For those renting residential properties, it can seem like the landlord has the upper hand with everything. It not only costs you an arm and a leg to pay rent and other charges, but they appear not to be bothered about those niggly repairs or neighbour problems you keep on about.
Unfortunately with an ever-increasing demand for rented property it can feel as if you have no choice in the matter and just need to put-up or shut-up. Well, even if that is true to some degree, it doesn’t mean you still can’t agree a better basis for all concerned, and appreciate what the new basis of occupation actually is.
The Type of Tenancy
It’s worth making a distinction at this point between two forms of residential lease. The first is a popular short-term occupation lease, often in the form of an AST but others are possible. The gist of this is just short-term use for paying a rent, with an ultimate landlord owner responsible for the main building and services.
The second is a long lease where the emphasis is on owning a long-term interest in the property, through a long lease or freehold title. You often find long leases in blocks of flats where it is not practical for people to own a freehold interest like with a typical house.
In terms of looking into the issues surrounding residential tenants, the emphasis is more on the actual use of them, and therefore focusing on the shorter-term scenarios. The principles can still apply though for longer-term interests, particularly if you are actually living at the property as well as owning the lease or freehold title.
The Basic Residential Tenant Principle
So as a residential tenant, here are some of the main things you need to be aware of, whether you’re a tenant direct or you’re involved and representing tenants on site. The focus is to get down to the bottom-line issues that you need to think about.
Without going into too much detail on any one particular thing, the idea here is a to a step back with a wider property management perspective and see the bigger picture.
1. The Rent
This is often the important aspect of course - how much your rent will be. It's often quoted as a monthly amount, but if in another form then make sure it's clear as to how much it adds up to in the way that you do your budgeting. So as an example, weekly rents can add up to a little more than four amounts every month because of the additional fifth week every so often.
Then appreciate when it's paid, often at the beginning of the month in advance, for the forthcoming month's period. This means you often have to fork out rent straight-off when you sign a lease, and have it ready every month going forward.
Finally, make sure the payment method is clear - often a regular bank payment, and make sure money actually clears okay for the landlord, and leaves your account with sufficient funds available, for example a day after your pay day.
As an additional point, watch out for rent increases. They shouldn't be in the agreements, and make sure the landlord does not bully you into thinking automatic increases have to be agreed now or when the lease renews.
2. The Deposit
This is money paid up front and kept aside in case you have difficulties paying the rent, or if needed, towards any repairs when you leave the building.
The good news then is that if all goes well, you'll get the money back when you leave including any interest, but the bad news is that you need the cash now up-front now, in addition to any rent.
Typical short term tenancies like ASTs under legislation have to have the money paid into a separate intermediary account, not the landlord direct, so make sure this is the case and you receive the paperwork to confirm so.
3. The Checks
If you're going ahead with the letting, the landlord will often want to do official checks on yourself, either direct or via their letting agent. You need to know exactly whose name will therefore be on the lease at this point, and if you have any joint tenants or guarantors, then these may be included as well.
Checks-wise, there is a basic credit check often online or through a separate party, but also other references such as from a previous landlord, and then official statements like your salary slip and bank statements.
Watch out for who pays the costs for these checks, often the tenant unfortunately, and even worse right at the beginning when they don't even have a definite decision on the letting. Make sure these don't get triggered again at, say, a lease renewal, as this should be just a straightforward renewal at that point.
4. The Outside Areas
Okay, you have the main house or flats sussed out, and it's perfect. However don't then forget all the outside factors that will have more of an influence on the way you use and enjoy the place than what you might first think.
So are there any garden and patio areas, and check if you're responsible for maintaining these, or if others have the ability to use them as well. Access is also important, with an easy walk for you and any, say, elderly relatives or young kids, and that won't turn into a nasty mud-bath or slippery surface when the weather gets bad in the winter.
Car parking is also important, and if none is provided then check whether there are any nearby places to use, or agreements with neighbouring residents to use theirs.
5. The Occupiers
This might seem obvious now, but it can cause issues later on if the way you and others use your place changes.
So begin with clarifying who is in there from day one, and therefore whether the actual lease needs to be in other names, and if it permits multiple use.
Then think of how things might change in the future, so if you did have someone else move in, or you even needed to vacate yourself for a while. Usually short-term residential leases say no one else is allowed, although others can allow this and even transferring the lease to others or subletting.
Finally, clarify any temporary guests are permitted. In addition to straightforward family members for, say, when staying over, and guests, there has been a rise in DIY-style lodging services the last few years to raise an income for someone else using a room in your place, for example through websites like AirBnB.
6. The Landlord
Be clear on who your new landlord is, both on an official and non-official basis. Sometimes this is direct; or other times through a managing agent or other point of contact.
In addition to basic contact details like telephone numbers, addresses, and emails, clarify if these change for different issues for example any accounts queries, as opposed to an emergency call out for a repair.
7. The Insurance
The good news is that the landlord will often need to arrange the building insurance and not recharge you any premium for this, but of course this needs checking and ideally a copy of any certificate and details that you may require for your own information and purposes such as a mortgage.
This still leaves yourself to your own contents and use of the area, which you'll need to arrange.
Also be aware of how you go about any claims of damage for, say, breaks-ins, and knowing when there is any overlap with your insurance and your repairing liability. So a break in through a window may mean a building insurance claim for the main window damage, a content insurance claim by yourself for items like curtains and plasma TV that are stolen, and the window actually being your ultimate responsibility to immediately repair and arrange emergency cover in some longer-lease scenarios.
8. The Problems
Of course, hopefully you won't have any, but in reality you may get some unfortunately.
Know which ones you will need to resolve yourself and which ones the landlord does, and linked to the earlier landlord point, how you liaise with them regarding problems.
Make sure they are doing what they should be doing, for example sufficient gas check every year, and maintained fire prevention systems like smoke detectors. But under your responsibility make sure these aren't tampered with, for example taking batteries out of the detectors, and causing blockages in the drains.
When you do have landlord problems that they're simply not willing to sort out, then the good news is that there is often help through the lease and legislation for them to do this, but bear in mind that you'll need to communicate in the correct way rather than knee-jerk reactions like deducting monies off your rent payments.
9. The Alterations
This might sound drastic, and you have no intention of majors alterations like a new kitchen or re-carpet, but even the smaller things can still be ‘alterations’ that need a landlord involved.
The lease will say what is and what isn't allowed, the rule of thumb being that not many are permitted, or at least needing official landlords agreement. Even simple things like holes in walls for pictures, or changing fire doors, can all still need official agreement.
Also make sure the condition is correctly logged at the beginning of the tenancy, for example through an inventory or schedule of condition, and that you can help clarify what is expected when you leave in terms of items being taken and repairs being carried out.
10. The Hassle
Finally, think of the potential hassle you may receive in your dwelling, something that is actually hard to consider in the rush and emotional high of finding your new perfect pad. But a hard reality check early on can pay dividends much later in.
So for example check if these are any noisy neighbours, or annoying smokers, or careless car parkers around who will all shape the reality of when you’re living there. Asking neighbours for the low down, and looking at the property at different times can all help identify this.
Being a Residential Tenant, Open-Eyed
Therefore when looking at being a residential tenant, which may or may not involve you owning the interest as well, these above basic pointers will help provide a wide overview of the issues to consider.
Some are more technical than others, such as rents and leases, whilst others are more common-sense and practical such as how you and your neighbours can use and enjoy the property.
It’s important to know about all these angles, and then make your own call on things. With residential being people’s homes, they quite rightly want things to be right and fair. And often it will boil down to that gut-instinct when taking a property on, but all these factors can help shape that final call.