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Do you rent? 10 legal tips every tenant should know

By Jan Moys

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As a tenant it's important to know where you stand. There are plenty of laws in place that are designed to protect you – these ten legal tips will make sure your renting experience is as fair and stress-free as possible.

Before moving in:

Read your contract before signing

It sounds obvious, but you need to carefully read the proposed rental contract. Your prospective landlord has carefully set out their expectations and stipulations within that document.

Check lease length, which bills you are responsible for, insurance and your obligations. Feel free to question anything you aren’t sure about, preferably by email so you have a record.

Get everything you need from your landlord or letting agent

By law, your landlord or letting agent should give you certain things on or before your moving-in date for your new property. These include a gas safety certificate, energy performance certificate, their contact details and a ‘How to Rent’ guide.

Check your deposit is registered with a Government-authorised scheme

This has been a legal requirement since April 2007, so if you have paid one, check that whoever holds your deposit has registered it with one of the three schemes authorised by the Government. This gives you protection from landlords deducting more than is fair when you move out of the property.

During your tenancy:

Your landlords must make sure your property is safe

Your landlord is responsible for making sure your rented accommodation is a safe environment. Fireproof furnishings and gas/electrical appliances should all be checked as safe to use. Smoke alarms should be fitted on every storey and if you have a wood burner or coal burning stove, you should also have a carbon monoxide alarm in that room. Rooms containing a boiler should also ideally have a carbon monoxide alarm.

The basics

Your home should have running water plus gas and/or electricity. Your landlord is legally required to provide these things and should address any maintenance issues within a reasonable time.

Your landlord can’t drop in unannounced

Your landlord may need to access your property occasionally but they must give you at least 24 hours’ notice, unless there is an emergency that might result in damage to the property or danger to you, the tenant. Normally, your landlord or letting agent will need to inspect your property every six months or so.

Pay your rent on time and in full

It sounds obvious but not paying your rent on time or in full means you will have breached your tenancy agreement and could be at risk of losing your home. If you’re having, or foresee, financial problems, talk to your landlord – they’re much more likely to be more sympathetic if you’re honest with them early on. For more help, you can also contact your local housing authority, Citizens Advice or Shelter.

When moving out:

Make sure any deposit deductions are fair

You are allowed to query any deductions from your deposit that you may feel are unfair. For example, if your sofa has been damaged, the landlord cannot deduct the price of a new sofa if the sofa was already in used condition when you moved in. You are responsible for any damage, but the cost of any replacements must be like-for-like.

Understand the definition of ‘reasonable’ wear and tear

Your landlord cannot take deductions from your deposit for normal wear and tear. This is legally defined as the “reasonable use of the house by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces.”

Wear and tear must take into account how long you have lived in the property and how many people lived in the property. The quality, condition and age of furnishings when you moved in should also be taken into consideration – poorer quality furnishings can often show wear more quickly.

Understand the timeframe for deposit deductions/refunds

After you vacate, ask for the return of your deposit in writing – be sure to follow the refund process outlined in your tenancy agreement. Within 10 days of this request your landlord should return to you any undisputed amount from your deposit. They must inform you of any proposed deductions.

Head to our Guide to Renting for more information and advice on the lettings process.

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