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How To Protect Yourself as a Renter

Upon graduating over a year ago, I’ve noticed a considerable amount of things regarding the relationship between students and property. My dad always advised my friends and me that unless we were a bit clued up on the law, we should avoid private student properties altogether and just stay in set student accommodation or university halls that cover everything for us. And in hindsight, that wasn’t such bad advice. It’s towards the end of January and by now many first-year students have either already secured a student house with their friends or are looking to do so and I believe that this is a huge step that should be made with some caution. A fair majority of students will have never dealt with estate agents before and considering that housing will be the largest expense on a termly basis, it’s important to make the right decisions and consider many factors.

A line of terraced houses located in South Manchester, England. (Source: freeimageslive)

Sally Lawson, President of Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) Propertymark, said:

“Renting a property with your friends at university is great fun and a rite of passage for many. For most, this will be the first time they rent a property or make a financial commitment of this nature, so it can feel daunting when you’re starting to look. First and foremost, make sure you’re starting your property search with a reputable letting agent. ARLA Propertymark agents adhere to the highest professional standards and have client money protection in place so that if any funds go missing, you’re protected.”

Understand What You Can Afford
You should already have some kind of financial plan or budget in place, but take a good look at your outgoings every term or month, and work out how much of your student loan you can allocate towards rent. This kind of planning is also useful for deciding whether or not getting a part-time job at university will be an option for you. Your overall budget will help you determine the type of property you are able to afford, and the area you’ll most likely rent in. Don’t forget to factor in bills (such as internet, energy and water which may or may not be included in your rental agreement) and expenses such as grocery shopping. You won’t be required to pay council tax but if you’re living with any non-students they will be responsible for their share. If you’re renting a large house with friends, the bedrooms may vary in cost depending on size, so make sure you’re clear on your budget before you shot-gun the first room. Affordability is absolutely key to avoiding any financial complications, you don’t want to be left without a roof over your head!

Check Estate Agent Reviews
The internet is honestly your best friend, while you shouldn’t rely solely on reviews (as they can be faked quite easily), it’s usually a good starting point to search and review reputable agents in your area to help you find your new home. Use the ARLA Propertymark to find an expert tool for peace of mind that you’re in good hands. When you find a property that suits you and goes on to view it, try to speak to the existing tenants about their experience of living in the property and with the estate agents.

Be Very Inquisitive
You can never ask too many questions and even if you feel as though you are, it shows that you’re sensible and vigilant. If there is anything that doesn’t quite sit well with you regarding the house viewings, your prospective estate agents/landlord, or even legal/property jargon in your tenancy agreement, please do get in contact with someone and enquire as much as possible. Don’t worry about being seen as annoying or persistent, it’s the job of your landlord or estate agents to ensure they answer your questions honestly and in-depth.

Take Your Time and Don’t Bow to Peer Pressure
When I was a student I seem to remember a big rush to find a house with my ‘friends‘ that I’d known for less than four months by January. Ignore the rush, for many different reasons.  The first being, you actually get a chance to choose who you live with, so pick carefully! Secondly, there will always be an abundance of properties available throughout the year which you’ll be able to pick from and lastly, finding the right place to live is usually a lengthy process and shouldn’t be something that you should rush.

ALWAYS Read Your Tenancy Agreement/Contracts
Coming from a trainee lawyer, I will heavily recommend that you read all of your legal documents thoroughly and if possible with someone who can understand and decipher some of the jargon you don’t quite understand. Please don’t rush to sign anything without looking over it first, it will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

Know Where Your Deposit Is Going
Prior to moving in, you’ll be required to pay a security deposit, which is usually around six week’s rent – this will be returned to you at the end of your tenancy, should everything be in order with the property. This deposit must be held in one of the three government-authorised tenancy deposit protection schemes, and your letting agent or landlord must show you evidence of this. If you don’t receive the details, ask for them as soon as possible and do not proceed without them. Additionally, if you are an international student please be aware of rogue landlords/letting agents who require an astronomical amount of money upfront before contacts are even exchanged.

Check Your Inventory
When you move in, your letting agent or landlord will organise an inventory. This will state exactly what condition the property is in, and list all the furniture and fixtures, so there’s a record of what belongs to the landlord and, more importantly, what condition everything is in. This will help you to avoid any disputes at the end of your tenancy, so it’s important to double-check everything yourself and take care of the rental property as best as possible.

Solving Maintenance Issues
Different letting agents and landlords will have varied ways of dealing with maintenance issues and/or requests. You will at one point or another have to register maintenance issues and/or requests, do make sure you know the correct way to do this so that you can get issues resolved as soon as possible.

If you believe there is a damaged fixture or item of furniture in your property, please refer to your inventory list to ensure it was damaged prior to moving in and raise this with your landlord or agent. 

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