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The council runs a Landlord Accreditation Scheme and it is worth checking to see if the landlord is a member of this scheme.
Before searching for a property, it is important to be realistic about what you can afford. Remember that rent is not the only cost – travel costs, utility bills, council tax, insurance and TV/phone bills should all be considered.
If you are in receipt of certain benefits or on a low income, you may be eligible for Local Housing Allowance (LHA) (a new way of calculating housing benefit) to help with the rent. To find out whether you qualify for assistance, contact the council’s housing benefit team on 01782 715500. If the LHA does not cover the cost of your rent, you will have to make up the difference yourself.
Avoid problems by visually checking that the properties you view are in reasonable condition before agreeing to rent. Your first impressions are usually the best. Is the property well maintained? Check for things like damp patches, burnt electrical sockets, damaged doors and frames, broken windows etc.
Staircases must be well lit with a firm handrail, they should not have gaps as small children can slip through. Floors must be level to avoid trips or falls. Check that there are enough bolts and locks on doors and windows for security. Find out who holds the keys to the property and whether anyone else will have a key to your room. Ensure the kitchen has sufficient storage, preparation and cooking space.
Be aware that old heating systems will also cost a lot to run in the winter.
High street letting and managing agents advertise properties available to rent but make sure that you ask them first about what they charge. Charges can include registration fees, Credit Reference checks, set up fees, legal fees etc.
Before using an agent, check if they are members of the National Approved Lettings Scheme (www.nalscheme.co.uk), the Association of Residential Letting Agents (www.arla.co.uk) or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyor (www.rics.org/uk) so you can contact them if you are not happy with the agent.
Most landlords will ask you for a character reference from an employer, college, bank and/or other responsible person. They may also want a copy of your wage slip. Be honest when giving information as debt history can be traced and your application rejected wasting you time and money
A tenancy agreement is a legal document that means you are agreeing, among other things, that you will pay the rent for the duration of the agreement – usually 6 or 12 months. Assured shorthold tenancies are the most common type.
Having a signed tenancy agreement which details the terms and conditions of rental, will make it easier to deal with any disputes. Read the agreement thoroughly before signing and ensure you keep a copy in a safe place.
At the start of your tenancy you will usually be asked for a deposit (normally equivalent to 1 months rent) and a month’s rent in advance. Under the Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme your landlord is now required by law to protect your deposit under one of the following government approved schemes. They are:
The Landlord should then notify you within 14 days of how and where they have protected the deposit. If a landlord does not follow the rules they can be ordered by the Courts to compensate you with three times your original deposit, plus the deposit itself. For more advice visit www.direct.gov.uk/en/TenancyDeposit/index.htm
To avoid disputes at the end of your tenancy, ask for a room by room inventory check of the property, with photographs and agree this with your landlord before moving in.
If three or more people who are not related are sharing a property, this will be a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). Any HMO will need to have extra protection regarding Fire Safety as they are considered to be higher risk than an ordinary family home. HMO’s are usually student type properties but can also be ‘bed sit’ type accommodation
If the property is a large HMO and has three or more storeys and houses five or more people who are not related, the landlord by law must obtain a licence from the local council. If the landlord fails to get a licence they can be taken to court and, on conviction, fined up to £20,000. If this happens then tenants can apply for a Rent Repayment Order from the Residential Property Tribunal Service (www.rpts.gov.uk) to reimburse them for some of the rent.
In the private rented sector a landlord must show any potential tenant an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) to help you decide if the property will be efficient to live in and therefore save you money on fuel bills. For further information, visit http://epc.direct.gov.uk/index.html
Carbon monoxide leaks from faulty gas appliances and can kill. By law, your landlord must show you a current Gas Safety Certificate before you move in. The Landlord should then have an annual check of all appliances in the house, from a registered Gas Engineer. From 1 April 2009 all gas engineers must be registered with the Gas Safe Register(www.gassaferegister.co.uk) which has replaced Corgi.
A Landlord has responsibility to keep the electrical installation in a safe condition. However, there is no legal requirement for them to perform an electrical safety inspection, this is just best practice and advised to be done every 5 years. It is also advised that all portable electrical appliances should be tested every year. This is called PAT testing and relates to any appliance which has a plug fitted i.e. kettle, washing machine, microwave etc.
If you need help with any issues such as your tenancy, debt, illegal eviction or harassment, homelessness or needing a new home, please contact the council’s Housing Advice Service which is in Merrial Street (other side of the road to the Civic Offices) and is based in the Aspire Housing offices or phone 01782 635200 (option 3)
If you need help with any issues regarding disrepair at the property then contact the council’s Housing Services team by phoning 01782 742543.
There is also lots of information and advice available from housing and homelessness organisations such as Shelter (www.shelter.org.uk), Crisis (www.crisis.org.uk) and the Citizens Advice Bureau (www.citizensadvice.org.uk)
For additional advice on private renting visit www.direct.gov.uk/en/HomeAndCommunity/index.htm.