More than 3.5 million Brits live in private rented accommodation and, according to estate agency Savills, this is set to rise to 4.7 million in the next four years.
That’s the fastest rate of growth the UK has ever seen and the rental market is far outpacing the owner-occupier market.
What does this mean?
It means that, in the rush to land the right rental home before someone else bags it, some tenants could be overlooking some important considerations that might cost them in the long run.
So here’s what to check before signing the contract (known as an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement or AST):
-Break clause - is there a 'break clause' to end the tenancy early? And does it work both ways? Sometimes landlords reserve the right to get you out early – but you can't decide to do the same
-Structural repairs - the AST says you have to pay for, or arrange, structural repairs – but these are the landlord's responsibility, not yours
-Interest rates - unpaid rent can carry unreasonable interest rates so read the small print
-Pets and guests - an AST that states you're not allowed to have guests overnight is not one you want to be signing. Equally, if you have pets or you smoke, check for restrictions on this too
-Unplanned visits - does the AST harbour a little clause that permits your landlord to come round whenever they want, without giving notice? It shouldn’t! Contracts that tie you into a gas or electricity supplier, taking your freedom to shop around away, could cost you dear given that energy bills are now likely to be your biggest bill outside the rent itself
-Deposit protection - the letting agent or landlord should have signed up to one of the Government-backed Tenancy Deposit Schemes. If not, you’re taking a big gamble by handing over your initial deposit which is typically around six weeks’ rent or even more if you’re credit rating is compromised
-Check the condition - insist on a detailed inventory and check religiously against every item – take photos on your smartphone if you can as further evidence of what condition furniture or fittings are in and don’t hand over the deposit until the inventory is filled in
If you come up against any of these issues or clauses it’s probably worth contacting the Citizens Advice Bureau to make sure what you are signing up to is fair for all parties.
You also need to make sure you are clued up on any letting agent fees that have your name on them, when they are payable and what they cover. For example, will you be charged for a credit check or to renew your contract if you want to stay on in the property once it’s expired? Letting agents fees are notorious and can vary wildly so be prepared.
And if, at the end of your tenancy, you think your landlord has kept your deposit unfairly, here's what you need to do...
Don’t forget contents insurance
When you bag your rental property, don’t forget to buy contents insurance to protect your belongings.
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