The complete guide to renting a property

Posted: by May 18th, 2010

Absolutely everything you need to know about renting.

Most people will have rented property at some time or another in our lives, whether it was during times as a student, living abroad or in some cases – whilst waiting for the current housing market to recover.

If you’ve never rented before, or simply are looking for good solid advice, this guide to renting a property should help you out. We don’t recommend you follow every point we’ve discussed here to the letter – as everyone’s situation is different, just use your common sense, and pick out the bits applicable to you.

Some of this guide pertains to the Northern Ireland property market, but overall some of the common sense hints and tips, should cover the rental process for folks across the water as well.

advice

With the current economic situation, there are lots of areas in Northern Ireland where there are more homes than tenants which should leave you with the upper hand when negotiating a monthly rate – that said, there are also places where increased demand has pushed rental prices skyward.

The secret with getting a good deal, is to know the scores on the doors before you start looking, by examining rental prices in the area, or townland that you are interested in living in. Armed with this information prior to going to a viewing with a Landlord or Letting Agent will ensure you get good value for money.

Other ways that may help you to save money is to through ensure the interior and exterior of the property matches the advertisement.  For example: Is there a built in tumble drier etc. Any discrepancies in this sort of thing may give you some wiggle room to negotiate your rental costs per month.

search

We provide the easiest way to find a new property to rent in Northern Ireland – and with our range of features, we are pretty convinced you’ll not have to go any further to find what you need. We have the Northern Ireland rental market covered with 98% of estate agents using our service in real time – so properties are up to date around the clock.

So how do you go about finding the perfect rental property with us…

Search by town city or area.

First and foremost, select property for rent – then ask our search for which town, city or area you’d like to live in. e.g. To find property to rent in Belfast

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Narrow your search criteria

Need to narrow things down a bit? Select your minimum price per month, maximum price per month and number of beds – and away you go!

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Make an enquiry

Select a property from the results that you like the look of, and make an enquiry. It’s really that easy.

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We are continuing to develop features that make it easier for you to find your perfect property online, all without leaving the comfort of your easy chair. You can then relax, and wait for an agent to get in touch with you.

viewing

Make sure you bring a friend along with you to your viewing. Not only will a second set of eyes help you notice things that you may have missed – but you’ll feel more comfortable asking questions with some moral support.

As many homes run on gas central heating, it is worth checking that the boiler has had a recent checkup by a qualified gas engineer. Ask to see the gas certificate from the last check, as it will have a date on it proving the landlord is telling the truth. Any red stickers on the supply could indicate that there were problems in the past.

Don’t feel pressured into making a decision there and then, if you want time to think about it, arrange to call the landlord to confirm the next day.

Make your own notes about the structure of the property rather than just the aesthetics as you may be able to use this as a bartering tool. For example, in many cases, heating a property that isn’t double glazed may prove to be expensive to heat. Look inside cupboards and wardrobes for signs of damp as these are easily covered up with a lick of paint – and pay close attention to your nose, as fresh paint smells may indicate previous problems.

Check your reception – and I don’t mean the property entrance!  Poor terrestrial t.v. reception, will force you as a tenant to go for either satellite or cable, which may or may not be a problem. Broadband speed as we’ve mentioned before is another often forgotten thing to consider when moving house.

As of October 2008, every landlord will be required to provide an energy performance certificate (EPC) for each property they rent out for any NEW tenancies they grant. The EPC should be made available to the prospective tenant BEFORE any agreement is signed. It should be available for any prospective tenant to view before deciding to move in, so that they can compare similar properties. It will address things like how much it costs to heat the house, loft insulation, double glazing, boiler age, efficiency etc. It will give the house a rating like you get on fridges A, B, C etc. It will be valid for 10 years.

ask

Lets assume you’ve found your perfect pad -what sort of things do you need to ask your landlord or letting agency?

Ask what deposit protection scheme your deposit will be held in.

There are two types of tenancy deposit protection scheme available for landlords and letting agents (insurance-based schemes and custodial schemes). All schemes provide a free dispute resolution service. See more information at DirectGov.

Do they have permission of their mortgage lender to let out the property?

It is important to check that your potential landlord has the permission of their mortgage lender to let out the property.If they have don’t have permission and they fail to keep up mortgage repayments, tenants could find themselves out on the street. If they do have permission – their rental agreement will be honoured. Asking this information can be difficult, so you may want to bring it up via the  old ‘I have a friend whom…’ or pay the land registry to find out the mortgage lender, and who is down as living in the house. If it’s the landlord then there’s a good chance they don’t have permission to let.

Ask the landlord or the letting agent if the property is insured for tenants

If the property is fully insured for tenants, your own risk as a tenant will be minimised. Ask the landlord or the letting agent where you currently stand and what the insurance covers, which may help influence your decision on taking out home insurance yourself.

Find out their level of experience

If you can, ask how long they have been a landlord or letting agent.  Asking how many properties they currently manage will also give an indication of their market experience.

Ask if they are a member of any trade associations

If you do decide to go with a letting agent, it is always advisable to choose a letting agent who is a member of a professional organisation, such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). All are bound by a code of practice, that protects both the owner of the property, and the tenants moving in.

We’d also ask if they are accredited with the local council private sector housing department.

Ask about how they handle inventory checks.

Inventory checks are an essential part of the rental process, regardless of whether you are dealing with a private landlord or a letting agent.  A good inventory check is an artform, with the landlord noting walls, ceilings, carpet, furniture and anything untoward when you move in. It is as much your responsibility to go through the inventory check with a fine tooth comb as it is the landlord or letting agent. They should take photographs of anything which is out of place in order to avoid the landlord or letting agent acusing you of breaking something or causing property fatigue – although you should be allowed regular wear and tear without problems.

Note down any problems you see yourself, and if in doubt, get the landlord to take photographs of particular problems. Obtain signatures and dates on both from yourself and the landlord or agent.

Ask if you can have a copy of the tenancy agreement.

Ask if you can have a copy of the tenancy agreement, which you can then read at your leisure before signing anything; as we stated earlier its always a good idea to not make a quick decision there and then.

private-landlords

Ask if they can supply you with references from previous tenants. If they are a good landlord they shouldn’t have any difficulty in asking previous tenants for a good word. They may even supply you with a mobile telephone contact for you to talk to them at your leisure.

Ask if you’ll be required to pay any money to have a credit check done on yourself. Some require a background check fee to perform this. As a way to save money, they may be content with seeing previous bank statements, or a guarantor.

Ask how often property inspections take place – if at all. Warning bells should ring if they don’t take time to inspect the current property condition, as it make indicate property repair and upkeep is not high on their priority list. Ask how much notice they are likely to give as legally they have to give you 24 hours notice.

letting-agents

Ask if there are any fees you will be expected to pay up front, before you move in. Many agents require you to pay for application fees, credit checks, inventory checks and a tenancy agreement fee. If you can get written confirmation of what fees you will be expected to pay, including any potentially hidden charges – this will give you a good platform to stand on when comparing other agents.

Ask if there will be any inventory checking fees when you move out of the property, and whether this is covered by the inventory checking fee when you move in.

tenancy

There are currently 2 different kinds of residential tenancies in Northern Ireland.

There are two main types of tenancy in Northern Ireland:

  • Protected
  • All Other Tenancies (some of which may be rent controlled)

Protected tenants have more rights than other private tenants. Protected tenants usually have lower rents than other tenants. It can be complicated to work out if you have a protected tenancy.

You will probably have a protected tenancy if:

  • your accommodation was built (or converted to let) before 1956
  • your accommodation had a Net Annual Valuation of less than £140 on 1st October 1978
  • there was someone renting your accommodation on the 1st October 1978.

You can find out the Net Annual Valuation of the property in 1978 by contacting the Valuation and Lands Agency.

Working out if you have a protected tenancy can be complicated.

You will probably wont have a protected tenancy if:

  • your accommodation was built (or converted to let) after 1956
  • your accommodation has a certificate of fitness.

Protected tenants are less common but have more rights than all other tenancies. Residential tenancies in Northern Ireland are governed by the Rent Order (Northern Ireland) 1978. It is important to understand this to know your rights.

your-rights

Tenants have a number of basic rights such as:

  • right to a rent book – free of charge and within 28 days of the tenancy being granted if your tenancy began after April 1st 2007
  • freedom from harassment and illegal eviction
  • 28 days notice to quit
  • due process of law.

Your tenancy agreement should outline the rest of your rights and responsibilities. For example:

  • how long the tenancy will last – if the tenancy started on or after April 1st 2007 and its length is not stated in the agreement, a term of 6 months applies to that tenancy
  • how much rent is due
  • when you should pay rent
  • who is responsible for repairs – for tenancies that began after April 1st 2007 if the agreement doesn’t state responsibilities clearly (or if there is no tenancy agreement) certain duties of repair shall apply
  • whether you can leave the tenancy before the end of the tenancy agreement
  • If your tenancy began after April 1st 2007, you must be provided with a written statement of tenancy terms within 28 days of the commencement of your tenancy. This should be supplied to you free of charge.
  • The contents of the statement allow for default tenancy terms to be enforced in the absence of a tenancy agreement. It is an offence for a landlord not to provide a statement of tenancy terms in these circumstances.

moving-in

Take the time to ask the landlord or letting agent to check the gas, electricity and meter readings. You should be only liable to pay electric bills going forward from a point, and in many cases previous tenants scarper leaving unpaid bills that the next tenant needs to clean up. If you are sure what the readings are, you can be sure that your share of the bill is accurate later on. Get the name of any previous supplier so you know who you’ll be dealing with, and ask if the process for changing things into your name is underway.

If the previous tenants have left leaving debts owed to any utility companies than it is very important to get in contact with them (or let the landlord do so) as soon as possible and inform them of the situation.

Get the contact name and number of any previous handymen or how to contact the landlord or letting agent in case of a plumbing issue, or other household problem. Ask who you contact if you can’t get through, or if the landlord is on holiday. Keep this list of handy numbers next to the phone in case of emergency.

Ensure the landlord or letting agent leave instructions on any applicances in the home, or at least provide user manuals for you to read at leisure. You don’t want to get caught in a situation where you break something through misuse and have to pay for damages.

Ask when phone and broadband supply will be operational, and again what supplier these are with in case of any unforeseen problem with the service.

during-tenancy

To avoid deposit deduction disputes when you leave:

If you break anything that will want repair, or replacement by the landlord – make sure that you report it to them at the first available opportunity. Record the date and time that it was broken, and record of photograph of the damage. If the damage is coming out of your deposit, it makes sense to offer to get a quotation yourself for the price. Regardless of whether the landlord or agent use this price, you’ll know roughly what price it should cost.

If you agree any changes to your rental agreement with your landlord or agent, get it in writing. Likewise if you agree to do some decorating, or to allow a pet into the home – record conversation dates and time and obtain written permission. In many cases particularly with letting agents you may not be speaking directly to the gatekeeper of the property.

Be a considerate neighbour during your time as a tenant. Remember you want to make your landlord’s life easy as well as your own, and complaints from neighbours about undue noise or disturbances will reflect poorly on you.

Record any dates of servicemen visits, including boiler repairs, electrical maintenance etc. Having a good record of this sort of thing can help protect you as a tenant, if something breaks and you are liable as infrequent servicing particularly on gas equipment is negligence on the part of the landlord / agent.

MOVING-OUT

When moving out of an existing property, it is important to make sure you contact the utility companies and pay any final bills which occur. Remember it is not the landlord or the letting agent’s responsibility to chase these, and it is in your own best interest to resolve any outstanding fees before you leave, and ensure a forwarding address for mail and / or bills is provided. You could leave yourself open to getting a poor credit rating if you leave outstanding bills behind you, which may influence the next home that you either own or rent.

Take the time to tidy the property before you leave, and take photographic evidence of having done so. A good tenant will leave a property in the same manner as they’ve found it, however many letting agents and Landlords refuse to allow you to be present at final check out of the property, so it makes sense to take note of what you’ve done prior to moving out.

Arrange with your landlord or letting agent when you can expect to receive your deposit, and if there are any deductions to be made from it for breakages etc. agree verbally with the landlord or agent what these may be – as this may result in a faster turn around on your money. Don’t forget to leave a forwarding address for that, or better still arrange a time for you to collect. It is preferable to attend the check out process (final inventory check and inspection) if you can, as arguing over damages is more difficult weeks down the line.

When providing keys back to the landlord or letting agent, ensure you get them to sign and date proof of receipt as this easily clears up any issue of when they were returned.

Useful Links

Housing Advice NI
The Housing Executive

Northern Ireland Environmental Health

Tenancy Deposit Scheme Information Northern Ireland

Land & Property Services
Citizens Advice Bureau Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Direct Gov

Stay at QUB website

Ulster university residential services
Gas Health & Safety

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