When you enter an assured shorthold tenancy – the most common type – you are entering into a contractual arrangement. This gives you some important rights but also some responsibilities.
This guide will help you to understand what questions to ask, what your rights are, and what responsibilities you have. This will help you create a positive relationship with your landlord, but we also tell you how to get help if things go wrong.
When you rent a home, people sometimes expect you to make a quick decision, or to sign documents before you’ve had time to think about them.
Use the checklist and keep it safe to protect yourself from problems at every stage.
How long do you want the tenancy for? You can ask for a tenancy to be any time between 6 months and 7 years long.
What can you afford? Think about how much rent you can afford to pay: 35% of your take-home pay is the most that many people can afford, but this depends on what your other outgoings are (for example, whether you have children).
If you are on housing benefit or Universal Credit, there is no reason that it should affect your ability to pay rent.
Decide which area you would like to live in and how you are going to look for a rented home. The larger the area where you are prepared to look, the better the chance of finding the right home for you.
Have your documents ready. Landlords and agents will want to confirm your identity, immigration status, credit history and possibly employment status.
Do you have the right to rent property in the UK? Landlords must check that all people aged over 18 living in their property as their only or main home have the right to rent. They will need to make copies of your documents and return your original documents to you.
Will you need a rent guarantee? Some landlords might ask someone to guarantee your rent.
Direct from the landlord
Look for landlords who belong to an accreditation scheme. Your local authority can advise you about accreditation schemes operating in your area.
The National Landlords Association and the Residential Landlords Association run national schemes.
Watch out for scams! Be clear who you are handing money over to, and why.
Find out what fees (and costs) you will be charged and when you need to pay them. By law, a breakdown of all fees should be clearly visible to you in the agent’s office and on their website.
What independent complaints scheme is the agent a member of? Do they offer client money protection? By law, this information should also be clearly visible to you.
Are they accredited through a professional body like ARLA, NALS, RICS or UKALA? This means they have the right protection for their clients’ money, and safeguards you if they go bust or misuse your funds (such as rent payments and your deposit). Look for the SAFEagent sign too.
Questions to ask
Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)
HMOs are usually properties in which unrelated people share facilities such as the kitchen or bathroom.
Large HMOs (more than 2 floors, and more than 4 people) need to be licensed. Check your landlord has done that. In large HMOs, landlords must by law give tenants a statement of the terms on which they live in the property.
The landlord must provide you with:
If your landlord doesn’t provide these, they can’t evict you until they do.
The landlord should provide you with:
The tenant must:
And also you, the tenant, should:
The landlord must: Maintain the structure and exterior of the property.
And also the landlord should:
If you want to stay
Should you wish to extend your tenancy after any initial fixed period, there are a number of important issues to consider. Check Shelter’s website for advice.
Do you want to sign up to a new fixed term?
There may be costs for this, particularly if you rent through an agent. If not, you will be on a ‘rolling periodic tenancy’. This means you carry on as before but with no fixed term – you can leave at any time by giving one month’s notice. Or your landlord can end the contract at two months’ notice.
Your landlord might want to increase your rent
Your landlord can increase your rent by agreement, or as set out in your tenancy agreement, or by following a procedure set out in law.
If you or the landlord want to end the tenancy
There are things that both landlords and tenants must do at the end of the tenancy:
It is a legal requirement for landlords to give you proper notice if they want you to leave. Normally, the landlord must allow any fixed period of the tenancy to have expired, and they must have given at least two months’ notice.
Your tenancy agreement should say how much notice you must give the landlord if you want to leave the property – one month’s notice is typical.
Try to be present when the property is inspected to check whether any of the tenancy deposit should be deducted to cover damage or cleaning costs (a ‘check-out inventory’). If you do not agree with proposed deductions contact the relevant deposit protection scheme.
Make sure that your rent payments are up to date. Do not keep back rent because you think that it will be taken out of the deposit.
Do not leave bills unpaid. This might have an impact on your references and credit rating.
Remove all your possessions, clean the house, take meter readings, return all the keys and give a forwarding address. The landlord is entitled to dispose of possessions left in the property after, typically, 14 days.
There are often legal protections in place for the most common problems that you may experience during the tenancy – the following links will tell you what they are or where to look for help:
If you are having financial problems, or are falling into rent arrears, speak to your landlord as they may be helpful, and are likely to be more sympathetic if you talk to them about any difficulties early on. Should you need further help contact Citizens Advice or Shelter as soon as possible.
If the property is in an unsafe condition and your landlord won’t repair it – contact your local authority. They have powers to make landlords deal with serious health and safety hazards.
If you have a serious complaint that has been checked by your local authority, your landlord cannot evict you for six months, and must repair the fault.
Unannounced visits and harassment from your landlord – contact your local authority, or if more urgent dial 999.
If you are being forced out illegally, contact the police. If your landlord wants you to leave the property, they must notify you in writing, with the right amount of notice – you can only be legally removed from the property with a court order.