Sunday, 22 January 2012

good advice & where to go for help

It's all very well thinking about how to feather your rented nest, but lets not forget the day to day practicalities and responsibilities of renting. While renting has its upsides (someone else is responsible for sorting out the leaking roof or the boiler that won't come on all of a sudden) you are also heavily reliant on having a responsible landlord and a decent agent. Having both (if you do indeed deal with a managing agent) is a dream, having one is manageable, having neither can turn into a nightmare. Throw in the landlords cowboy builder mate and you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle. Having been in the uphill battle myself recently I was searching the internet for advice so I thought I would share some interesting and useful links and a bit of advice.

This may sound obvious but in the rush and stress of finding a home and moving, make sure you read your tenancy agreement thoroughly. Ask for anything you want to be amended to be included in writing. If you have  verbal agreement for an arrangement that differs from your contract, this means nothing. If your agreement says no pets for example, but your landlord is OK with you having a cat, make sure it's in the agreement you sign. It makes sense to protect yourself should the landlord try to change his mind at a later date.

Image source: Brendan Bilson Training
Make sure you are happy with everything in the agreement, including your responsibilities as a tenant, the break clause (six months is standard) and make sure you have the correct contact details for either the landlord or the letting agent should you need to contact them in an emergency.

The Citizens Advice Bureau have an excellent page with advice on renting from a private landlord here. There's also an advice page about one of the most common problems renters face, namely getting the landlord to carry out repairs. Well worth a read, here.

I also found some great advice in a surprising place. Until recently I thought Shelter was a homeless charity, but as I've learnt it's also a housing charity. They have a helpful list of tenants responsibilities, which is essential reading. I always think the best form of attack in these cases is defense. Know your responsibilities and be a good tenant, you'll have more leverage with your landlord if you do, and if the worst comes to the worst and you have to take things further, it will help your case greatly if you are squeaky clean. I think one of they key points here, is that no matter how difficult the situation is, withholding your rent is not an option. If you do so, the landlord can start proceedings to evict you and you will lose the upper hand in any negotiations. Both sites have good information about how to escalate matters if you are unhappy at the quality or timescale of repairs while staying within the law. The 'negotiating with your landlord' section from this CAB page is particularly good.

It's important to know what your responsibilities are as a tenant. Just as you can hold your landlord accountable if he fails to uphold his responsibilities, so he/she can hold you accountable for not upholding yours. 

It's also worth checking your contents insurance, as although all your possessions will be covered, you may find that damage to the fitted carpet (which belongs to your landlord) is not. Always read the small print, or ask if things like this are specifically covered at the time you get your quote. Endsleigh are a good example of a company offering good cover, not only of your landlords furniture should you damage it by accident, but they also provide insurance for sharers.

Being a good tenant and doing your best to maintain a good relationship with your landlord also means that you're more likely to be able to negotiate things like doing a bit of decorating or having an input on any changes your landlord makes to the property.

The Shelter site also clearly explains what the landlords responsibilities are, it's good to know what you can ask for and you have the proof to back it up if the landlord is not cooperating. Keep copies of any correspondence or e-mails you send to your landlord or agent, and make a note of the date and times of any phone calls and who you spoke to. Not only will this help you to keep track of things, it's all evidence of what has been said and by whom.

Remember that the landlord is responsible for ensuring the property is safe and this includes ensuring the gas safely check is carried out. I always make a note in my diary of when it's due, as more often that not it's me that ends up having to remind the agent that it's due. 

Hopefully, any issues you face as a renter will be small, or resolvable by visiting some of the useful sites below and negotiating with your landlord. If you are facing a more complicated situation and can't find specific advice, or if you want to speak to someone face to face, it's worth checking out either your local Citizens Advice Bureau or your local law centre who can advise on a case by case basis.  

Other useful sites:

Law Centres -A complete list of law centres around the country who can help with housing issues.

DirectGov - Explains deposits, types of agreement and how to deal with issues like rent arrears and disputes. Also see this link on deposit protection schemes.

PrimeLocation - Good information about the process of taking on a property and what to expect in terms of deposits and inventory checks.

HSE -Extensive advice on gas safety.

Property Investment Project - Amusing site/blog by a landlord, but with some surprisingly good advice for tenants.

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