With such a large amount of people renting in the UK, it is important to remain aware of everything tenants need to know before signing a tenancy agreement.
It is important for the tenant to be fully aware of everything around the property, before moving in. Check the surroundings; is there a school near, or a nightclub? What can you hear?
Head of Consumer Research at the Citizens Advice Bureau, James Plunkett, says: “It is up to the tenant to do their own research and inspect the dwelling and surrounding area before they sign the agreement and move in.”
Plunkett advises: “Bring up pets early in negotiations with your prospective landlord.
“If the landlord does not want pets at the address, then the tenants should look elsewhere. Having a pet in breach of a tenancy agreement that prohibits pets will generally lead to a possession action and eviction further down the line.”
Tenants are advised to inspect the white goods in the rental property, and report any faults immediately after moving in.
“If white goods are including in the inventory on the agreement, then the tenant should visually inspect them and get the landlord to confirm in writing that they all work satisfactorily,” says Plunkett. “The tenant should seek clarification in writing as to whether the landlord agrees to repair or replace said items if they break down.”
He continues: “Responsibility will be determined purely by evidence of what has been agreed between the parties so it’s important to get these agreements in writing.”
Prospective tenants should test the water, taps and the shower, when they first look around a property. If there is a water pressure issue, then they can negotiate with the landlord before signing the contract.
Plunkett warns: “If the tenant does not comprehensively inspect the property before entering into the agreement, they may not be able to resolve these problems later.”
However, in some cases, adequate water pressure may be a landlord’s legal obligation.
There are two things to look for in the contract to determine if it includes a release clause.
A break clause means a “fixed-term tenancy can be ended at six months,” explains Plunkett.
Tenants should read the exact wording however, to determine any conditions: “For example, that there are no existing rent arrears when the tenant wants to activate the clause.”
A release clause is very similar, however, it may involve the tenant “paying a fee to release themselves from the agreement at any time,” says Plunkett.
The tenant may also have to find someone to replace them.
If there are any tasks that the tenant requires before moving in, for example repainting walls, then they should be completed before moving into the property.
Plunkett explains: “The tenant can ask the landlord to do this, i.e. clean and repaint the house before you move in, but they can’t compel a landlord to do anything before a tenancy agreement is set up.”
The most important thing to remember is that these tasks should be complete before the agreement is signed and any money is paid.
“It is not uncommon for tenants to assert that promises of this kind have been broken,” says Plunkett. “And because tenants usually can’t supply evidence of the agreement, they are still liable for their tenancy and rent.”
Tenants should make the request, form an agreement, and have the task completed before making a payment.
Tenants should make a note of any defects in the property when looking through the inventory. It is also advised that photographs are taken.
Plunkett says: “Give a copy of the amended inventory to the landlord, keeping a copy for yourself.”
If the landlord has not provided an inventory, the tenant can prepare their own, and ask the landlord to sign it. Otherwise, photographs should be taken, and an independent witness should sign the document.
Payments in advance
There is no generic amount of rent to pay in advance. Landlords typically require one month’s rent in advance, however, it can be more.
The deposit amount is also at the landlord’s discretion.
Plunkett explains: “Usually landlords ask for the equivalent to one month’s rent as a deposit, but some ask for more or less than that; six weeks’ rent is also common. Some landlords do not ask for a deposit to be paid at all.”
Despite having a stable job, tenants may still need a guarantor. There is not a set income threshold to avoid having a guarantor.
“A lot of landlords insist on guarantors before any tenancy can be agreed, particularly if they feel that the tenant is on a low income,” says Plunkett. “The decision on insisting on a guarantor is down to the landlord’s perception of the risk of the tenant having difficulties paying the rent.”
Terms and conditions
If there are terms and conditions that the tenant does not agree with, these can be challenged, but it best to do this before the tenancy agreement is signed.
This can include the landlord’s repair obligations: “Many repair obligations are legal requirements, but the landlord might agree to additional repairs under the tenancy agreement.
“If the landlord will not change the disputed term or condition, the tenant should not enter into the tenancy.”
It is a legal requirement for landlords to protect their tenant’s deposit in a deposit protection scheme.
If deposits are taken, or carried over, they must be protected in a Government-approved tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days.
The three in England and Wales are: Deposit Protection Service (Custodial and Insured), mydeposits, and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDP).
Timing is important: “Failure to protect the deposit within the set time limits means that the tenant can potentially take action by applying to court for an order.
“The order can force the landlord to either return the deposit or protect it in a scheme, and can also fine the landlord up to three times the amount of the deposit, to be paid to the tenant.”
Plunkett explains that if the landlord does not protect the deposit within 30 days, they cannot serve notice to end the tenancy, unless:
- They return the full deposit to the tenant.
- They return a lesser amount of the deposit, with the tenant’s approval.
- A compensation claim by the tenant for non-compliance has been awarded or dismissed by the court, or withdrawn by the tenant, or settled.
If the tenancy is in a written fixed-term, for example one year, then legally, the rent cannot be increased without the tenant’s consent.
If the tenancy is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), the rent can only be increased by one of three methods:
- The landlord suggests a rent increase and the tenant agrees to it.
- The written tenancy agreement states an allowance for rent increases, by a distinct formula, for example the rent rises by 5% every six months.
- The landlord uses a statutory procedure to raise the rent. In this situation, the tenant should seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau. A tenant can contest a rent increase this way, by appealing to the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).
Renting a room
Even if the tenant only moves into a room in a house, rather than the whole property, they still have the same rights.
Plunkett explains: “A tenant in shared accommodation with other tenants and no residential landlord will have the same rights as any other AST tenant.
“They may have a sole tenancy in their name only, or could be on a joint tenancy with the other tenants.
However, things are different if the tenant’s name is not on the lease: “If a person is living with other tenants and they are not on the tenancy agreement, they will be known as an excluded occupier living at the accommodation with the permission of the other tenants, who have exclusive occupation of the whole dwelling.
“Tenants in this situation do not have any liability for rent arrears to the landlord, but they could be removed from the accommodation by the other tenants without any need for a court order.”
Plunkett says: “In England and Wales, an agency can charge an unlimited fee once a client has signed a contract to accept the tenancy.
“Most agencies that do charge fees will expect to be paid the equivalent of one or two weeks’ rent plus VAT. The agency can ask the client to sign an agreement promising to pay this fee and when the agency has found suitable accommodation and the client accepts it. This request is legal only if no money is paid by the client before they agree to take the property.
“In England and Wales, an agency is also allowed to charge a client for extra services it provides, but only if the client requests these services or agrees to the agency supplying them.
“For example, an agency may negotiate the terms of a tenancy agreement with a prospective landlord, draw up the agreement, and compile an inventory. The agency can ask the client to pay for this, whether or not the client finally takes up the tenancy.”
If a tenant believes they have been charged illegal fees, they should seek the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Plunkett advises: “There is no legal requirement for an inventory or survey, or even for a written tenancy agreement, so it is important tenants request these things if they are not provided.”1
The landlord must provide a gas safety certificate, and the landlord or agency must also deliver in writing the name, address, and contact details of the landlord if requested.
As a final warning, tenants are reminded to always read the tenancy agreement thoroughly.