Renting for the first time: Your questions answered

News at EastHaus | 22/08/2017

All you need to know about renting a property

In London, it is estimated that renters outnumber homeowners and this is set to remain a trend for the foreseeable future. 

So, if you are a first-time renter, how can you ensure that you are getting the best deal for your monthly money? What should you be looking for in a rental property? 

At Easthaus, residential lettings make up a significant proportion of our work, both for landlords and prospective tenants. We’ve put together a handy guide for all of you searching for your first rental properties, what you should know and what to avoid. 

How much will it cost me?

Before you even start your property search, it is vital to get your finances in order. There is more to consider than just the monthly rent. 

Of course, the first place to start is to work out what you can afford per month. This figure not only needs to account for your rent, but for bills such as council tax and utilities, a TV licence as well as insurance. 

Bear in mind, you will also need to pay a deposit (which usually equates to six weeks’ rent), plus your first month’s rent up front. You will also need to pay for a reference report which acts as basic background check as well as any administration costs.  

What information will I have to provide to the landlord?

When renting a property, you need to show that you have the right to rent in England. In fact, your landlord has a legal ‘Right to Rent’ check, which is guidance from the government detailing what they need to know before renting their property to you. 

Click here for further information on the type of identity documents you may be required to provide. 

If you have been living elsewhere in the last three years you may also be asked to provide details of your previous address and/or a reference. 

As well as providing your bank details (bank name, account number and sort code) your landlord or their letting agent will undertake a credit check. They may also request details of your employer, job title, payroll number, salary and so on. 

All this information is required so that the landlord can make a fully informed decision in regards to the likelihood of them receiving their rent on time and in full. Where they consider any information to pose a potential risk, then you may be asked to provide a guarantor. A guarantor will be contractually liable, both financially and legally, should you fail to pay the rent during your tenancy or in the event of damage to the property.

When should I start looking?

Decide on the area that you want to live in and start your search online or by meeting local letting agents. 

Give yourself a minimum of four weeks to find the right rental property. Any less, and you risk not finding something in time. Many landlords look to fill their vacant properties as soon as possible, so if you spot something you like you’ll need to start the process rolling as soon as possible to avoid losing it. 

What insurance do I need?

Insurance protects you and what’s yours, so it is essential to have the right cover from the onset of your tenancy agreement. 

Tenant’s insurance cover protects your possessions from flood and fire damage as well as theft. It gives you slightly more cover than standard contents insurance although it is not mandatory and you can just opt for a standard contents policy. 

It is your landlord’s responsibility to have a comprehensive buildings insurance policy. This means that they hold responsibility for any problems with the structure of the property and any internal fixtures. For example, if there is a leak or a crack in the wall, it is up to them to resolve the issue. 

What happens to my deposit?

By law, your deposit must be put in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme. These schemes ensure that once you leave the property you get your deposit back if you have fully complied with the tenancy agreement, if you have left the property undamaged and if you have paid your rent and bills on time. The tenancy deposit scheme also helps to resolve any disputes around the return of a deposit. 

There are various tenancy deposit schemes your landlord might be registered with, but it is always wise to ask before signing any agreement. The government’s rules and regulations regarding tenancy deposits are designed to protect both the tenant and landlord’s interests. 

How long will my tenancy be for? 

A standard term for an initial tenancy agreement is usually a minimum of 12 months but the length can be negotiable.

What is a check in and check out inventory?

Also known as a tenancy inventory, this sets out the contents of a property as well as the condition of the property itself. An identical inventory is used when you move in and when you move out of the rental property to ensure no damage has been incurred or that you as a tenant are not blamed for pre-existing problems. 

The inventory check is an essential stage of moving in and then out of a rental property because if there are any deposit disputes, it is this document that will be most significant.

Also, a top tip as a new tenant is to take meter readings when you move in and move out so you don’t end up paying for a previous tenant’s bills or incur charges once you leave.  

Who is responsible for repairs?

Your landlord is responsible for the building’s structure and internal fixtures, this Government Guide details exactly what that includes.  

If you believe repairs are needed, make sure to contact the landlord or agent straight away. 

The landlord must also ensure there are smoke alarms on every floor and carbon monoxide alarms in rooms heated by coal or wood. They are also responsible for arranging an annual gas safety check. 

Can I decorate or make changes to the property?

This will be set out in your tenancy agreement. If you really want to put your personal touches on a property, such as painting the walls, then only do so if you have had express permission from the landlord. They may allow you to change things up but could require you to return the premises to their original condition on moving out. Alternately, if you are a long-term tenant and have a good relationship with the landlord they may be entirely happy for you to make decorative changes. Either way, always check before starting any DIY projects that affect the actual property. 

What should the landlord provide once I move in?

There are a number of documents you should receive once you have moved into a rental property. First and foremost is the tenancy agreement, which sets out your rights and responsibilities and your landlord’s rights and responsibilities. 

On moving in, you should also receive any paperwork to do with your deposit, a gas safety certificate and the Energy Performance Certificate. You should also be provided with any electrical inspection reports.  

Who is responsible for bills such as electricity, gas, water and council tax?

This is normally your responsibility as the tenant, however some landlords incorporate utility bills into the monthly rent. Make sure you know what your responsibilities are by reading through the tenancy agreement. 

You will need to register your details with the relevant fuel providers as well as with the Local Authority. Also, do not forget to get a TV license as you may incur a fine without one. 

Can I have pets?

Always check with your landlord prior to signing any agreement whether you are allowed to have a pet. You’ll find that many landlords stipulate this very clearly in the agreement, but once you’ve signed it might be too late for your beloved cat or dog to move in with you.

For more information on renting, check out our step by step guide 'how to rent a property' to help you understand the timeline of events from starting your search to moving in.