The Guide Top Ten: Avoid the renting pitfalls to secure a happy home

Share this article

THANKS partly to the mortgage famine, the residential rental sector is booming.

And it's not just young people - older age groups and families who are selling their home but are holding off buying a new one, or are unable to, are instead renting a new place. Rob Trotter, senior property manager at letting agency, DJ Alexander, offers his top ten tips for new renters.

1 Finding a place

There's no obligation to go through a letting agency, but most potential tenants do. Visit a range of agency websites, which contain up to date information on properties currently available and the advertised rental rate. A reputable agency will only let property on behalf of respectable landlords.

2 Agency costs

Tenants are expected to contribute to the cost of obtaining credit, employment and behavioural references; this is designed partly to protect landlords from falling victim to unscrupulous tenants. A tenant will also have to pay the first month's rent in advance and a deposit equivalent to between one and two months' rental, to be returned on satisfactory completion of the tenancy.

3 Available stock

Until recently, most private rented property consisted of city centre flats of varying size and quality aimed primarily at single persons or younger, childless couples. But the variety of stock is growing, especially given the emergence of family-type suburban homes whose owners have been unable to sell and are now renting them out. The increased availability of houses rather than flats has fortunately coincided with a rise in demand from families looking to rent such property.

4 Furnished or unfurnished?

Most of the larger homes being offered for rent are owned by families who have moved on and taken their furniture, so they are unfurnished. However, there has also been a sharp rise in unfurnished flats offered for rent, for much the same reason - i.e. remaining unsold and put on the rental market by their previous occupiers rather than let out as investments.

5 Lease commitments

For tenants this means timely payment of rent (usually by direct debit); taking responsibility for utility bills (including TV licence); making good any damage; agreeing to live in an orderly and responsible manner.

6 Lease length

With smaller flats the initial lease length is usually six months, although the term can be extended later through mutual agreement between tenant and landlord. Tenants of villas or larger flats can usually secure a minimum lease of 12 months. Most landlords are happy to offer fairly long leases to "good" tenants as there is nothing better than continuity of income from responsible occupiers whom they have grown to trust.

7 Accommodation basics

All tenants have a right to expect the following from their rented accommodation: a home that is wind and watertight, uninterrupted hot and cold running water, heating, a good standard of decoration and comfort and, in most cases, white goods such as washing machine and refrigerator. Tenants should expect that such appliances and all the other attributes of their chosen property are maintained by the landlord should any genuine faults arise.

8 Complaints

Tenants unhappy with an aspect of their accommodation should contact the letting agent immediately. When dealing with upgrades and repairs, an agent can only act with the full authorisation of any landlord but having an agent to help with any negotiations is a huge advantage to tenants.

9 Insurance

A tenant is not required to have buildings insurance (that's the responsibility of the landlord) but he/she will need to have personal effects insurance in place, just like an owner-occupier. Personal effects insurance will cover the tenant, for example, for the loss or damage to personal property through break-ins, fire or flood.

10 Deposit return

When problems arise it is usually over definitions of "damage" and "wear and tear". Clearly, damage to furniture, carpeting, etc. by a tenant can never be excused as "normal wear and tear" but landlords need to accept that residential property is for living in and with that comes little mishaps which happen to us all from time to time. Fortunately most landlords are realistic enough to know the difference, in which case the deposit is returned.