Leaving home for the first time and getting your own place is one of the most exciting things that you can do. However, with so much to think about, it can also be one of the most confusing.
Now that lockdown measures have eased and the property market is open again, many people in England might be starting to think about their living circumstances and renting a new home.
Whether your situation has changed and you’re now looking to move to a new city or you had put a move on hold due to lockdown, renting a new home, especially for the first time. ARLA Propertymark shares top tips for renting to help the process run as smooth as possible.
Phil Keddie, President, ARLA Propertymark comments: “Tenants who haven’t had to go through the lettings process at all, or at least haven’t since 2016, might be unaware of new legislation that has come into force since then. When signing a new tenancy, it’s important you keep on top of the costs, as well as your rights and responsibilities.
“From making sure you choose the right property, to knowing and understanding the legal process and your rights as a tenant, as well as adhering to the new rules around social distancing when viewing a property, there’s certainly a lot to consider. That’s why it’s important to have a reputable letting agent or landlord by your side to guide you through the renting process.”
Work out your finances
Firstly, work out a budget that works for you and research the areas you can afford a property. According to Zoopla, the average cost of renting a property in the UK during the final quarter of 2019 was £886 per calendar month1. Of course, as a first-time renter, you’re likely to be renting a one or two bed so spending less than this, but depending on where you’re looking to rent, costs can still be high. Remember that on top of this reoccurring cost, you will also need to budget for gas, electricity, water, phone, broadband, TV license and Council Tax.
As of 13th May, the Government issued new guidance for England which allowed socially distanced viewings, that carefully adhere to public health guidance, to take place. While viewing potential homes might be quite different to how you imagined it, it’s important to follow these guidelines for your own safety, and for the safety of the current tenant and the letting agent. It’s likely that before viewing the property in person, the letting agent or landlord will suggest a virtual viewing. Then, when viewing the property in person, you may be asked to wear a face covering, you’ll need to keep your hands clean and you may not be able to view the property in a group. Your ARLA Propertymark letting agent can help make sure you understand and are able to follow all of these guidelines.
Know your rights
Before you sign your tenancy agreement, you will be asked to provide proof that you have the right to live in the UK so make sure you have your passport to hand. After you sign the contract, you must be given a copy of your new home’s Gas Safety Certificate (if the property has gas), Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), the Government’s How to Rent Guide, your Deposit Protection Certificate, the Prescribed Information (this may take a few days), any licence issued by the local authority (if the property is subject to any form of local authority landlord licensing scheme), and if you are a new tenant from the 1st July 2020, you must also be given an Electrical Safety certificate.
Ensure you are protected
Make sure you're clear about what kind of tenancy agreement you're signing before putting pen to paper. You are entering a legally binding agreement so take your time and read the contract thoroughly. Ask as many questions as you want until you are comfortable that you understand everything it contains and if you’re not happy, ask for any changes or amendments you want.
If you are using a letting agent, ask if they are members of ARLA Propertymark and have Client Money Protection. Without this, your money is not protected. Letting agents are required to display on their websites and prominently in their offices all fees they will charge you and the redress scheme to which they belong. Should you have an issue which you don’t feel has been satisfactorily dealt with, you can complain to the redress scheme and get up to £25,000 compensation. If the agent can’t provide you with this information, don’t use them.
Sort out the bills and insurances
If this hasn’t been done by your agent, notify the utility companies and give them meter readings, your move-in date and the names of all the tenants. Make sure you also have contents insurance. The landlord is required to insure the building and their own contents, but you need to cover your own belongings.
If you are sharing the property, it’s a good idea to sit down with your housemates to work out a fair system for sharing the cost of your bills and ensuring that they’re always paid on time. You are jointly responsible for the property — so if one of your housemates absconds without paying their rent or damages some fixtures, you can be asked to pay for it.
Setting ground rules among yourselves can help but be careful with joint bank accounts. A housemate’s financial mismanagement can affect your credit score.
Lets with pets
If you move into a property that doesn’t allow pets, do not get a pet without your landlord’s permission. There will likely be a clause in your tenancy agreement that says you cannot keep pets. If you break this, it can be used as grounds for eviction.
If you have a pet, your landlord may also put additional clauses into your tenancy agreement related to owning a pet, such as making sure it doesn’t foul in the garden or inside the property, not leaving it alone in the property for too long and cleaning the property thoroughly before the end of the tenancy. Any damage to the property or extra cleaning that needs to be undertaken by the landlord can be deducted from your deposit.
Smoke alarms are required on all floors of your home and carbon monoxide detectors in any room where solid fuels are burnt (such as wood, coal or biomass). These need to be tested and working on the first day of the tenancy. This is usually done when checking in, where the landlord or agent will probably also undertake an inventory and schedule of condition.
Check the inventory
The inventory is a list of everything that's provided with the property, including furniture, carpets, curtains, appliances, crockery and cutlery. It should also record the condition everything is in – for example, existing damage or wear, such as an old stain on the carpet. Notify your landlord or agent if you disagree with anything on the inventory as it will affect how much of your deposit you get back at the end of the tenancy.
Sort issues before they become problems
Make sure you have up to date contact details for your landlord or letting agent. Familiarise yourself with how to report any issues you may have and ensure you have an emergency contact number. If you discover any repairs which need doing or have any concerns, contact your landlord immediately.
Don’t be afraid to report repairs to your landlord or agent. It’s much easier, faster and cheaper for your landlord to fix an issue when you first notice it than it is when the issue becomes a big problem. If you leave the house empty, consider leaving the heating on low to ensure that pipes don’t freeze. Also, if you’re going away for more than a couple of weeks, tell your landlord or agent so they can keep an eye on the property for you while you’re away.
Keep good records
This could be vital if there's a dispute when you move out. Useful items might include photos taken when you moved in (ideally, dated and labelled), receipts for any items you've replaced, correspondence about repairs and copies of your bills. It’s also important to either get written consent from the agent or landlord or to keep accurate notes about any changes the landlord has allowed you to make to the property such as putting up pictures or painting walls so that when you move out you have proof of this.
Return the property as you found it
Most deposits disputes are over the condition of the property at the end of the tenancy. Make sure you give the property a thorough clean before you move out and leave the property in the same condition as the day you arrived.