Metro - 28 November 2012
Avoiding mistakes when renting a property
By Jo Eccles
The past five years have had profound effects on the makeup of the UK’s housing market, and we have seen renting, rather than buying, become a much more common long term option. Research shows that, in the five years to the end of 2011, the number of households renting privately has increased by almost 50%, and is set to continue rising.
Unlike when buying a property where a solicitor is acting for the buyer, tenants usually represent themselves, and this is where mistakes can happen. The average rental contract lasts for 12 months, although this may increase as renting becomes more popular, therefore you don’t want to make any mistakes as you’ll be stuck with them.
If you’re viewing a furnished property, don’t assume that what you see will remain, and don’t rely on an estate agent’s account either – chances are they haven’t seen the property since it was last rented out. Always ask for a copy of the inventory as that will outline what items will remain. Or alternatively, when viewing a property, note down the fixtures and furniture, or take photos. That way when you make your offer in writing, you can reference the items you want to remain and there is no confusion.
Another tip is to be very thorough in your offer. This means including every request such as a professional clean throughout – but go one step further and outline what you want cleaned. Your definition of a professional clean might include the grubby curtains or sofas, whereas a landlord’s interpretation may not. The key to making a fool proof offer is to be very specific and clear, without sounding demanding.
When you’ve agreed the offer, always make sure you actually read the tenancy agreement through. It always amazes me how few tenants actually do this. Whilst most clauses are standard, such as restricting you from running a business out of the property or subletting, others are fundamental.
The most important one is usually the break clause, if you’ve negotiated to include one. This sets out the terms on which you can serve notice to leave or vacate the property early, i.e. before the end of your tenancy. I have read through many tenancy agreements for clients where we’ve asked for a break clause and the estate agent has forgotten to include it. If our tenants had gone ahead and signed without reading, they would have had a nasty shock to find that they were committed for much longer than they wanted. Some break clauses are much clearer than others. If you don’t understand the wording of yours, ask the agent to explain it to you, and if you’re still not sure, ask them to adjust the wording so it’s more understandable.
Whilst they might resist, they shouldn’t. I’ve seen some really sneaky clauses where one tiny word has changed the entire meaning, or completely ruled out certain months in which notice can be given, so it really is imperative to take the contract seriously.