Phil Spencer gives his advice on how to avoid the potential pitfalls of renting.

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Before contemplating whether to buy a property or rent a property, it is vital to do as much research as possible and consider whether the long-term financial commitment of home-ownership is for you or whether renting would better suit your lifestyle. There are a number of elements that need to be taken into account. This month I am going to explore the things to bear in mind when renting a property and next month I’ll focus on buying.

Most of us will rent at some point in our property journey. Although renting is often seen as a short-term or temporary solution before getting on the property ladder, for some it will be a long-term lifestyle choice. When renting, there are various factors that can make or break enjoyment of a property.

Tenants face a multitude of potential pitfalls when it comes to finding the right property, just as prospective buyers do. It’s important to go through the all the elements with a fine toothcomb to make sure you’re clear where the responsibilities lie.

A tenancy agreement is legally binding, and while landlords may make allowances beyond what is in the paperwork, they can also use it to enforce the law rigidly. So make sure you’re happy with the rental agreement and not just the bricks and mortar!

Here are some top tips to ensure you have a happy rental.

1. Research

Before you start the process work out what you can afford. It’s not just a case of the monthly rental payments. You can expect to typically have to come up with a deposit of at least one-month’s rent as well as paying one month in advance. When you know your budget, make sure you thoroughly research the area as well as what is available to rent. A good place to start is the to rent section on Zoopla.

2. Hidden costs

The agent, working on behalf of the landlord, will probably ask you to pay for a credit search and other admin fees which could be in the region of £40-£100. Make sure you also consider how you will move your worldly belongings from your current property to your new one and the costs involved. You may also need to store some items, which is when the costs can start to mount.

3. Terms & Conditions

It is essential that you go through these with a fine tooth comb and understand all your obligations and those of your landlord such as upkeep and maintenance of the property, respective liabilities, renewal processes and costs. When raising and queries it is always helpful to do so via email, so that you have a record.

4. Maintenance of the property

Make sure you’re aware where the responsibilities lie. Who will react to any maintenance issues? If you think the property needs any work before you move in, make sure you request it to be done before you sign, or at the very least ask for it to be written into the contract with an agreed completion date or perhaps negotiate less rent until the issues is resolved. Often overlooked are the boiler and the windows. In summer these are rarely an issue but a few months later, when the temperature drops, you want to make sure you have a fully working boiler, so ask to see any maintenance certificates. Similarly if you’re starting you’re rental in winter a few months later when summer is here, you don’t want to find that the windows don’t open!

5. Renewal costs

Some agents will charge renewal costs for extending / taking out a new contract so ask the questions and make sure you understand the liabilities up front so you are not caught out down the line.

6. Utilities/Services

Look at who is providing the utilities and what the process is to take over these services. Try to ensure where possible that the services are all still running thereby avoiding set up and/or and reconnection fees.

7. Break clause

Check if there is a break clause. It’s important to understand whether it can be activated by either the tenant or the landlord. You don’t want to be caught out with a week’s notice! A month or longer is the standard notice period for both the tenant and landlord, but these periods can vary.

8. Insurance/Tenant Deposit Scheme

Tenancy deposit protection (TDP) schemes ensure that money paid by tenants (as deposits) is kept safe. Landlords must use a government approved scheme. Whilst the letting agent may process the deposit finds, it is the Landlord’s responsibility to ensure that the funds are held in such a scheme and you will want to see evidence that that this has happened.

9. Insurance

Is the landlord insuring the contents or is it your responsibility as the tenant? It is unlikely the landlord will pay for all contents and more likely that they will cover any items of furniture that they leave at the property. Check what is covered. At the very least the landlord’s policy should cover the building. As with most advice it pays to find out the answers before signing your contract.

10. Inventory/moving in

Go through the inventory thoroughly. It should schedule what is the landlord’s property and it will be used at the end of the tenancy to attribute responsibility for any loss or damage and ultimately, who should pay for the replacement costs. This is where many tenant disputes arise. Don’t be afraid to take pictures of walls, rooms, carpets, etc. to record the state of them when you move in. If you do this make sure you email them to the agent so they can be kept on file.

Some information contained herein may have changed since it was first published. Zoopla strongly advises you to seek current legal and/or financial advice from a qualified professional.

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