is a legal requirement for landlords to give you proper notice if they want you to leave. Normally, the landlord must allow any fixed period of the tenancy to have expired, and they must have given at least two months’ notice. Your tenancy agreement should say how much notice you must give the landlord if you want to leave the property – one month’s notice is typical.

Return of deposit

Try to be present when the property is inspected to check whether any of the tenancy deposit should be deducted to cover damage or cleaning costs (a ‘check-out inventory’).

If you do not agree with proposed deductions contact the relevant deposit protection scheme.

OutstandingRent

Make sure that your rent payments are up to date. Do not keep back rent because you think that it will be taken out of the deposit.

Outstanding Bills

Do not leave bills unpaid. This might have an impact on your references and credit rating.

Clean Up

Remove all your possessions, clean the house, take meter readings, return all the keys and give a forwarding address.  The landlord is entitled to dispose of possessions left in the property after, typically, 14 days.

MOVING OUT OF YOUR RENTED HOME

Cleaning costs and unpaid rent are the top reasons why deposit money is withheld when a tenant moves out of a rented property.

  • Before you move out, make sure you have paid any remaining rent that is due. Keep in mind that if you are paying by check it will take a few days for the payment to clear, so pay in plenty of time so that by move out day all monies have cleared and no rent is owed.
  • Give the property a thorough clean before you leave so it is in ‘move in’ condition for the next tenant.
  • If you have rented a property that is full or part furnished, inspect the furniture and check for any damage.
  • If you have caused any accidental damage then do get it repaired professionally.

Tips to help avoid problems:

  • Check the property against the condition report from when you moved in.
  • Compare the property now to any photos taken at the start of the tenancy.
  • Take photos when you leave.
  • Don’t forget to give your energy suppliers plenty of notice that you are moving out so they can organise a final bill. It is also a good idea to take meter readings on your final move out day for your records.
  • Inform any other suppliers that you are moving out such as Phone, Internet or TV.
  • Consider redirecting your mail and leaving a forwarding address with the landlord or agent.

If you apply these tips to your first rental, you should be able to manage it financially with no unexpected costs.

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