Most of us will rent at one time or another. Although it is often for the short term rather than the long term, there are various factors that can make or break the experience.

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 tooth comb 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 whole of the rental agreement and not just the bricks and mortar.

Here are some top tips to ensure you have a happy rental. For more information on how to rent, the Government has issued an easy-to-read guide, which can be downloaded here.

1. Research

Before you start the process work out what you can afford. It's not just a case of the monthly payments. You can expect an agent, acting on behalf of the landlord, to ask for a deposit - typically one month's rent as well as 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 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 may move your worldly belonging from your current home to your new one. You may need to store some items which is when the costs can start to mount.

3. Terms and conditions

Make sure you look at the obligations of both landlord and tenant such as upkeep and maintenance of the property, respective liabilities, renewal processes and costs and query anything with the agent by email so you have a record.

4. Maintenance of the property

Make sure you're aware where the responsibilities lie. Who will react to any maintenance? If you think the property needs some maintenance, make sure you request for it to be done before you sign, or at the very least ask for it to be written into the contract. Alternatively, perhaps negotiate less rent until the issues are resolved.

Items often overlooked include the boiler and 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 and taking out a new contract so don't be caught out and ask the questions up front.

6. Utilities and services

Look at who is providing the utilities and what the process is to take over these services. Perhaps you may be able to ask the agent to speak to the landlord or existing tenants to ensure the services are still running thereby avoiding any reconnection fees.

7. Break clause

Check if there is a break clause. It's important to understand that it can be activated by both the tenant and the landlord. You don't want to be caught out with a week's notice. A month is the standard notice time for both tenant or landlord, but these will vary.

8. Tenant deposit protection schemes

Tenancy deposit protection (TDP) schemes ensure that money paid by tenants (as deposits) is kept safe. Landlords must use one of three government approved schemes. Whilst the letting agent may take the money, it is the landlord's responsibility so make sure you receive proof 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 is usually just his/her belongings. Check what it covers. At the very least it should cover the building. As with most of our advice it pays to find out the answers before signing your contract.

10. Inventory and moving in

Go through the inventory thoroughly. It should schedule what is the landlord's property and will be used at the end of the tenancy to attribute responsibility for any damage and ultimately, who should pay for the replacement costs. This is where many tenant disputes originate. Don't be afraid to take pictures of walls, rooms, carpets and so on to record the state of them as 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 advise from a qualified professional.

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