Competition for rentals can be fierce. But that doesn’t mean you should rush into an agreement without checking for potential pitfalls.
High levels of demand for flats and houses in the most populous parts of the country mean that many would-be tenants are under pressure to agree landlords’ terms quickly.
But a failure to read the small print and check potential charges can leave many renters feeling ripped off.
The government has just published a guide to help tenants understand their rights and ensure their landlords or letting agents don’t pull a fast one.
The guide is aimed at renters in England and Wales, but organisations such as housing charity Shelter have guides aimed at people in Scotland.
So what are the most important things to know if you are about to sign a tenancy agreement?
1. The letting agent could charge you an arm and a leg.
Consumer groups and politicians have recently put the spotlight on the exorbitant fees charged by some agents. A bid by Labour to block these charges was defeated in the House of Commons last month.
Shelter says that one in seven agents charges new tenants £500 or more for the likes of credit checks, inventories and administration (although such levies are unlawful in Scotland).
You might have no choice but to pay these fees if your heart is set on a particular property, but it makes sense to find out exactly how much they will set you back.
Also check that the agent is registered with the Property Ombudsman, says Alex Hilton from campaign group Generation Rent.
"This will help indicate whether they’re a legitimate company that’s likely to be treating you fairly, or a company just trying con you out of cash."
2. You shouldn’t sign straight away.
Although some agents may offer a cooling-off period, it is important to check your tenancy agreement thoroughly before you sign.
Ask for a copy that you can take away and study.
"Ensure you’re 100% happy with every aspect of the agreement," says Hilton. "Don’t hesitate to bring up anything you’re concerned about."
3. Make your own inventory.
When you move in, your landlord will draw up an inventory detailing what items are in the flat as well as what condition it is in.
Make sure you agree with it and make your own checks: if there are any problems such as evidence of damp or stains on the carpet, make sure your landlord records them – and take your own pictures as well.
4. Check what’s happening to your deposit.
Private landlords in the UK should keep their tenants’ deposits in independent tenancy deposit schemes.
This helps ensure that disputes at the end of the tenancy are settled fairly.
Find out which scheme your landlord is using and make sure it is a bona fide company accredited by the government.
5. You and your landlord both have responsibilities.
It is up to your landlord to keep the property in good condition, but tenants need to bring any problems to their attention as soon as possible.
You will also need to get your landlord’s permission before attempting repairs, decorating or changing the locks, for instance.
In England, a landlord’s failure to carry out repairs in a reasonable time means that the tenant can have them done and deduct the cost from their rent payments.
But a spokesman for Mydeposits.co.uk says: "This may only be done in very specific circumstances and is known as the 'Rule of Set Off'."
6. You need insurance.
Just because you don’t own the property doesn’t mean you can go without home insurance.
There are two types. Buildings cover, which your landlord should have, will pay out if the roof is damaged in a storm, for example.
Contents insurance, on the other hand, protects your possessions against theft or damage by fire and flooding.
The latter is for your benefit and therefore your responsibility.
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