It's not just about finding something that seems to meet your needs....
Picking the perfect rental property is no easy feat. It's not simply a case of accepting the first vacant flat near the station or choosing that house purely because it has an Aga. There are a great many things that you, as a prospective tenant, should look out for.
Fortunately, there are some amazing places out there which should be far easier for you to discover if you bear the following considerations in mind:
1) Establish your needs prior to commencing the search
To make sure you're getting a good deal, research typical rents by comparing the monthly amounts currently being asked for similar properties in the area. You should be able to do this fairly easily via the internet. That should then give you a good idea of average prices and help you set a budget. When enquiring about a property, find out what (if anything) is covered in the rent. Are council tax, water or maintenance included or will you need to budget separately for them?
In order not to overstretch yourself, its crucial to agree on a maximum amount, focus your search on properties within that range so as to 'avoid temptation'. However, there's always room for negotiation, believe it or not. Landlords are looking for 'ideal tenants', those with great references, that will look after the property and want a longer tenancy; if you tick those boxes, you could be in a strong position to get the rent reduced slightly. It's worth asking.
Don't naturally assume that a property comes complete with its own dedicated parking space; if this is a requirement, you'll need to check. If not, find out whether there is somewhere nearby where you can safely park your car. In city centres, you may find that the local council operates a permit parking scheme. Bear in mind that there could be a charge for the permit - almost certainly a charge will be applied on permits for second cars and those for visitors might need to be bought in books.
A deciding factor for tenants which has grown exponentially in recent months is the provision of a decent broadband signal. This has grown from being simply a 'nice-to-have' to an absolute necessity, given the increase in home working and a heavy reliance on the internet. Some areas receive stronger signals than others, thus again some research will be required to ensure the property meets your technological needs. Similarly, it's worth checking mobile phone network coverage when you view the property.
Smokers/ pet owners
When searching for a rental home, most advertisements will make clear when the landlord is happy to accommodate smoking and/ or pets. Make sure to look out for this and never assume that you can smoke or allow your animal inside - otherwise you may find that it contravenes the tenancy agreement or invalidates any insurance policies. If in doubt, ask. Incidentally, if you have disabilities that necessitates a guide or hearing dog, it's perfectly reasonable to ask the landlord to reconsider the no pet rule. Each case is individual and requires advice, but if they fail to do so they might be in breach of disability discrimination laws.
2) Check the property
Good landlords will know that it's in their best interest to keep a property in good working order, that way they can hope to attract good tenants, i.e. you. That said, there are several sight checks you can do yourself, such as: do the windows, doors and gates look secure? Are any of the roof tiles missing? Is paint/ brick work neat and clean? It's definitely worth checking as you may be able to pre-empt or avoid future issues.
A clean and fresh interior is demonstrative of a responsible landlord, but there's more to the inside of a property than simply if it's been painted recently. You should make a point of checking the water pressure and finding out what sort of heating has been installed. Once again check the windows and doors for security and scan the walls for signs of damp. If the property was listed as furnished, you should be provided with an inventory to check against, but on the initial visit, establish whether all of the expected items are physically in the home. If you will be living in the property for some time and don't like the decor, some landlords might be happy for you to paint a bedroom or two and may even pay for the redecoration.
If the property features a garden, then it's likely your responsibilities as tenant might extend to mowing the lawn. If you are not 'horticulturally-inclined', it might be better to find a property that either doesn't have a garden or perhaps has one which has been decked and is low maintenance. Alternatively, the landlord may have an arrangement with a local gardener to keep the space looking nice, which might alleviate the pressure on you.
3) Know the landlord's obligations
To protect both you, as tenants and the landlord, a professional tenancy agreement should be issued. This should outline the rights, obligations and expectations of both parties to prevent any misunderstandings or unreasonable demands. This should be read through carefully and any issues raised before it is signed. It should cover questions relating to responsibility for repairs, rent payment dates, notice periods and whether any services charges might be payable. Copies should be signed and are binding unless breached at some point.
Gas Safe certification
Every year, all gas appliances must be tested and certified by a Gas Safe (formerly CORGI) registered engineer. This is for safety reasons, naturally. The landlord should therefore be able to present you with said certificates and also diarise future checks. There should also be carbon monoxide detectors installed. Good landlords know that this is expected of them, so don't be afraid to ask if they forget to mention it.
Tenancy deposit scheme
To safeguard money, landlords should now use one of four official government-backed tenancy deposit schemes into which to pay your funds. These are Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits, Tenancy Deposit Scheme and Capita Tenancy Deposit Protection. The idea behind the scheme is to ensure that if certain criteria are met, you will receive your deposit back in full and within a set time frame. If there is a dispute, then your deposit will be held until the issue is resolved. All landlords should use one of these schemes, steer clear of anyone that does not.
Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
Your landlord is obliged to order an EPC before the property is advertised. This provides information pertaining to the energy efficiency of the home and can give prospective tenants an idea of how much their energy bills might subsequently total. It will additionally suggest ways in which energy can be better used with a view to cutting emissions and saving money.
Your landlord: hands-on or via a letting agent
Your landlord is also required to let you know whether they are the first point of contact for all issues or whether the responsibilities have been passed on to a letting agent. If they will be a 'hands-on' landlord, determine if, how and when any inspections might take place. You should be provided with all contact details, regardless of who will manage the property.