Regulation Tenant Tips

Up To Scratch

Written by Sarah Walker

Five key things to check, to make sure you’ve got a decent home and you’re signing up to a legal let.

When you view a property – and certainly before you sign any tenancy agreement – make sure you check these five things, to give you peace of mind that the property is going to be a decent home for you and, importantly, that the landlord is complying with their legal obligations.

There are three certificates you should ask to see before you rent a property. The first is the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which should be made available to you when you view and a copy given to you when you sign your agreement. As of April 2018, it will be illegal to let or renew the tenancy for a property unless it has a rating of E or higher on the EPC, so check yours to make sure your home is meeting the new minimum energy standards. The higher the rating, the more energy-efficient your rented home will be, and the lower your energy bills.

The second certificate you need to see is a record of the latest annual gas safety check. Along with the EPC, it is a legal requirement for the landlord or agent to provide you with this, to prove that the gas appliances and fittings are safe.

The third piece of paperwork you should ask about is the Electrical Installation Condition Report. Unless the property is an HMO, when the electrics must be checked at least once every 5 years, there is currently no legal requirement for private residential landlords to have a regular check, only to ensure the electrical installation is safe when you move in and maintained in a safe condition during your tenancy. However, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask to see evidence of when the electrics were last inspected.

Signs of damp & mould
Take a look around, paying particular attention to the corners of rooms and bottom of walls, and if you can see any damp-looking patches, tide marks  or areas of little black spots (surface mould), it’s a sign that the property might be suffering from rising or penetrating damp, or condensation problems.

Damp is something that the landlord will need to get contractors to fix, by either installing an appropriate damp course or fixing leaks, gaps in brickwork or problems with the roof. If there’s condensation on the windows, mildew or mould, it may be that the heating is not adequate in the property, or it simply hasn’t been properly cleaned or maintained since the last tenancy.

Whatever the problem, you should raise the issue with the landlord or agent, find out what they intend to do to resolve it. If you’re not happy with their answer, or the property smells damp or feels cold, it might be better to walk away.

For more information on damp and mould, see our article ‘Rising Damp?’

Fire safety
Since 1st October 2015, landlords in England have been legally obliged to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. There has to be a working smoke alarm on each floor and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room considered ‘high risk’, where there’s a solid fuel heating system, e.g. a gas boiler, gas fire or coal fire.

So take a look around and see where the alarms are. It’s also good practice for landlords to have a heat sensor and fire blanket in the kitchen, even though it’s not a legal requirement, so see if the property has those – that’s a sign your landlord is taking their fire safety responsibilities seriously.

Tenancy deposit scheme details
In April 2007, it became a legal requirement for every deposit taken under an assured shorthold tenancy agreement (AST) to be protected in a government-approved scheme. That ensures the landlord can’t unreasonably withhold part or all of your deposit at the end of your tenancy.

There are 3 schemes: Deposit Protection Service, My Deposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme. The landlord or agent must give you certain ‘prescribed information’ relating to your deposit, including the name of the scheme they’ve used, how to apply to get your deposit back and what to do if there’s a dispute over the return of your deposit.

If your deposit wasn’t protected correctly and/or you weren’t given the ‘prescribed information’, your landlord can’t evict you via a Section 21 Notice.

General condition
It might sound obvious, but do pay attention to the general condition of the property when you view:

  • marks on walls and carpets
  • chips in paintwork
  • wonky cupboard doors
  • tired furniture
  • cleanliness
  • cracks in windows
  • cold and signs of damp
  • an old boiler.

Also check the locks on doors and windows, to make sure you’re happy with the level of security and are going to feel safe in your new home.

If the place doesn’t feel well-maintained, it’s a sign you might struggle to getting things fixed during your tenancy. And if the property seems cheap, there’s probably a reason!

See more on the standards you should expect in privately rented homes on Shelter’s website:

About the author

Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker is a freelance writer and editor with extensive knowledge of the property investment industry.

A former estate agent and television presenter, Sarah has spent over a decade writing for industry publications and leading UK property companies, producing a wide range of marketing and PR content, including consumer guides, newsletters, website copy, articles and reports.

She has ghostwritten a number of property investment books, edited several others on property, business and branding, and continues to work with entrepreneurs to produce literature that supports their business enterprises. Sarah has been both a landlord and a tenant herself and has invested in the UK and overseas.

Away from her laptop, she’s a keen photographer and loves exploring the Scottish Highlands. Skiing is her sporting passion and she’s an enthusiastic member of her local amateur dramatic society.

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