1. Get contents cover as soon as you move in
If you rent, your landlord is responsible for buildings insurance, so you should only be getting contents cover (ask yourself: would it fall out if the house was turned upside down?)
As building insurance generally covers the building itself, this is usually the property owner’s responsibility. Generally, this means you’re unlikely to need building insurance if you’re renting. There may be exceptions (eg, if the contract says you need buildings insurance) – check with your landlord if you’re unsure. How to get the cheapest contents cover will vary depending on whether you’re house sharing or not.
If you’re in a houseshare: getting cover from mainstream insurers can be tricky (a locked room helps, so ask for one). Comparison sites Confused.com*, Gocompare*, MoneySupermarket* and Compare The Market* say they provide flatshare quotes, but double-check the policy allows it. You may need to find a specialist such as Home Protect* or a local broker via BIBA .
If you’re in a houseshare, always let your insurers know you live with others and not on your own, otherwise you could risk invalidating your insurance.
If you’re renting shared accommodation, e.g. in uni halls, your insurance won’t cover you for theft unless there’s been a violent or forced entry. So always make sure you lock your room’s door when you leave, even if you’re just popping out briefly.
If you’re in a house share that doesn’t have locks on each room, be aware this may adversely affect any home insurance claims. As there won’t be any signs of forced entry (someone could just walk into your room!) they may not pay out.
2 Is your deposit protected?
Under the law in England and Wales, if you’ve an assured shorthold tenancy (the most common type of private tenancy agreement) that started on or after 6 April 2007, your landlord must put your deposit in a Government-backed protection scheme within 30 days of getting it.
If it doesn’t, a court can order them to pay you a penalty of one to three times the deposit (though generally this is rare).
An approved tenancy deposit protection scheme will ensure your deposit is returned to you, provided you’ve met the terms of the tenancy agreement, you’ve paid your rent and bills, and you don’t cause property damage.
If you agree with your landlord how much deposit you’ll get back, it has to be returned to you within 10 days of the tenancy ending.
If you find your deposit was eligible for the scheme so should have been protected, but your landlord hasn’t done so, you can apply to a county court.
It can order your deposit to be repaid, or paid into an official tenancy deposit protection scheme. Plus it may also order the landlord to pay you up to three times the deposit’s value. See Gov.uk, NI Direct or the Scottish Government.
3. You have a right to switch energy supplier- even if renting
Don’t just stick with the previous tenant’s gas or electricity supplier. Those on energy providers’ standard tariffs can save up to £300 a year by switching. It’s often possible to do this even if you’re renting, as you don’t need to own the property to do it.
When renting, you’re free to switch providing you pay the energy company directly (rather than your landlord).
You should also check your tenancy agreement – but even if your contract bans switching, Ofgem’s guidance on this states that if you pay the energy bill, you’re still entitled to change supplier at any time. See below for help.
Even if your tenancy agreement says you can’t switch, challenge it. To do this, first discuss it with your landlord. Yet if they refuse, preventing a tenant from changing energy suppliers may be viewed as an unfair term in a tenancy agreement, so get in touch with Citizens Advice to see if it can help.
Ofgem’s guidance states: “If a tenant is directly responsible for paying the gas and/or electricity bills, they have the right to choose their own energy supplier and the landlord or letting agent should not unreasonably prevent this.” See the Ofgem website for more.
4. Can I switch a prepaid gas or electricity meter?
You can still switch your supplier to save money if you rent a property, providing you pay the energy company directly (check your tenancy agreement too – though if it says you can’t switch, seek advice).
If you want to change the meter itself (perhaps you’re changing a prepaid to a credit meter), then it’s best to get written permission from your landlord first.
This is because it could be seen as a changing the property from its original condition, unless you arrange to change the meter back at the end of the tenancy. The supplier may charge to do this, so check first.
5. FREE sofas, beds, TVs, fridges and stuff
Instead of dumping goods or selling them, people offer them to their local communities. The environment benefits as unwanted items aren’t flung into landfills. Of course, there is some rubbish. But there’s also top-quality stuff people just don’t use anymore.
6. Tips to help ensure you get your deposit back
- Check your contract. Dig this out and give it another read. Does it say the carpets need to be deep cleaned, or that all picture hooks need to be removed and filled in? If so, make sure these are sorted.
- Mend any damage. Do it properly – covering up a hole in the wall with a picture may seem like a good idea at the time, but leaving it like this when you move out is practically asking for your deposit to be docked.
- Ensure nothing’s missing or broken. Check the inventory thoroughly to make sure everything’s as it should be, and replace or fix as needed.
- Take photos as proof you’ve left it in good order. These could be useful evidence later if a dispute arises over your deposit.
- Have a proper deep clean. Get a scrupulous friend or family member to check the place over to check there’s nothing you’ve missed, and remove all rubbish.
If your tenancy agreement states you must get the property professionally cleaned, you may have to provide receipts to prove you’ve done it, though whether this may be an unfair contract term is a grey area.
7. Rent payments are scheduled to go on credit files
In March 2012 it was announced rent payments could appear on your Experian credit file by the end of that year, though this has been delayed. This means whether you’re on time or late paying rent, it could start to affect your ability to get credit.
The potentially positive impact is that consistently punctual rent payments will appear, boosting your credit history.
- You won’t be linked to flatmates. Originally Experian planned to financially link flatmates who had a shared tenancy agreement. However, this plan has changed.
- Who will this apply to? This won’t be automatically in all contracts. Landlords must insert it. It’s believed many ‘amateur’ landlords are unlikely to do it, certainly to begin with. For now, it’ll only apply to private rentals.
- Why is Experian doing this? It will open up a new income stream for the credit reference agency, as soon landlords will be able to pay to search credit files before deciding to rent out a property to someone.
- Who can see what? Rent payments will soon sit on your credit file, in a separate section to mortgage, loan or credit card history. Landlords will be able to see rent-paying history to judge potential tenants, but not the rest.
Some landlords already check a list of those who often miss payments, but this will be the first full-scale sharing of rent payment data. Banks and other lenders will be able to see your complete history.
8. Warning – joint accounts with flatmates can affect your credit rating
Credit scoring is a system used by lenders to check how financially attractive you are to them, using your past actions to predict your future behaviour. Yet if you’re ‘financially linked’ to someone on any financial product, it can have an impact. Even just a joint bills account with flat-sharers can mean you are co-scored.
It’s technically possible joint utility bills could be reported on credit files, but current practice is not to do so.
However if there are two (or more) names on a utility bill, and there’s a default, it’s likely to be reported on both (or all) credit records. If there’s no default or other problems, most utility companies don’t report this.
If you move out from flatmates who you had joint finances with, once the accounts are separated or no longer active, always write to the credit reference agencies and ask for a notice of ‘disassociation’, to stop their credit history affecting yours in future.
9.Your landlord should ask before entering
When you rent a property, you landlord may well need to come in from time to time for repairs, as well as to inspect the property.
If your landlord wants to inspect the property, they should give you notice and arrange a time with you first. As a general rule, they should give you at least 24 hours notice unless it’s an emergency- check your tenancy agreement, as the amount of notice may be stated in it.
So if your landlord or letting agent comes in without asking you, you’ve a right to ask them to stop. If they continue to enter without permission, this could be considered as harassment, and is a criminal offence. See the Shelter website for more information or get advice.
10. Do you know where your stopcock is?
Your mains water tap, or stopcock, is the off-switch for all the water in your home. With luck you’ll never need to use it. But if you don’t know where it is and a pipe bursts, you’ll be powerless to stop it flooding your home.
If you don’t know where yours is, check NOW. It could be under the kitchen sink, by the boiler, in the airing cupboard or elsewhere in the property. If you don’t know where it is, ask your landlord to show you.
11. Vet the landlord
If a prospective landlord strikes you as unreliable or unreasonable (eg, they turn up an hour late), think twice. After all, it’s easier to walk away now than be stuck with a landlord who won’t carry out essential maintenance and repairs as needed – or worse.
Renting direct from a landlord: Don’t hand over any cash until you’ve got the landlord’s full name and a contact address in the UK for them. If you’re concerned, you can check who owns a property via the Land Registry website (costs £3).
Renting via a letting agent: This is a firm that rents out properties on behalf of the landlord. Check they’re a member of a professional body such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents, National Approved Lettings Scheme, UK Association of Letting Agents or National Association of Estate Agents.
12. Do you need your own TV licence?
If you rent, whether an entire property or a room in a shared property, you must be covered by a valid TV licence to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV.
Usually you’ll have to organise this yourself (or between yourselves if in a shared house). If you live in self-contained accommodation, such as a separate flat or annexe, you’ll need your own separate licence.
If you’re a lodger and have a relationship with the homeowner (a family member, partner, nanny, au pair, housekeeper, etc), you’ll be covered by the homeowner’s TV licence, provided you live in the same building.
But if you’re a lodger and you have a separate tenancy agreement for your room, you’ll need your own TV licence. For more information, see TV Licensing.
13. Always check for letting agency fees
If you rent a property with a letting agent, ensure you check for any extra fees or charges first, and factor these in. These can add a huge amount to the cost of renting, and vary between agencies.
If you find a letting agent or private landlord isn’t clearly listing its fees, you can complain to the ASA, which can take action to have problem advertisements removed or amended, though it can’t give compensation.
There’s nothing stopping you from discussing the fees with the letting agent to see if you can negotiate a lower rate, though there are no guarantees. Ensure you always get any fee reductions in writing.
In Scotland, letting agency fees have been illegal since 1984. So if you’re charged, you should write to your letting agent. If this doesn’t work, consider going through the courts. Find full help in Shelter Scotland’s Reclaim Your Fees tool. Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, tells us:
“Some letting agents in Scotland are still not playing by the rules. It is unlawful to charge a tenant anything for setting up a tenancy other than rent and a deposit, but some agents still charge for admin and credit checks – challenge agents who charge unlawful fees.”
Letting agents can’t charge you just for registering, Legally, in England letting agents can’t charge you for registering with them, or to show you their list of properties available for rent. So if they do this, contact your nearest Trading Standards – see Shelter for more help.
Extra costs to watch out for could include fees for a credit check, admin fees, a holding deposit or other charges, so always ask to see these before you commit. Ian Potter from the Association of Residential Letting Agents says:
“Letting agents fees will vary across the country depending on the different services provided by agents. With the current undersupply of homes, tenants may feel pressure to pay high fees. Do as much research as possible, and consult organisations like Citizens Advice, ARLA, or the Property Ombudsman.”
14. Get your landlord’s permission if planning to redecorate
When you rent a property, you generally need to return it in the same condition as you found it, though some unavoidable wear and tear should be allowed (think slight wearing of carpets, not destroyed furnishings).
Bear this in mind if you want to redecorate, as any changes will need to be put back. It sounds obvious, but the key point to remember is the property isn’t yours. So you can’t just put up shelves, for example, without permission. If you want to make permanent changes, the best thing to do is get it written in the contract from the outset.
Otherwise, if you plan to repaint the walls a different colour or make any other changes, first get your landlord’s permission in writing. Otherwise it’s likely you’ll need to paint them back to the original colour before you move.
15.Try special picture strips instead of nails
Check your tenancy agreement before you get busy with a hammer, as many won’t let you put any holes in the walls to put up pictures. There’s a quick trick to help.
It’s possible to get specially designed removable strips that promise to hold up pictures without damaging walls. To find them, ask at your local DIY store, or try searching for ‘picture hanging strips’ on Amazon’s DIY & Tools* section or eBay*. Check the pack for the weight limit they can take and don’t exceed this.
16.Note down any flaws: and use them to negotiate
Once you’ve found the place you want, don’t think you always have to pay the asking price for the rent. Ask if they’re open to reasonable offers, and put in a lower price that you think is reasonable. Don’t forget, it’s a negotiation – they don’t have to accept, but it’s well worth asking, particularly if you think it’s overpriced.
A good way to help yourself here is to note down any flaws in the rental. For example, the carpets may be worn in patches, or the bathroom ceiling could do with repainting. Point this out, and ask if they’ll take a lower price because of it. If not, see if you can get the repairs thrown in (always get this in writing with the contract).
Even £10 off the monthly rent may not seem like a lot to a busy landlord, but it’s an extra £120 in your pocket each year.
17. Key rentals checklist
While small issues like a dripping tap or squeaky floorboard needn’t be deal-breakers, use this list to help you check the rental out when you visit. It’s worth taking an eagle-eyed friend or family member to help. Ask the landlord to fix any problems before you move in. Or if you can live with it, use it to help you negotiate on the rent:
- Spot damp. Look for wet spots, mould, peeling wallpaper and condensation. Does it smell musty?
- Look up at ceilings. Look for cracks, brown stains, slow drips and leaks.
- Flick switches. Turn lights on and off, especially with older switches.
- Inspect the plumbing. Flush toilets and turn taps on. Check cupboards underneath sinks are dry. Check water pressure and that it gets hot, and that the central heating’s working properly.
- Locks. Ensure door locks are up to insurance standards. Some policies insist that front and back doors be fitted with a five lever mortice deadlock. Check windows for locks and the front door for break-in signs.
- Turn on your phone. Check for a signal to see it’s not a mobile dead zone.
- Avoid kitchen problems. Is there enough room? If white goods are included, check they’re working.
- Look next door. If renting a flat or terrace, alarm bells should ring if neighbours’ properties are rundown. Their problems can quickly become yours. Listen for noise from neighbours and roads. If you can, try to get a second viewing at a different time of day.
18. Never, ever wire the money
Once you’ve found your dream home, alarm bells should ring if asked to pay rent or deposit by an instant money transfer service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. While you’ve no protection when you pay by bank transfer, at least these are usually traceable – which means banks or police could use this to help get your money back.
Instant money transfer payments cannot be traced at all in cases of fraud, so are highly popular with scammers. So if someone asks you to pay by MoneyGram or Western Union, be highly suspicious. Never pay this way. Most landlords should be happy to take a bank transfer or cheque.
19. Get extra cash to help if struggling with your rent
Most full-time students can’t claim Housing Benefit, but if you have children, a partner who isn’t a student or you have disabilities you may be able to claim.
The amount you get depends on your rent, your income, where you live, how many bedrooms you have and how many people live in your home.
20. Protect yourself from gas leaks
Thousands of people are affected each year by carbon monoxide (CO), a poisonous gas that has no colour, taste or smell. There are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from CO poisoning.
Always ask for a copy of the gas safety record. By law, your landlord must provide you with this before you move in. If your landlord refuses, complain to the Health and Safety Executive – failure to follow gas safety requirements is a criminal offence.
Under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, landlords must do a gas safety check every 12 months to ensure gas appliances and fittings are safe, and keep these maintained. All checks must also be done by a qualified engineer that’s on the Gas Safe Register, the official gas registration body for the UK.
21. Ensure you’ve decent broadband download limits if flat-sharing
If you’re in a flat share and you know everyone will be downloading, make sure you have a sufficient download limit on your broadband package. Forget to do this and you may be stung with extra charges from a housemate’s catch-up marathon.
Be aware many contracts are for 12 months, and some even longer. If you move out before the contract is up, you’ll still have to pay for remaining months, unless you can change the name on the contract to someone who’s still going to be living in the house (check with your provider).
22. NEVER sign a contract you aren’t happy with
Once you get the contract, read it carefully before signing. Check it includes how much the deposit and rent are, when it’s due, and what it covers (eg, council tax, utility bills, and other dos and don’ts, such as whether you’re allowed to smoke or sublet).
Discuss points you disagree on, or don’t understand, with the landlord or letting agent. If they agree to change it, don’t just take their word. Ensure the contract is changed too so you have proof.
Before you sign on the dotted line, ask as many questions as possible, and get important answers in writing. Even if they don’t tell the truth, you may notice them avoiding certain questions. Good things to ask:
- How long is the contract? Are there scheduled rent increases?
- How long has it been up for rent?
- Can I see electrical, boiler and gas installation checks/reports?
- Is the deposit in a deposit protection scheme? Which one?
- Is maintenance of communal areas expected (eg, the garden)?
- Is it furnished, part or unfurnished? Which items are included?
- Who lives upstairs/next door? Have there been any disputes?
- How long were the previous renters living there?
- Is a parking space included, or is a parking permit needed?
- What’s the council tax band? (Also check this yourself.)
If the occupants are in during your viewing, use the opportunity to ask about the best and worst things about living there.
23. Take a meter reading when you arrive
It’s easy to forget this when you are busy unpacking, but take a meter readings for your gas and electricity as soon as you move in. This way, you can pass them on to the suppliers to ensure you aren’t charged for the previous occupants’ usage.
It’s also worth noting you should do a meter reading every time you get a bill. Don’t rely on your energy provider’s estimate; these are often way out. If they’re under-estimating, you’ll have a big bill to pay at the end of the year. If they’re over-estimating, then you’re paying too much.
24. Your tenancy type affects your rights
What kind of tenancy agreement you have, and when your contract started, will affect your rights, so check which you’ve got. Assured shorthold tenancy agreements are generally the most common type if renting with a private landlord.
These generally last six months to a year, and mean your landlord must provide some repairs (plus other criteria too). When an assured shorthold tenancy ends, it becomes a ‘month-to-month’ tenancy. So unless your landlord ends it, you can stay on.
Finding which tenancy type you’ve got can be tricky. Housing charity Shelter has useful Tenancy Checker tools , or seek advice.
25. Warning. You could be held responsible for the actions of other tenants
If it’s a joint tenancy, each tenant will be responsible for the actions of the others. So be careful who you sign up to these with – if one person doesn’t pay their share of the rent, the others will need to fork out for them.
Joint liability clauses in shared tenancies mean you’re responsible for the actions of your co-tenants in certain areas, as stated in the contract. So read it carefully to check exactly which areas you’re jointly responsible for. If they accidentally set fire to the sofa, you may have to pay for the repairs.
26. Double-check the inventory & report any defects
If you’re given an inventory when you arrive, ensure you fill it in and carefully check for any existing damage in the property or its contents. Don’t worry about being too specific – note down anything you can see, be it a cracked tile, damaged paintwork or a chipped mirror. If you can, take photos as evidence too.
Even if they don’t give you an inventory to fill in, list any defects in writing to the landlord as soon as you can;. Ensure it’s signed and dated, and keep a copy so you can see what’s on it when you move out.
This way, if the landlord tries to eat into your deposit for any of these when you leave, you’ll have evidence the damage was already there where you moved in. Similarly, take photos when you move out so you have proof it’s in good order.
27. Remember to redirect your mail
When you move, as well as updating your address with all your accounts, it’s a good idea to get your post redirected to your new address. This can be very helpful if an unexpected bill is sent to your old address.
Otherwise, if you miss it, the worst case scenario is a debt collection process against you that you know nothing about, causing huge damage to your credit rating. See the Royal Mail website for how to redirect your mail, plus current rates.
28. Things to find out before moving day
- Where’s the mains water stopcock (see stopcock tips above)?
- Where’s the fuse box?
- Where are the gas and electricity meters?
- Which days are rubbish and recycling collected?
- Are there instruction manuals for any electrical items?
- Who supplies the gas and electricity?
- Where is the thermostat?
- What’s the landlord or letting agent’s number?
- Where are the TV aerial and phone line sockets?
- Which provider supplies the home phone and broadband?
28. Get an itemised bill for calls if flat-sharing
If you’re in a flat-share, make sure you get an itemised bill for your calls, so you don’t end up paying for someone else’s long-distance calls. To do this, just contact your provider to request itemised billing.
When you move in to rented property, it’s also worth speaking to the landlord to see what services the previous tenants had. If you’re happy to use the same provider, you may save on installation costs if the wiring’s already there: but don’t feel you have to stay with the same provider if it isn’t the cheapest.
29. Don’t under-insure your home’s contents
When you’re renting, contents insurance can give useful protection if there’s a break-in, or your stuff gets damaged. DO NOT under-insure – this could lead to insurers not paying out when you need it.
For example, if you’re insured for £12,000, but actually have £24,000 of contents, you only have 50% coverage. If goods worth £6,000 are stolen, the insurer can assess your property and only pay out in proportion to your cover, meaning you’ll only get £3,000 back.
Or worse still, the policy could be cancelled for being underinsured. If this happens to you, you must disclose it in future, raising your insurance costs and making it more difficult to get cover at all.
To work out the correct amount, walk from room to room, noting down what everything would cost on a new-for-old basis, including smaller items like clothing. It soon adds up. An Argos catalogue can be a useful guide for this. Don’t forget the kitchen: things like plates, pans and cutlery soon add up.