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Tenants Guide

Renting a property can be an exciting yet daunting prospect. You could be moving out of the family home for the first time, and now find yourself responsible for household bills, looking after a prospect and understanding the terms of a tenancy agreement. Whether you are renting for the first time after a change of circumstances, or an experienced tenant looking for a new home, renting brings with it a lot of responsibility and questions.

Our team at Cavender have proven experience and success in the letting industry and have built positive relationships with the tenants we work with. We deliver exceptional service as standard and work towards helping you find your new home.

Using our expertise of letting property in the Surrey area, we have put together a guide to help you avoid potential renting pitfalls.

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1. RESEARCH THE MARKET


In the current climate, the volume of people renting property in the Surrey area is far higher than those that are buying. Renting property is an increasingly important part of the way we live now, and with house prices continuing to outstrip wages, renting can often be the best option.

Although renting can give you greater flexibility, it still takes time and money to find your next home. Once you have decided that you want to rent a property, it is important to research the market thoroughly.

Start by looking at the major property web portals including Rightmove and Zoopla, where you can find estate agents who are advertising properties in your desired areas. However, be aware that the speed of the current property market and demand for great properties in good locations, means a lot of properties may not make it online. By registering with an agent, you will be among the first to be called about any new properties on the market.

Make a shortlist of local estate agents and look at how long they have been trading as letting agents in the area. Longevity is a good indication of the service you are likely to receive and their knowledge of the area.
 
Are their offices in prominent and accessible locations? When you use a local estate agent, you'll benefit from unrivalled flexibility and local knowledge. At Cavender, our relationships are built on trust and a warm welcome every time you pop into branch. Renting a home can be an incredibly stressful and sometimes emotional experience, what better way to do this then by forming a close, personal relationship with an agent who listens.
 
Are the agents regulated? There are several organisations that agents can voluntarily join, which have strict codes of practise. Therefore, agents who are members of such schemes should be taken more seriously. Cavender are an ARLA Propertymark agent and registered with The Property Ombudsman, providing you with assurance that we adhere to a strict code of practice.
 
Ask your neighbours or friends in the area if they have any recommendations of estate agents they have dealt with. This should give you an idea of the professionalism and level of service that you can expect of that agent.

Do they have client testimonials? A good letting agent will have previous clients who will happily vouch for them or provide a positive review.

Visit a few agents and have a chat with the Lettings manager and get a feel for them, both professionally and personally. Trust your instincts, if you trust them and believe they could work well both with you and for you, then this is a good sign. Test their local knowledge.

Don’t be tempted to find a property by posting on a request to rent on social media. Whilst it can sometimes be frustrating if you can’t find the property you want, there are many instances of tenants who have become victims of social media scams and have been affected both financially and emotionally as a result.

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2. YOUR PROPERTY REQUIREMENTS


You need to decide what you are looking for. Some good questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do you want a house or a flat?
  • What is your budget? (Remember to factor into your budget the additional bills on top of rent, including council tax, water, electricity, and gas)
  • Where do you ideally want to live?
  • Do you want or need a garden/ outside space/balcony?
  • Do you need parking?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • Do you need to be near a train station?
  • Do you need to be near a gym or shopping centre?
  • Being a flexible as you can on your requirements will give you more choice as demand for rental properties is high. Focus on your needs, rather than your wants.
Finding a property online you like the look of is one thing but seeing it in person is another. Make sure you view all the properties you are interested in, as the website information will only give you a taste of what it is like. Book a viewing with Cavender, and a member of our experienced team will be on hand to help you make an informed decision on both the property, and the local area. Be guided by their knowledge of the area. You might be surprised once you start viewing what is out there, and where to find it.

Keep an open mind, and don’t be deterred before viewing a property. When there is more than one person renting, it is advisable that you all view the property together, rather than going back and forth to visit the property. Once you have viewed your shortlisted properties, provide your agent with as much feedback as you can. If you have viewed something that is not what you want, let them know. Detail exactly your likes and dislikes so they can find you something more suitable next time.

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3. CHECKLIST


At each property viewing, take your time to make sure there aren’t any issues or problems with it. If there are, make a note so that they can be addressed before the contract is finalised.

Check to see if the property has been well maintained both externally and internally. Check that the carpets and walls are in good condition and ensure that the storage space is adequate for you.
Is there a garden or outdoor area you’ll need to maintain?

If you have any items of large furniture, bring the measurements with you, and take a tape measure along on viewings to ensure it will fit in the rooms. Most importantly, do not forget to measure the entrances; you need to get the furniture into the property.

Are smoke alarms fitted? All properties must have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their properties.

If the property uses gas, is there a CO detector installed?

Are there adequate electrical sockets for your requirements? Do all the light switches work?
 
If allowed, run the taps / bath / shower, and flush the toilet. Are they all working? Is the water pressure sufficient for your needs?

All properties will have an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate), which will give you an insight into the cost of your utility bills. The better the rating the EPC gives the property, the lower your utility bills are likely to be.

If you have any requests in relation to the property, discuss them with your agent so they can ask the landlord if these are possible. Failure to ask at this state could jeopardise your offer if you wait until further along in the process. If the requests are approved, they will need to be included in the tenancy agreement and will form part of your initial offer. Remember not to overload your requests as this could deter your landlord.

First impressions really do count, and most landlords ask their agents for feedback on what the prospective tenants are like. You may choose the property in which you live, but the landlord has the final say on which tenant will live in their property.

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4. PRICES


Properties are priced in line with the most up-to-date market value, therefore ensure that you put your best offer forward as this will increase your chances of it being accepted. It’s not uncommon to be outbid if you offer under the asking price.
 
 If your initial offer is not accepted, you may need to increase your offer and, in some instances, revise any requests you have made.

image5. SPECIAL REQUESTS


If you have any special requests in relation to the property, discuss this with your agent early on as failure to do this could jeopardise your offer if you wait until further down the line.
 
Also, it is important to request them sooner rather than later because they will need to be included in the tenancy agreement and will form part of your initial offer.
 
Remember not to overload your requests as this could deter your landlord.

image6. REFERENCING


Tenant referencing is the process a landlord or letting agent takes to find out and verify information about prospective tenants. It confirms that any information supplied, such as how much you earn, is correct, and helps landlords and agents decide whether you are the right fit for your chosen property. You will be asked to give references to show you can afford the property, and that you will be a good tenant. Having the reference and current employment details ready, will speed up the process.

Will I be Charged
Following the introduction of the Tenant Fees Act in 2019, tenants cannot be charged for any referencing checks.

Types of referencing
There are several types of referencing to provide a better understanding of your suitability as a tenant. They include the following:
Right to rent check. Legally your landlord or agent must check that you have a right to rent in the UK, which means verifying that you are either a British citizen or you’ve been granted a legal right to live in the country. This check will involve providing proof of identity (such as your passport), previous address and other document that prove your right to rent in the UK.

Proof of employment or income
In order to ensure you can afford the monthly rent, and pay your rent on time, your landlord or agent will need to contact your current employer to confirm your income.

Credit Check
This is to prove you don’t have any “adverse credit” or a poor history of paying bills on time. If your credit history isn’t straightforward, you could be asked to pay additional rent in advance, provide additional references or have a UK based guarantor. It is essential that you are always honest on the referencing forms and if you do have any adverse credit history, it is always advisable to declare it when you first put forward your offer
 
Previous Landlord Reference
If you’ve rented a property before, your previous landlord will be contacted to provide a reference on your behaviour as a tenant, including whether you paid your rent on time, looked after the property and any other information that could influence your new landlord’s decision.

Affordability Check
There will also be a rent to salary ratio check (combined, tenants must have annual earnings of at least 30 x monthly rent) to ensure that your income will sufficiently cover the rent payments.

Holding Deposit
A holding deposit is a payment to a landlord or letting agent to reserve your chosen property. This is paid before you sign a tenancy agreement and cannot be more than one week’s rent in order to secure the property. Once this has been paid, the agent will stop marketing that property and nobody else will view it.
 
Note: this will be withheld if any relevant person (including any guarantor(s)) withdraws from the tenancy, fails a Right-to-Rent check, provides materially significant or false or misleading information, or fails to sign their tenancy agreement (and/or Deed of Guarantee) within 15 calendar days (or other Deadline for Agreement as mutually agreed in writing).

7. TENANCY AGREEMENT


A tenancy agreement is a written or verbal contract between you and your landlord, outlining everything that you can expect from each other. Whilst a tenancy agreement is a formality, it is there to protect both your rights and those of your landlord’s.

There are various types of contracts but the one that is most used in England and Wales is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST). AST’s usually have a minimum term of 12 months.

A fixed term tenancy will end up on a specific date, meaning that notice is already agreed between the tenant and landlord.
Prior to the end of your tenancy, usually around 3 months before it ends, we will write to you regarding the renewal of your tenancy agreement. This will generally continue as either a new tenancy agreement or a periodic tenancy.

If you want to remain in the property, and the landlord is in agreeance, your agreement will automatically run on a periodic tenancy notice - otherwise known as a rolling contract. You can serve notice depending on the frequency of your rent payment, so if you pay monthly, you can give a month’s notice.

You should note that at any time you are looking to vacate, you will need to provide the landlord or agent with the correct period of notice which should ideally be sent to them by recorded or registered post.

The landlord can also exercise the right to serve you with notice in line with the break clause in the tenancy agreement. Should the landlord wish to, they will do it in a specific fashion as governed by the housing act. If you have any queries regarding notice periods it is best to check and ask the landlord/agent.

A different type of tenancy applies if the annual rental figure on the property is £100,000 or higher. Your agent will be able to advise you in more detail if this is applicable to your circumstances.
 
Remember a tenancy agreement is a legally binding contract, therefore it is vital that you have read your contract thoroughly before signing it. Should you be unsure of anything, ask Cavender. If you are still a little unsure it may be worthwhile to seek some legal advice through a solicitor or Citizens Advice Bureau.

image8. PREPARING TO MOVE


There are several things for the agent and landlord to organise before move-in day which include meeting the legislative requirements in order to let a property.

Nothing is absolute until both parties have signed the agreement. The completion of tenancy is dependent on the signed tenancy agreement, the references being acceptable to the landlord and cleared funds received by the agent prior to the move-in day.

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9. THE SECURITY DEPOSIT


The security deposit is paid at the start of the tenancy and refunded at the end of the tenancy. When the tenant pays the tenancy deposit, the landlord or agent must register it with a government-approved deposit protection scheme. They can make deductions from it to pay for any damage repairs to the property, unpaid rent arrears at the end of the tenancy and replacing lost keys.

Cavender Estate Agents use My Deposits to register their deposits. Your deposit is then held in an insured bank account and is released at the end of the tenancy, minus any agreed deductions in the event of any damage.
 
A typical security deposit is usually 5 weeks of the annual rent. For example, if the monthly rent is £1000pcm, the deposit will be £1153.00 (£1000 x 12/ 52 x 5).

It is worth remembering that a deposit is NOT to be used for rent, it is in place for any disrepairs to the property. Should you leave the property in the same condition as it was noted on your inventory report at the start of tenancy, and there are no rent arrears or outstanding utility bills, then your deposit should be returned to you in full. Usually there is no interest paid on the deposit.
 
In the eyes of the law this money still belongs to you so you will have to agree to any deductions that the landlord wishes to make at the end of the tenancy. If you feel that deductions are being made unfairly, you have the option to contact the company that protects your deposit for information on how to raise a dispute.
 
 For the most up to date information on Tenancy Deposit Schemes it is worth visiting the Direct Gov website.

image10. THE KEYS


The keys will be released once the references are satisfactory, your initial rent, security deposit has cleared, and you have signed your tenancy agreement.
 
Keys will be given to you by your agent or the check-in clerk if you are meeting them at the property.
 
It is very rare for the property to not be in the condition that you expect it to be, however some things may not be perfect straight away. Give yourself a little time to settle in and then report the issues to your agent or landlord.

Your agent will advise you whether they will be managing your property or if it is to be your landlord. If it is your agent, your point of contact throughout your tenancy will be the property management department. Cavender prides itself on its localised in-house team, who will deal with all aspects of your tenancy including maintenance, repairs and renewals.

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11. MOVE IN DAY


Moving into your new rented home is an exciting prospect, especially if you are moving out for the first time. You will probably want to start unpacking straight away, but there are several things you need to do ahead of the tenancy start date.

As you approach the move in date, you need to remember to set up your new utility bill accounts, and any other service that you require such as the telephone line, broadband, parking permit and contents insurance.
 
Cavender will help you organise this and you may be contacted by Tenant Shop to discuss what package suits your requirements.

Even if you are a student and not eligible to pay council tax, you should still contact the local authority with your move in date and make them aware of this.

It is worth asking the agent if there are parking bays with restrictions outside the property, as if you are using removal vans, you may want to ask the council to suspend them temporarily.
 
Cavender will send you a standing order mandate for your rental payments, which you will then need to complete and post on to your bank. It is your responsibility to check that this has been received and actioned by your bank.

image12. PROPERTY REPORTS


When you move into your new property, it is essential that you have property report, or inventory. This document details the condition of the property just prior to you moving in.

The Inventory Check-In is a comprehensive and detailed report of the state and condition of the property, which will include dated and timed photographs. It will also list everything that is in the property.

Most agents will use a third-party inventory company to carry this out, as they will be impartial to all parties concerned.
 
In addition, there is usually a Check-in Report, undertaken with you on the day of moving-in. The Check-in is an opportunity to update the Inventory but also to update meter readings. You will need to provide your utility provider with this information as soon as possible.

In most instances it is likely that you will meet a check-in clerk at the property who will check you in.

Normally an agent will send you a copy of this report within 10 days of moving in and you must check it is correct. If you feel that there should be any amendments, notify the agent within the time frame they have specified so they can deal with them as soon as possible.
 
The property report will be vital in any future deposit discussions so make sure you are happy with the information that is recorded.
 
If you are unable to attend the check in appointment, this will be carried out in your absence and you can collect the keys at a later time from the agency.
 
Be aware of your responsibilities as a tenant and report any issues you have or if there is a maintenance problem in the property, to the landlord or to the agent if they are managing it. Remember, whilst a leaking pipe may seem like a minor issue, if left to leak it could cause a ceiling to collapse. If this were to happen, this could be seen as your responsibility if you knowingly failed to report the leak.

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13. YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES


As a tenant, you have several rights, but you also have responsibilities and commitments you must uphold too.

Make sure that your rent is always paid on time.
 
If for any reason you are ever unable to pay your rent or will need to pay late, let your agent/landlord know as soon as you can. Some agents may charge a late payment fee, for repeated late rent payments. It is always best to make sure that your rent is paid by the standing order set up at the start of the tenancy as this will ensure the rent is always on time and will protect you from having a bad payment history.

Generally, tenants are responsible for paying their own utility bills, broadband, phone, TV Licence and council tax, unless these are included in the rent and set out in the tenancy agreement.
 
If the property is leasehold (more common if the property is a flat or apartment), remember that you are also governed by the obligations set out in the lease. You also need to be aware of any special conditions regarding your activities or level of noise permitted in the premises.

Be respectful of your neighbours. Try to avoid making loud noise and ensure that rubbish is put in its correct place and try not to obstruct any common areas.

You must make your landlord aware if you are going to be away for longer than 14 days, as this may affect the landlord’s buildings insurance policy.
 
 Ensure that the property is always locked adequately when you are out. If the property has a working alarm system, we advise you use it.
 
Basic maintenance issues such as replacing light bulbs and batteries in smoke alarms are your responsibility. If you are in doubt as to what is your responsibility contact either the agent or the landlord, they will be able to guide you.

14. VACATING THE PROPERTY


If you wish to vacate the property prior to the expiration of your tenancy agreement, you will need to contact your agent; they will be able to confirm if your tenancy is at a point whereby your notice can be served. You should also be aware that you still need to provide the requested amount of notice as specified in your tenancy agreement, even if you are looking to leave at the expiration of your tenancy agreement.
 
Once notice has been served, the property will then be put on the market again by the agent, so you should be prepared for viewings from prospective tenants to take place during the notice period. During this time, please ensure that the property is presentable and allow the agent to conduct the viewings. You will always be given notice of any viewings and remember that all viewings will be accompanied.
 
Generally, your agent will handle the check-out including the returning of the keys. They will also arrange the release of the deposit minus any agreed deductions for repairs which will directly depend on the condition the property is left in.
 
Cavender Estate Agents – Potential Fees you may be Expected to Pay

In 2019, the Tenant Fee Act banned agents and landlords charging fees to tenants. However, there are some circumstances in which fees may still apply. The possible fees you can incur are as follows:
 
Holding deposit - This is the equivalent to no more than one week’s rent and is used towards the main security deposit. This holds the property for 14 days whilst we progress the tenancy paperwork to completion.
 
Security deposit - This is no more than the equivalent of 5 weeks rent. This is sometimes referred to as a 'damage deposit' and is held by us and registered with My Deposits for the duration of the tenancy. Sometimes this is held by your landlord or a 3rd party and must always be registered with one of the Governments approved deposit schemes.
 
Late rent payments - A charge for late rent payments will be made if you are late paying by more than 14 days. This will be no more than an annual percentage rate of 3% above the Bank of England's base rate for each day that the payment is outstanding.
 
Replacement key charge - For lost or broken keys & security devices, you will be responsible to cover any reasonable costs incurred in sourcing their replacement. However, we do always encourage that you arrange the replacement at your own cost wherever possible.
 
Midterm tenant swap - Should one tenant wish to be released from the tenancy and a new tenant added to the tenancy, this will be at a cost of £50 including VAT.
 
Ending a tenancy within the fixed term - Should the tenant wish to leave their contract early, they shall be liable to the landlord’s costs in re-letting the property as well as all rent due under the tenancy until the start date of the replacement tenancy.  These costs will be no more than the maximum of rent outstanding on the tenancy.