Tenants are now staying in rental properties for significantly longer periods, according to the latest research from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). An upward trend has been firmly established with the average length of stay reaching 19 months at the end of 2012, compared with just 15 months five years ago.*
Ian Potter, Managing Director, ARLA, said: “Tenancy agreements are a fact of life for tenants and landlords, but all too often they are not fully understood, if properly read at all. Before signing anything both tenant and landlord should always ensure they understand the agreement and negotiate any changes with the landlord or agent before finalising the document.
“Ignorance of the terms outlined in a tenancy agreement is no defence against losing a deposit, or being saddled with an unexpected bill. Tenants can therefore save a good deal of time and money by familiarising themselves with the terms they are likely to see in a document like this. Renting should ultimately be a positive experience and a basic level of understanding, combined with good communication with landlords and letting agents should ensure this is the case.”
ARLA has created the following checklist to help prospective tenants:
Before you take on a tenancy
1. Always negotiate on paper
A tenancy agreement can be altered before it is signed, if both the tenant and landlord agree to the proposed changes. Make sure any agreement to carry out specific repairs or provide additional furniture is put into writing to ensure no disputes arise.
A final copy of the signed tenancy agreement should be held by both parties, and this is particularly important if any changes have been made to the original, which may be a template document.
2. If in doubt, seek professional help
It is worth remembering that, in England and Wales, it isn’t a legal requirement for tenants to have a written tenancy agreement. Despite this, you should always ask for one to be provided by the letting agent or landlord.
If there are any terms in the agreement you aren’t familiar with, seek legal advice to clarify any concerns you might have. Any agreement is required by law to be written in plain English, but it always pays to be completely sure you fully understand what you are signing.
3. Protect your cash
It is a legal requirement for tenancy deposits to be protected by an approved deposit scheme, and this should be explicitly referenced in the tenancy agreement. For further protection, you should also agree on who has responsibility for conducting an inventory of the property with your landlord or agent. This should then be written into the final countersigned agreement.
For peace of mind when using an agent always check that they are affiliated to a professional organisation like ARLA. All ARLA agents must adhere to a strict code of conduct, as well as offering client money protection and redress schemes, which protect you if things go wrong.
Adhering to the details
4. Your right to quiet enjoyment
When you rent from a private landlord, or through their agent, you have a legal right to use the property in a reasonable fashion without being disturbed by either party. If the landlord or letting agent would like to access the property, they should give at least 24 hours notice to comply with this requirement.
It should be noted, however, that a tenant has a legal obligation to provide access for repairs, assuming sufficient notice is given by the landlord.
5. Until strife do us part…
If you are sharing a rental property with others you may see a clause in the tenancy agreement referring to joint and several liability. In effect this means that if one or more tenants stop paying rent for any reason or cause any damage, for example, the remaining sharers will be liable for the associated costs.
If this clause is present in a contract, always be sure to assess how well you know your prospective housemates. In some cases a guarantor form will have to be signed by a parent or guardian, which gives the landlord additional protection if a tenant should fail to pay the rent. If this is the case, the joint and several liability will be passed on to them.
6. Who pays the bills?
The tenancy agreement should clearly outline what utility and household bills you will be responsible for, and if there is any uncertainty, be sure to clarify this with the landlord. To get an idea of how much energy bills will cost, always ask to see a property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) before you sign up. The closer to ‘A’, the more likely it is to hold in heat and register lower utility bills.
7. Who you gonna call?
The tenancy agreement should outline which party is responsible for maintaining the property. This could be the landlord themselves, or a managing agent. In either case, make sure you have contact details before the keys are handed over.
*According to the ARLA Review and Index: http://www.arla.co.uk/Booklets/Review_and_Index/2012/Q4/q4.html#p=2