Written by: Jenn S at StepChange Debt Charity
We all want a quiet, cosy corner in this world to call our own. As the trend for increasing house prices continues, it looks like more of us will be long-term renters.
The Guardian recently reported that almost one in four households in Britain will be renting privately by the end of 2021.
As a fellow renter who’s moved five times in the last five years, I’ve learnt a thing or two about what makes a good house, how to turn it into a home and how to deal with landlords – the good, the bad and the ugly.
So, with these figures in mind (and my expert renter status) I hope I can save you some hassle and, of course, some money with my tried and tested tips for success.
Before you move
Check the property inside and out
When you’re viewing the property, don’t be afraid to employ some scrutiny. Nice furnishings and fresh paint are one thing, but you should also look for:
- Cracked windows
- An unkempt garden
- Loose flagstones on a drive
- Debris in the gutters
- The doorbell or external security lights not working
- Cosmetic damage to carpets, curtains and walls
These are minor repairs but indicate the overall maintenance standard of the property. Too many issues can potentially mean a lazy landlord who doesn’t have your best interest at heart. If in doubt, make sure you document any issues and take photos.
If you’re interested in the property, send the list, or ‘entry inventory’ (to give it it’s official title), to the landlord. When it comes to items like unsightly gardens, consider offering to do the work for your landlord in return for a rent reduction.
If your landlord doesn’t accept your offer, the least they can do is fix the issues you’ve reported before you move in.
Serious issues include:
- Blocked drains
- Leaks and structural damage
- Missing roof tiles
- Faulty electrics or cracked sockets
- Signs of vermin
These are all lazy landlord ‘red flags’, and you should seriously consider renting elsewhere.
For more information, read the government’s guide to renting a safe home.
Don’t be afraid to haggle
Your rent is a big expense, so make sure what you’re paying is affordable and value for money. Also consider additional issues such as:
- Your new commute and the cost of getting to work or to visit your family and friends
- The local crime rates
- The traffic – are there trains or an airport nearby?
- The area at night – will your sleep be affected?
- Your neighbours – are they generally loud?
Talk to people who already live there. One of the golden rules of haggling is to have enough information to back up your request. When you’re confident you have that, through talking with others, politely approach your landlord and begin negotiations.
They might say no to your request, but it’s always worth asking.
Protect yourself from untrustworthy landlords
It pays to do a little bit of research upfront. Check your landlord’s accreditation through the National Landlords Association (NLA) website. They support landlords, ensuring they’re compliant with the UK renting laws and regulations.
It’s also a good idea to read your tenancy agreement and understand your responsibilities and your landlord’s responsibilities. That way, you shouldn’t encounter any costly surprises.
Consider a house share
You can get a lot of house for your money if you’re willing to share. Plus, if your rent includes bills, you won’t be affected by fluctuating utilities. Check the size of the other bedrooms and if yours is considerably smaller, negotiate on your rent.
You’ll also save money if your room comes furnished, and you’ll be able to use furniture in the communal areas as well as essentials like a fridge freezer and washing machine.
Living in a house share can also benefit your mental health by combatting loneliness. If you’re worried about living with strangers, don’t be. There are plenty of sites like SpareRoom and EasyRoommate which let you specify:
- Female or male housemates
- Number of housemates
- Professions or students
- Live in landlords
- Smoking or not smoking
- Parking spaces
Rent an unfurnished property
Unfurnished properties are usually cheaper than furnished ones, saving you money over time. “But how can I afford to furnish a place?”, I hear you cry.
Firstly, think about what you need to move in and focus on that. By prioritising what you need, you’ll give yourself time to check local sellers like Gumtree, Facebook, charity websites or your local authority.
Or, ask family and friends if they’re looking to clear out any items they no longer need.
Use a guarantor
If you’re receiving benefits, you might struggle to find a private landlord as some don’t accept this as payment. If this is the case, you could:
- Ask if they’ll accept a guarantor for the full amount
- Offer to make additional payments upfront
They might refuse your offer but, it’s always worth asking
After you’ve moved
Switch and save
You don’t have to stick to your landlord’s preferred utility provider. If your tenancy states otherwise, you can challenge the contract for being unfair.
Switching via comparison sites has never been easier. Lots of providers do everything for you, even paying early release fees.
Get your deposit back at the end of the tenancy
This links us back to our first point: complete an entry inventory. That way your landlord can’t keep your deposit for issues you identified. It’ll also help you to leave the property in the same condition as you received it.
Give yourself time to complete a deep clean after you’ve emptied all your things. If in doubt, think about how you’d like to find your next property.
Don’t be afraid to hire a cleaner for a couple of hours, if you can find one for cheap. Check out café and library notice boards in your local area.
Once the place is clean, take some photos, just in case you ever need to prove you left it in good condition.
If you do encounter issues getting your deposit back, you can raise a dispute if your deposit is protected. Or, you can visit the Shelter website for more information to help your case.
You’ll catch more flies with honey
It may seem obvious, but always try to be polite to your landlord. Manners cost nothing but being rude could have repercussions further down the line.
Landlords want good tenants, so even if you’re raising a complaint be calm and respectful. If it helps, write down what you want to say before going to your landlord. It helps you structure your complaint and make sure you say everything that needs to be said.
If ongoing issues aren’t resolved, leave your tenancy
Your landlord should value your wellbeing and the property’s, fixing issues promptly. If this isn’t the case, your agreement will outline how much notice to give your landlord before you can leave.
If you do leave early, you won’t be required to pay the rent in full if:
- your landlord has broken any of the terms outlined in the agreement, or
- your landlord agrees to end the tenancy early.
Shelter offer more information on ending your tenancy early.
Looking for tips for decorating on the cheap? Check out these great ideas for decorating your bedroom, kid’s bedroom or living room on a budget. There may also be a way to insulate your home on the cheap.