Landlords! Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re a necessary evil if you’re going to rent a property in London. And when you’re in a new country, what might seem obvious to locals might be totally different to what you’re used to at home.
In the UK, tenants are well protected by law, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your homework before you sign on the dotted line.
Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. So understanding how to deal with landlords before you sign an agreement is vital. As a tenant, you legally have certain rights, and you should be aware of these in order to be able to deal with your landlord when it comes to certain issues. The following are five things you should know about renting a property in London.
1. Choose your landlord with care
Whether you’re renting directly from the landlord or through a letting agency, you should be provided with an assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement. This is the legal agreement between you and the landlord, and you should read it carefully before signing.
Legally this can be made either in writing or verbally. However, a verbal agreement is far more difficult to prove, so the only viable option is to have a written one.
If you’re renting through a letting agent, ensure they are registered with the Association of Residential Letting Agents.
2. Know your rights as a tenant
Sadly, there are a few rogue landlords and letting agents around, and they might not be too good at letting you know your rights. For instance:
- A landlord has to provide you with at least 24 hours notice before they visit your property. So they can’t just turn up out of the blue and expect to come in. They also need a valid reason for entering the property, such as an inspection at a pre-agreed time, or to carry out some maintenance.
- Rent can only be raised at certain times, not on a whim. It depends on the type of tenancy agreement you have, but on rolling term contract (month by month), it can’t normally be raised more than once a year. On a fixed term agreement the rent can only be raised during the term, along with your agreement. If you don’t agree, then the landlord can’t raise the rent until the end of the fixed term.
- The landlord must keep the property in a safe manner for you to live. This includes being in good repair, with sufficient lighting, heating and ventilation. The property should also have sufficient locks and security. It’s also the landlord’s responsibility to carry out annual checks on boiler and gas safety.
3. Your deposit should be placed in a government approved tenancy deposit protection scheme
By law a landlord cannot keep your deposit himself. It mush be placed in a government backed tenancy deposit scheme. This has been law in the UK since 2007. You should receive confirmation from the scheme to say that your money has been placed with them.
Do not accept a landlord’s word that this has been done – you need the paperwork as proof. At the end of your tenancy, the landlord has a legal obligation to return your deposit within 10 days of both parties agreeing the amount to be returned.
4. You can only be evicted within the terms of the tenancy agreement
These terms should be set out in your tenancy agreement. In many cases this will mean your landlord has to get a court order to evict you. It’s against the law for a landlord to force you to leave, or to enter the property whilst you’re out and pack up your things. They are not allowed to harass you in order to get you to leave the property.
5. Understand your responsibilities as a tenant
- Paying your rent in full and on time. Rent is usually paid a month in advance.
- Pay all the utility bills and other bills associated with the property, such as Council Tax.
- Act in a manner that ensures you respect your neighbours.
- Tell your landlord if you’re going to be away for more than 14 days at a time.
- Ensure the property is kept secure at all times, and don’t give keys to anyone who doesn’t live at the property.
- Carry out basic maintenance, such as replace smoke alarm batteries, light bulbs etc.
- Do not alter the property in any way, such as re-decorating, without written permission from your landlord.
- Inform the landlord should something need repairing.
- In general, keep the property in good order
Of course, with the best will in the world, sometimes communications between a tenant and a landlord can break down. In such cases, there are places you can go to for help. These include Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, who can advise on many different aspects of renting, and Gov.UK gives detailed guidelines on how landlords should operate.
On moving in day, ensure that you check the property thoroughly from top to bottom. If you spot any damage, ensure that you let the landlord (or agent) know, and that it’s put down in writing. For added security, take photographs of any damage as well.
The majority of people renting a property have a stress-free time, and a good relationship with their landlord. But being aware of your rights before anything goes wrong can save a lot of potential heartache in the future.
One other thing to ensure you understand is whether or not your lease will automatically renew. Some do, some don’t – it will all be in the small print on your contract. Also make sure that you understand any lease termination policies, and how much notice you need to give when you want to give up your lease.