Before you rent checklist

After hours of viewings it’s tempting to ignore that lingering smell and the damp patch in the corner. But we believe you deserve a happy home, so here’s our step-by-step guide on how to avoid greedy landlords and nightmare housemates.

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What to check, before you move in

Get a tenancy agreement so you’re protected from backtracking landlords.

It should state: how much the rent is, as well as when and how it’s due; how to end the tenancy and how long it lasts for; provide details of any future ‘rent review’ or rent increases; who to contact about repairs; and any other rules.

If you sign a joint tenancy agreement all housemates are equally responsible for sticking to the conditions.

2) Get an inventory

An inventory is a list of everything in the property and must be supplied before you move in. Download your own if the landlord or letting agent doesn’t provide one. Make sure that everything is included and get an independent witness to sign it.

Take photos of the property (especially any existing damage). Keep a copy in a safe place. If there’s a dispute at the end of the tenancy, your records could make a big difference.

3) Don’t get ripped off

By law, letting agents have to tell you upfront what fees they charge – these may include admin fees, reference and credit check fees, and ‘holding deposits’. Registration fees are illegal.

Sadly, the current law does little to restrict these charges. Be vigilant. If the tenancy falls through, what fees will be refunded? Are there charges for renewing the tenancy? Can these be waivered? Get receipts – and, if you can, try negotiating.

Check if there are any communal areas. Ask who’s responsible and if there’re any hidden costs for them.

4) Check your deposit is safe

Your landlord or letting agent has to put your deposit into one of three government-backed tenancy deposit protection schemes – the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), MyDeposits and The Dispute Service (TDS).

Within 30 days, your landlord has to give you details of the scheme they’re using, how to get the deposit back, what to do if there’s a dispute, and a signed copy of the deposit protection certificate.

5) Be nosy – explore both the inside AND outside

Listen out for barking dogs, traffic or building works. Ask your potential flatmates or neighbours what the area’s like. The landlord may not be so honest.

Check for signs of mice, rats and cockroaches. Does it smell of damp? Would the landlord be willing to do repairs before you move in? Think about security. Do the windows and doors lock? Has it ever been burgled?

6) Check the wiring and appliances are safe

Your landlord should have electrical and gas appliances checked every year. Keep your eye out for any loose fittings – they’re a real fire risk.

When you sign the tenancy agreement, ask to see a gas safety certificate provided by a Gas Safe Register engineer within the last year.

7) Get a bill estimate

How much is a TV licence? How much are the water rates and utilities bills? Find out what sort of heating the property uses – no double glazing means bigger energy bills. Don’t forget – if you’re a student, you don’t pay council tax, while single people get a discount

Find out if there’s a phone line and internet connection. They’re pretty essential, and installing them can be expensive.

Write down how much everything will cost. Be honest. Can you afford to live here?

8) Make sure it’s got everything you need

Check what furniture and appliances are provided, such as fridge, freezer and washing machine, and whether they’re in a usable condition.

If you have your own furniture, is the property big enough for it? Is the landlord prepared to buy anything that isn’t already there? And if they aren’t, can you afford to buy it yourself?

9) It may be a great property, but how will you get to college or work?

Find out about public transport. Look for parking spaces or bike racks. Where is the nearest supermarket? Is the street well lit and safe? Get the lowdown on the area from your housemates.

10) Meet your potential housemates before making a decision

If you’re an early riser, you won’t enjoy living with someone who’s up all night partying. And if you’re clean, messy slobs will bring you down.

Find out about any house rules and regulations. If you’ll find them hard to stick to, it’s probably best you rethink the move. And try to avoid moving in with someone you’re attracted to. Ask them out for a drink instead.

Watch this video for help with the extra costs of renting:

Next Steps

  • Shelter's advice website for young people offers help with housing problems and a free helpline 0808 800 4444. If you're in Scotland, use http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/ instead.
  • Moving out for the first time? Get the real Home Truths.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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renting

By Helen Clifton

Updated on 29-Sep-2015