What options are available?
Renting a room and being a lodger
The Government’s Rent-A-Room Scheme allows homeowners to rent out one room in their home free of tax provided the rent is not more than £4,250 pa. The advantage for tenants is that because the owner lives in the property it will generally be well furnished and maintained. It is a relatively cheap option for students, single people or couples; however, you must not mind sharing areas used in common, like the bathroom or kitchen, with the owner of the property or other tenants.
Sharing a flat or house
Sharing a flat or house with friends is a great option as long as you all agree the split of bills and rent beforehand. It is also useful to agree a rota for emptying bins, dishes and cooking. Be warned that many a friendship has ended through sharing a house!
Shorthold Assured Tenancy
When renting a house or flat most landlords will offer a Shorthold Assured Tenancy. A shorthold tenancy typically runs for a fixed period, after which it may be renewable.
The renewal of the tenancy will depend on the landlord’s view of you as a tenant. Did you pay rent on time? Have you looked after the landlord’s property well? Have you been constantly complaining about minor or trivial problems in the flat?
Longhold tenancies are quite rare and are for those requiring more security over where they live and remain.
Most landlords prefer the shorthold tenancy as it allows them greater flexibility in managing their property.
Furnished or unfurnished?
This question is often resolved by your own circumstances and how much furniture you already own. Furnished property is likely to be the cheapest and easiest if you do not own any furniture.
Fire regulations were introduced to ensure that landlords no longer furnish homes with furniture that presents a hazard. They have to equip the rented home with furniture and furnishings that conform to fire and safety regulations.
When renting you will on average need a deposit of one month’s rent plus an additional month’s rent. This is the landlord’s guarantee against damage, theft or non-payment of rent. The deposit money will be returned to you at the end of your stay, less any deductions for damage or breakages. The landlord cannot subtract damage from your deposit if it is demonstrably attributable to fair wear and tear.
You can request that the deposit be held by a third party, often just the letting agent. They cannot release the deposit to either party unless both parties are in agreement.
Be aware that there will also be additional costs after you’ve moved in. These are:
- Council tax
- TV licence
- Gas, electricity and phone bills
- Contents insurance for your belongings
- Water rates
- Service charges
Finding the right property
You must first establish your budget and have a feel for the type and location of the place you want to live. Once you have established this then you need to start a search. The best places to find rented accommodation are:
- Local letting agents/estate agents
- Property press
- University accommodation offices
- Local authorities
- Advertisements in local shops
- Notice boards in hospitals, companies, colleges and universities
- Housing associations
This is a very difficult area. You can make some judgments on the landlord by viewing the property he or she is letting. We suggest that you:
- Ask for proof of ownership
- Look at the condition of their property
- See how the rents compare with others you have seen
Managing and letting agents
Managing agents are responsible for managing all aspects of the tenancy on behalf of the landlord. Like many professionals, some managing agents are conscientious and others may be poor.
Before you commit, ask existing tenants to establish how good the managing agents and landlord are.
Questions you should ask
You should assemble as much information as you can; we have a checklist below to assist.
- Is the property properly heated and how does the system work?
- Do the fixtures and fitting work?
- Is the wiring safe? The wiring should be checked regularly – when was it last done?
- Where are the smoke alarms and fire exits?
- What condition is the furniture in?
- Have the gas appliances got a safety certificate?
- Can I put up pictures or redecorate?
- Who are the neighbours?
- Where are the local transport facilities and shops?
Your tenancy agreement
The tenancy agreement offers protection to both landlord and tenant. The agreement should clearly state what is required from both parties as well as stating the amount of rent, length of tenancy etc.
Read the tenancy agreement thoroughly before you sign it. The landlord must give you two full months’ notice to terminate the agreement.
Your new landlord will need address details and references from previous landlords, bank, employer or accountant (if you are self employed), as well as a character reference from someone who has known you for a significant period of time.
If you are from overseas you may need a guarantor.
It may pay dividends to check through the inventory list before signing the tenancy agreement.
An inefficient or lazy landlord may have simply reproduced the last inventory and it may not allow for breakages or wear and tear. It may be time consuming, but making notes, checking exact details on each item, or taking photographs will minimise arguments when it comes to leaving and could save your deposit.
Safety comes first
Always try to go to your appointments accompanied or give at least one person details of where you’re going and whom you are meeting.
Be security conscious; make sure the property is equipped with door chains, spy holes, window locks and suitable door locks. If not, ask your landlord to make these changes before you move in.