Being a tenant is not easy anywhere in the world, but given the dynamics of the property market in the UK and the rising demand for renting in the last years, it may take you a while to find something suitable from all points of view. So do you think you landed the perfect home and contract? Not so fast! As you all know, there are rules, regulations, and provisions that might make your life harder – and let’s hope you don’t end up in court fighting for your rights!
If you want to actually be a happy tenant in the UK, you should follow the next few tips and tricks to cover all your bases and stay safe!
1. Ask for an Individual Contract
This tip is most useful to students and groups of friends sharing a home and rent together, but you can opt for such a contract even if you are a couple and there are some money issues between the two of you. An individual contract – as opposed to joint tenancy agreements – allows each tenant in a group or couple to deal with the landlord separately. In case one of the group’s members leaves or doesn’t pay the rent on time, he/she is the only one responsible, thus eliminating liability for the others.
2. Read the Small Print
Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you read the contract in full – twice for good measure – and even together with a lawyer for better certainty. Many things can go wrong if you overlook the finest details of the contract, especially if you are renting for the first time in your life. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
- What is being covered by the rent? Are bills included as well?
- What happens if you leave before the tenancy contract expires? Are there penalties, do you have any particular obligations in this case?
- What are the rules on hosting guests or pets?
- Are you allowed to smoke?
- Are there any provisions regarding operating a business from the rented home?
- Is there anything you need to know about design modifications?
3. Keep Your Eyes on the Deposit
This is a tricky business. By law, your landlord collects a deposit from you and is obligated to secure your money with the help of one of the three available deposit protection schemes. He has 14 days to safely place your deposit into one of these schemes, and you should check if he did. For a safer life as a tenant, check if the property and the landlord are registered with one of the three schemes and make sure your money is where it belongs. If the landlord didn’t place your deposit into one of the schemes, he is breaking the law and you are entitled to compensations.
You may also have heard some horror stories about tenants not getting their full deposits back. In case the landlord wants to deduct some amount of the initial deposit, you should always check for proven and irrefutable justifications to back up his claim. There are a few tips to use to make sure you get your full deposit back so you might want to check them out as well.
4. Scripta Manent
This old Latin saying is the touchstone of your future happy tenant life – what is written endures. In other words, write everything down, even if many exchanges and dealings between a landlord and a tenant represent verbal agreements. Whatever you write can be used in your favor, no matter if you note down a repair request or a permission of entering the rental unit requested by the landlord.
If you orally agreed on some issues, send the landlord a confirmation letter. If repairs are necessary, put them down on paper, establish the costs, and sign the list together with the landlord. Your right to privacy, repairs, and correspondence should all be backed up by hard copy, as misunderstandings can become damaging for both sides.
5. Don’t be Afraid to Demand Proper Living Conditions
Many new, young, and inexperienced tenants don’t know that they have the right to benefit from habitable housing conditions, and that they can ask the landlord for repairs and amendments. Sometimes, even if they know they are within their right to ask for proper conditions, they are reluctant to do so, fearing that the landlord will charge them extra money or deem them responsible and liable for the damages. While landlords want to milk as much money as they can from you, they are also bound by law to provide you with decent living conditions which include:
- Structural safety of the house/apartment
- Clean, hygienic conditions
- Electricity, water, heat, and weather-proofing measures
There are plenty of solutions to tackle such problems, but remember, write down whatever you and the landlord decide.
6. Mind that Inventory
The inventory is usually performed by the landlord with the tenant present (and paying attention!). It is a list of visible faults of the rental unit that are written down and signed by all parties involved. At the end of the rental contract, the same inventory is performed – supplemental faults and damages will be linked to your deposit. Also, the inventory allows people to list all objects in the house and their state at the beginning of the rental period and the end of it. There shouldn’t be many objects missing or broken beyond repair – just a piece of advice.
If the landlord doesn’t perform the inventory in your presence, you should specifically ask for him to do one. It is a safe measure for both of you. Also, you can take photos and make lists and comments as thoroughly as you can – remember that you will need your deposit back in one year and you will be glad to receive as much money as you can.
7. Practice your Math Doing the Bills
Keeping everything honest should be a no-brainer, but some landlords and letting agents contractually prevent tenants from switching to cheaper and more suitable energy or other service suppliers. This is against the law on their part, but many tenants are tricked before they realize what is happening. Besides reading the contract thoroughly, keep an eye on your bills to make sure there isn’t anything fishy going on. And speaking of bills, make sure you pay all of them on time.
8. Stay Safe
This means insurance. Landlords have the legal obligation to have their gas installations checked every year. Depending on the type of property, the landlord should also provide you with insurance against fire and other disasters. If you are a student, you may be covered by your parents’ insurance, or you can shop around if your coverage is poor. Even if you are not a student, you still need to ask the landlord for all the papers, licenses, and policies that guarantee your safety.
Now you can enjoy your new home and have fun with it! As tenancy goes, the rule of thumb is to know and understand all your rights and obligations, and the landlord’s rights and obligations, before you even consider the place.
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