For tenants, the good news is there’s an increasing amount of legally-binding rules and regulations in place to provide security and certainty when renting a home, and to protect your right to a safe place to live.
At first glance, renting can seem like a minefield but with a good agent on your side, you can have peace of mind that the property you’re renting and the landlord you’re renting it from are reliable and trustworthy.
In the fourth of our series of features sharing expert advice from Keatons agents on how to sell, buy and rent a property, we’ve sat down with Ross Fowler, a director at Keatons with over 20 years of experience in London’s residential lettings industry. Ross has successfully overseen several of Keatons’ East London lettings departments and has a highly respected knowledge of the local housing market. For the best possible guidance and support, he’s your man, and here he shares his wisdom on how to smoothly and skilfully rent your next home.
The Insider: What should tenants be aware of when looking for a new rental property?
Ross Fowler: One of the big things to watch out for is damp. Look out for the visual effects – condensation, or small leaks and water marks – as well as the smell. The landlord might have managed to cosmetically mask the issue but you’ll be able to smell it. It might not be immediately obvious but we would always point it out to tenants.
Also try to get a sense of if there are particularly noisy neighbours and/or heavy traffic. Take your time with the viewing and be realistic, if you’re a light sleeper, for example, a property on an A road might not be for you. Ask if any major works are planned, eg cladding to be replaced, or scheduled on a local authority building. As responsible agents, we always disclose everything to potential tenants.
There is more information on what to ask when viewing a property here.
TI: How can a tenant tell if they’re getting a good deal on a property?
RF: Do your homework and look at similar properties with lets agreed, then make an offer based on that research (if similar properties are available for less money then raise this with the agent and landlord; it’s worth asking the agent if they think it’s fair value).
Try to be as accommodating as possible and make the landlord’s life easy by moving in on the earliest availability date and taking the property as seen, and make sure to read the contract carefully – it should be written in plain English. There is more information here on how to understand tenancy agreements.
TI: What rights do tenants have when something goes wrong in the property?
RF: First, check your contract. Tenants are responsible for such things as replacing light bulbs, using appliances correctly, and are expected to complete minor repairs. If it’s not the tenants’ responsibility then report it as soon as possible to the property manager or landlord, who will investigate it and resolve it.
The landlord is legally required to ensure that the home is fit for human habitation, so that means it has adequate heating, is free of serious damp, has a water supply, and is safe and secure. It’s why we take all the certifications and regulations so seriously.
If you do have an issue, maintain close communication with your landlord and agent for updates. At Keatons, we have a formal complaints procedure but if that doesn’t resolve the issue then lettings agents are required to be a member of the Lettings Ombudsman, who will look into it. Worst-case scenario is you have to seek legal advice from a property lawyer – we can help recommend someone.
TI: What rights do tenants have with regards to price increases and evictions?
RF: The monthly rental price is set in stone in the tenancy agreement for the length of the contract, and any planned increase – in clear figures and on a timescale – would have to be agreed by both the tenant and landlord.
A landlord can’t serve tenants notice for eviction unless the contract allows it. If so, a landlord would issue a section 21 notice to regain ownership of the property, then would re-market the property at a revised market rate.
We’ve got more details on your rights and responsibilities as a tenant here, and more on ending or extending tenancy agreements here.
TI: What are the benefits of renting a property furnished over unfurnished, and vice versa?
RF: If you rent it furnished you’re responsible for keeping the items clean, but if the supplied items break or fail (within reasonable grounds) the landlord is responsible for providing replacements.
Rent a property unfurnished and you can have it exactly how you want, with furniture to fit the age and style of the property.
TI: What does a tenant need to do to make sure they get their deposit back when they move out?
RF: Make sure they’re paid all the rent and bills! Most landlords insist on having the property professionally cleaned before the deposit is returned, but the law has recently been revised and tenants now have the right to simply return the property in the same condition they received it.
As standard, all items provided will still need to be there, and be in working order. Expect appliances to be checked, so make sure you report any issues ASAP otherwise you could be charged for them. Lastly, return all the keys otherwise you may get a bill to change the locks.
TI: Is it ever possible to negotiate on rental terms, and how would you advise going about it?
RF: Terms are usually agreed in advance, and include details on the moving in date, the length of the tenancy, any decoration, furniture requests, and the nuts and bolts of any offer. Being able to negotiate more favourable terms depends on demand and the market circumstances at the time. It’s all driven by market forces – does the property have a garden, how desirable is it, are there any issues?
Make sure you’re comfortable with the offer and can afford it for the length of the contract, as it’s really difficult to change the terms during a fixed period of the contract due to it being legally binding. If you’re experiencing hardship then discuss things with your landlord and/or agent to avoid the issue escalating.
TI: What documents do tenants need to provide to secure a rental property?
RF: Tenants are required to provide a reference from a previous landlord or lettings agency, bank details for a credit check, employment history for the last three years and address history for the last three years. If you’re unable to provide any of this you could be asked to provide a guarantor or pay rent in advance, we’ve got more information about what this means here.
Link to other blogs in series:
#1 Selling your home – all you need to know
#2 Buying a new home – all you need to know
#3 Landlords – all you need to know about renting your property
#4 Tenants – all you need to know about renting your home
#5 All you need to know about how to choose an estate agent