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How to get the best deal when renting a property

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Homeowners could end up £326,000 wealthier over a 30-year period than those who rent, and that is before potential property price growth is considered, according to the Equity Release Council, a trade body. Adding to the burden on generation rent are escalating prices, fiddly tenancy agreement clauses and hefty bills. Here’s how to limit the damage.

Negotiate – and back up your offer

Don’t just assume you have to pay the advertised rent on your chosen property but do your homework before you make a lower offer – it’s good to go in with a host of reasons to add credit to your bid. Research the local property market to understand how other properties in the area are priced, what features they offer and how well presented and located they are. If you find several similar properties that are cheaper than the one you want, show the details to the landlord and ask whether they will match the price.

Alternatively, seek out features present in other properties but lacking in the one you like. For example, if your desired place comes unfurnished, explain to the landlord that you need to buy a furniture at your own cost, so would need to bring the rent to be brought down.

You can sweeten the deal by offering to sign up to a longer tenancy term, which gives landlords more security and saves them any costs associated with finding new tenants.

If they won’t agree to negotiate, see whether they will cover certain bills or redecorate the property (always set a deadline for completion).

View image in fullscreenAlways check the fine print on a tenancy agreement. Photograph: Jeffrey Blackler/Alamy

Scrutinise your tenancy agreement

Before you sign anything check the fine print, including the start and end date of your tenancy, details of your obligations and any agreed repairs you want completing before you move in. Housing is a devolved issue, so legislation governing landlords and renting varies across the UK.

The most commonly overlooked clause in tenancy is the notice period, says Portia Msimang, a project coordinator at the campaign group Renters’ Rights London. “I’ve seen some odd clauses in a tenancy contract, so make sure you read it all.”

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As well as being sure you know what you are agreeing to, you may spot some opportunities to save. For example, your contract might require you to pay for professional cleaners before moving out. To save on cleaning fees, see whether you can get this condition removed and do it yourself.

Become a property guardian

You could save more than 60% on rent by living in empty commercial or residential buildings, from pubs to mansions. But these property licences often differ from traditional assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) – most notably by only requiring 28 days’ notice before eviction action. For normal tenancies, two months’ notice has to be given. Most property guardian companies will ask for a deposit – normally equivalent to a month’s licence fee – although unlike with an AST, there is no legal requirement for it to protect your cash within a government-approved scheme.

Weigh the costs of renting direct

Since the tenant fees ban was imposed in 2019, you cannot be charged for administration or referencing fees, however you find your property.

Using a letting agent tends to be pricier than renting directly because landlords are charged fees for agency services that will be passed on to the tenant through rent. Olly Croft, a lettings negotiator at the estate agent Winkworth, says he has rented two properties privately, and that you can get a better deal.

“But it’s a gamble,” he says. “I’ve heard of horror stories where the landlord just doesn’t know how to manage the property, is unfamiliar with the law or won’t pick up your calls.”

View image in fullscreenYou cannot be charged for administration or referencing fees, however you find your property.
Photograph: Alex Segre/Alamy

Letting agents must by law sign up to a regulated redress scheme, such as the Property Ombudsman, which enables tenants to file an independent complaint.

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If you want to cut out the agent, Croft says: “Get to know the landlord first, if you can.” OpenRent, Gumtree and SpareRoom offer direct connections between tenants and landlords.

Get your full deposit back

The law says that in England and Wales, if you have an AST your deposit should not be more than five weeks’ rent and should be protected in a government-backed scheme.

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Before you move in, take photos and agree an inventory with whoever is managing the property. This is a checklist of everything provided in the property. As an official record of the state and contents of the place before you lived there, it offers a defence if the landlord wants to claim money from your deposit to repair damage.

The landlord cannot deduct from your deposit because of normal wear and tear, such as scuffed paintwork, Msimang says. You can dispute unreasonable deductions via the independent adjudication service in the deposit scheme.

It is highly probable that you will win the case, she adds: “Very few adjudications find fully in favour of the landlord, so it’s worth using that service. Keep everything in writing.” If your deposit should be protected but isn’t, or is protected late, you may be able to claim compensation of up to three times the amount, and get your full deposit back through the courts. Even pointing this out to the landlord in writing can encourage them to negotiate with you, and return your deposit without going through the costly legal process, Msimang says.

Check energy efficiency

View image in fullscreenHow good is the property’s insulation? Photograph: Ian Simpson/Alamy

By law, landlords need to provide an energy performance certificate before letting, and the building needs to be graded at least band E. A high EPC rating means your home is the better insulated – and won’t be as expensive to heat. You can ask landlords to take steps to improve the energy rating but make sure you do this before your tenancy starts. “If you view a place which is E-rated, think again before renting it. Look for the most energy efficient buildings,” Msimang says.

When you move in, take a photo showing the energy meter reading and record the date and time to make sure you don’t pay for the previous tenant’s use.

Challenge rent increases

In England and Wales, your rent cannot go up during a fixed-term tenancy, unless specified in the contract. The landlord may offer you a new contract but you are not obliged to sign it. The landlord may ask you for higher rent by using a rent review clause, which allows them to raise the payments during a rolling (periodic) lease. You can try to change their mind, by showing their price is higher than local rents and that you have consistently paid your rent on time.

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You can challenge an unfair increase by asking a tribunal to set your new rent but you must lodge an application before the start date of the proposed rent increase. Beware that this can backfire, and you could end up with a higher rent than your landlord demanded.

Consider seeking damages if essential repairs are not done

Under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, your landlord must carry out big repairs.

If you have had to replace damaged property yourself, keep the receipts

A later piece of England-only legislation, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, which came into force in March 2018, means landlords can be taken to court over 29 hazards, including inadequate ventilation and serious mould and damp caused by structural problems. Once the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 commences, possibly in spring 2022, Welsh tenants will have similar additional rights.

Tell your landlord as soon as you notice disrepair. If you have had to replace damaged property yourself, keep the receipts; you could claim compensation in court.

If the problem continues, contact your council’s environmental health department to inspect your home. The local council has powers to act against the landlord, by issuing notices to make the landlord intervene.

The headline of this article was amended on 19 November 2021 to remove a reference to the UK. The article is about renting in England and Wales only.