Choosing an accommodation is not an easy task. You have to find a nice area that is fairly priced, nice housemates, make sure that your bills are not too high and that you got a nice & fair landlord.
In the past, it was extremely difficult to get information about all this but things are changing.
Now, thanks to the likes of AskTenants and others, you can even get an idea of what type of landlords (in some cases cowboys) rent flats/houses.
We will explore a few pitfalls to avoid when renting and more importantly how to avoid them.
Choose a property
Here are 3 tools that can help you choose a property:
- AskTenants: using this website, you can rate a property and get some important info (about street crime level, schools and demographics). The good thing about AskTenants is that it helps you understand whether a landlord for a particular property is a good one or a bad one.
- Find a Hood: provides information about an area (in terms of crime rate, schools, neighbour age and more)
- City Busters: as they claim, they want to empower the London renters. The idea is simple, you can rate a property anonymously and get some information about rated properties
Use these tools to make sure you don’t end up in a dodgy area with a dodgy landlord!
After finding a nice place in a good area, you will need to sign a contract.
Make sure you avoid the pitfalls of a tenancy agreement…
Tenant/Landlord agreement (contract)
The contract must have many parts to it:
- a description of what is rented
- a description of each party’s (e.g: landlord & tenant) responsibilities
- inventory (to confirm the presence and state of the fittings & fixtures, e.g: light, curtains, furniture, carpets, kitchen appliances and cupboards but also for the utility meters reading)
- the price of the rent
- the notice period (in case you want to leave early)
- the period (are you renting for 3 months? 6 months? A year? Etc.)
- the conditions, if any (such as: Are friends allowed? Are pets allowed? etc.)
Beware of contracts that do not contain these sections.
There are some good practices to follow when renting. One of them is: you should always pay by cheque or bank transfer and ask for a receipt so you can have proofs of what you have paid. Never pay a landlord with cash!
Use the safe Deposit scheme
The deposit is usually equivalent to one or two months’ rent (if someone is asking you for more treat them as suspicious since 2 months deposit is the maximum set by law). So never pay more than two months deposit!
The whole amount paid for the deposit should be repaid by the landlord when you leave (provided you have paid all the rents, bills due and that you haven’t caused any damage to the property). In your contract it should be indicated who is going to hold your deposit and under which circumstances it will be returned to you.
Some new rules have been introduced to avoid any dispute between tenants and landlords and to prevent landlords from keeping the tenant’s deposit without any reason.
Here is where you can find out about these new schemes put in place:
Treat as suspicious any landlord who does not want to use such scheme.
Know your rights
Over the years, we have heard some positive stories about renting properties but we have also heard some terrible ones. Renting can be an unpleasant experience if you don’t know your rights and you fall prey of an unscrupulous landlord. Luckily tenants do have rights and their landlords have some responsibilities they need to fulfil.
Guests’ (and partner’s) overnight stay
Also, know that, in theory, guests (including partners) are allowed to stay overnight.
Last year, Sandra’s former landlord wanted us to believe that I was not allowed to stay at her place as a guest. This prompted us to do our own little research. We came across a guide written by the Office of Fair Trading. Check page 68 of their document called Guidance on unfair terms in tenancy agreements.
Some unscrupulous landlords might tell you that guests are not allowed to stay overnight but the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) claims otherwise….
Ok, so now you found a great place to rent, in a nice area and a great landlord. Fantastic!
No wait a minute…..this is not over yet! Have you checked the bills? Are you going to throw away your hard earned money on huge bills?…. Read below to avoid those nasty surprises!
Avoid high bills
A good way to find out if the bills you pay are fair is to compare all the utility providers.
Visit the USwitch website to know if you’re paying a fair price for what you get. You will just have to fill in a quick form and then it will tell you how much each provider charges based on consumption. You will just have to pick the cheapest one or the one you think is the best for you. If you have not moved to the property it will be difficult to know the energy consumption. You will need to ask some information about the consumption to the landlord or existing tenants. Once you get that information, you can go to the USwitch website and look for a more cost effective provider.
Most houses/apartments pay a flat rate independent of how much water they use. If you would like to have an idea of how much the flat rate is for a particular location, you will need to contact your council or the council for where you want to live next.
Council Tax is a tax on domestic property (= home or flat) collected by your local council. This tax is used to pay for local services such as schools, roads, rubbish collection, and street lighting.
There are a few things that you will need to know in order to understand how much you will be charged for the council tax:
- the valuation band for your property
- how much your local council charges for that particular band
- whether you can get a discount or even be exempt from paying that tax
Try to get a precise idea of the bills paid for each property you are considering. Bills might be a key differentiator between two nice properties rented by two good landlords.
Use all these tools and you will massively increase your chances of enjoying your renting experience.
Websites like AskTenants are still quite in their infancy but they are a brilliant invention and they need all the tenants’ support (it’s in every tenant’s interest!).
Make sure you spread the word about them. Talking about them and more importantly using them will help make sure that bad/unfair landlords get wiped out quickly. And that my friend….is a great thing!