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Guide to renting: Everything first-time renters need to know

More people than ever are renting.

In fact, it’s estimated that tenants will outnumber homeowners in the UK by 2039.

But the process of renting a house can be a daunting prospect.

There’s a lot to consider and be aware of, but this guide is here to help and will take you through everything you need to know before renting for the first time…

1. Look at your finances

The first thing to establish before renting a property is that you can afford to do so.

When you apply for a tenancy, your letting agent will take a close look at your finances – so, it pays for you to do the same before you apply.

You should:

Look at your salary and regular outgoings. Is what remains enough to pay rent and cover your additional bills from renting?

Look at your credit score online through a company like Experian. If your score is low, there may be steps you can take to improve it before you rent a property

If you think your credit and financial history may produce some red flags, you may be able to use a guarantor to support your application.

A guarantor is someone, usually a parent, who agrees to cover your rent should you be unable to pay it during your tenancy.

If your letting agent or landlord is concerned about your ability to afford the rent, they may request you have a guarantor, so think about who may be willing to support your application before you actually apply for a tenancy.

How much rent can I afford?

Experts advise that you should spend no more than 30%-35% of your annual income on rent.

So, to work out how much you can afford:

  1. Take your annual salary before tax and deductions
  2. Multiply that amount by 30%
  3. Divide that amount by 12 to establish your maximum monthly rent. For example, if you earn £30,000 a year gross, 30% of that is £9,000.
  4. Dividing that number by 12 means you would have £750 per month to spend on rent.

How much deposit do I need to rent?

To rent a property, you’ll need a deposit equivalent to five weeks’ rent if the total annual rent doesn’t exceed £50,000.

If the rent does exceed £50,000, you’ll need a deposit of six weeks’ rent.

For example, if the property you’re looking to rent has a monthly rent figure of £750, the annual rent would be £9,000.

The weekly rent for that property would be £173, so you’d need a deposit of £865.

Your landlord must also protect your deposit in one of three government-approved schemes within 30 days of your tenancy starting.

What does PCM mean when renting?

PCM stands for ‘per calendar month’ when renting.

When you see a property advertised with a rent figure per calendar month, it means your rent will be collected on the same day each month and you’ll make 12 payments per year.

2. Find a property

Once you’ve been through your finances and you’re set on taking on your first rental property, it’s time to start looking at locations and properties.

The location you choose can have a huge bearing on the amount of rent you’ll pay.

Indeed, there may be a huge difference in rent between two similar properties in different postcodes.

Think about:

  • What you can comfortably afford to pay in monthly rent
  • The size of property you need
  • The ideal area you want to live in
  • How important it is for you to live close to family and friends, or transport links for work.
  • Whether you want to be in the middle of a big town or city, or do you seek peace and quiet?

Once you’ve established these ideals, you may have to compromise on property size or style, or your ideal area to find a rental home you can afford.

Look online for properties that fit your budget and needs and make a list of the ones you like.

Your local letting agent is a great place to start.

Once you’ve found properties that you like, contact the local letting agent on the listing.

A good letting agent will make the process of renting for the first time easy and stress-free.

Here’s what you should look for from a letting agent:

  • Membership of a property redress scheme – either the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme
  • Membership of an approved trade body like ARLA, RICS or the NAEA
  • Good online reviews and a professional online presence
  • Good communication and transparency with costs

What should I look for on a rental property viewing?

Viewing properties is one of the most exciting aspects of renting for the first time.

After all, one of the properties you look at could become your first independent home.

However, it’s important to not get too caught up in the emotions that come with viewings.

Stay focused on your needs and be thorough when looking around.

Be sure to:

Look at the property’s exterior – this will give you an idea of how well it’s been maintained. Keep an eye out for damaged brickwork, cracked render or poorly maintained windows

Measure all rooms in the property – make sure the size of the property you’re viewing meets your needs

Test fixtures and fittings – don’t be afraid to switch on lights, turn on taps and open cupboards and doors to make sure everything works as it should

Look at security – how good are locks on windows and doors and does the property have an alarm?

Check the mobile phone signal – look at your phone’s reception in each room of the house

Think about noise – assess noise levels from traffic or other properties inside and outside of the property you’re viewing

Check for storage – does the property have enough storage for your needs?

View again – if you’re keen on the property you’re looking at, make sure you view it for the second time before committing. Viewing at a different time of day can be helpful when assessing noise levels, too

Finally, make sure you ask your letting agent or landlord plenty of questions about the property and the tenancy.

Should I rent furnished or unfurnished?

The majority of rental properties will be advertised as ‘furnished’ or ‘unfurnished’.

When renting for the first time, you may not have furniture of your own, so renting a furnished property can be a great way to avoid the extra expense of buying items.

Furnished properties usually include:

  • All white goods
  • Beds
  • Wardrobes
  • Table and chairs
  • Coffee table
  • Sofas

However, you may wish to start buying your own things, making an unfurnished property more suitable for you.

Having your own items can also make a rental property feel more homely.

If a property is advertised as part furnished, it may come with basic essential items, such as beds and sofas but often means the property only includes white goods.

What are white goods?

White goods are large electrical appliances, usually found in kitchens, and include:

  • Fridges and fridge-freezers
  • Washing machines
  • Dishwashers
  • Tumble dryers
  • Ovens
  • Microwaves

How can I tell if a property is a scam?

If the property you’re looking to rent has been listed by a local letting agent, you can be pretty certain it’s legitimate.

However, there are a number of potential property scams you should be aware of.

These include:

Fake property listings – tenants register their interest in a listing for a property that doesn’t exist, before paying a holding deposit to secure the property before a viewing

Fake letting agents and landlords – scammers sometimes pretend to be an agent or landlord, even showing potential tenants around spoof properties. They then request a deposit in cash and disappear

To avoid potential rental property scams:

  • Only registered agents can list properties for rent on the major online portals, so stick to these when searching
  • Never pay any money up front before you’ve seen a property and established that the landlord or agent listing it is legitimate

For more guidance on avoiding property scams, take a look at this guide.

What happens after viewing a property to rent?

Once you’ve found and viewed a property you like, you may be able to put down a holding deposit to secure it during the tenancy application process.

Holding deposits are capped at one week’s rent and should be either refunded or deducted from your up-front rent payment if your application is successful.

The landlord may be able to keep your holding deposit if:

  • You decide not to go ahead with the tenancy
  • Provide incorrect or misleading information
  • Do not pass right to rent checks

With your holding deposit in place, you’ll then move on to the tenancy application process.

3. The requirements to rent a house or flat

To rent a house or flat, you’ll need to show that you can afford the monthly rent and provide a range of documentation to support your tenancy application.

Your letting agent will also carry out a number of checks to establish your suitability for the property.

What checks are done for renting a property?

To assess your suitability for a tenancy, your letting agent will ask for certain documents, including:

  • References from your current or previous landlord and your employer
  • Several months’ payslips to prove your income
  • Tax returns or accounts if you’re self employed
  • Bank statements showing your outgoings
  • Proof of your identity and current address
  • Proof of your right to rent in the UK
  • Your agent will also run a ‘soft’ credit check on you, where they’ll be able to see public information on your credit file, including:
  • Information on any County Court Judgments (CCJs) or insolvencies
  • Your electoral roll status
  • Any credit accounts linked to your name and address

What is a right to rent check?

Your landlord is required, by law, to check that you have the right immigration status to rent in the UK.

Your landlord or agent can check this either through requesting certain documents or through the online checking service if you’re a biometric residence card or permit holder or have an eVisa.

Can I rent without proof of income?

Proving your income is an essential part of a letting agent’s background checks and it can be extremely difficult to rent without proving what you earn.

If you’re unable to prove your income, speak to your letting agent to discuss the options you have, which may include paying rent up front or putting a guarantor in place.

Can you rent with bad credit?

A poor credit history, where County Court Judgments (CCJs) appear on your credit report, will make securing a tenancy more difficult.

It’s likely your letting agent will ask for a guarantor to support your application if your credit report or affordability is a concern.

What is a guarantor for rent?

A rental guarantor is someone who agrees to pay your rent if you’re unable to do so.

A guarantor is usually a close relative and they’ll need a good credit history and a certain amount in savings to qualify.

Your letting agent will usually carry out a credit check on your guarantor and they’ll need to provide proof of income and savings.

When do you pay your deposit and first month’s rent?

You’ll be asked to pay your tenancy deposit and some rent up front once you’ve passed all referencing and affordability checks and your application has been accepted.

Most landlords will request your first month’s rent up front alongside your deposit, but you may be asked for more if you have a poor credit history or have been unable to provide a guarantor.

4. The bills you’ll have to pay when renting

The bills you may have to pay when renting include:

  • Council tax
  • Energy bills, like gas and electricity
  • Water and sewerage
  • Phone and broadband
  • Service or maintenance charges
  • TV licence

Does rent include bills?

Some rental properties are offered on a ‘bills included’ basis, particularly Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) where individuals rent bedrooms and share communal spaces.

If you’re thinking of renting a ‘bills included’ property, always check with the letting agent exactly what’s included and if you’ll still be responsible for any other bills.

Do you need home insurance when renting?

Your landlord is responsible for having a buildings insurance policy in place.

If their property is offered on a furnished basis, they should also have a contents insurance policy.

If you’re providing many of your own contents, however, you may wish to take out your own insurance, although this isn’t mandatory.

Do I need a TV licence when renting?

Unless your tenancy agreement specifies that your landlord is providing a TV licence, you’ll need to have one if you wish to have a TV in your rental property.

One licence will cover the whole property if you’re renting on a single tenancy agreement.

However, if you a renting a room in a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) alongside other sharers with their own tenancy agreements, each individual would need a TV licence.

This would cover each person watching TV in their bedrooms as well as in communal areas.

5. Tenancy rules and regulations

All tenancies come with certain rules that will be outlined in your tenancy agreement and both you and your landlord will be required to agree to these rules.

Do I need to sign a tenancy agreement?

Your tenancy agreement is the contract both you and your landlord will sign at the start of your tenancy.

Tenancy agreements can be tricky to understand, but it’s important you know exactly what you’re signing up for.

Your agreement is likely to be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) and should list:

  • The start and end date of the fixed term of your tenancy
  • Details of any break clause
  • The amount of monthly rent
  • The date the rent must be paid
  • The address of the rental property
  • The name and address of the landlord and letting agent, as well as you
  • The deposit amount and the scheme that it’s protected in
  • Bills you’re responsible for as the tenant
  • Whether or not pets or smoking are allowed
  • Garden maintenance requirements for tenant / landlord
  • Your landlord / agent’s responsibilities for maintenance and property inspections

How late can you pay rent?

When you sign your tenancy agreement, you’re agreeing to pay your landlord a monthly rent on a certain date.

If you think you’ll be unable to pay your rent on its due date, you should contact your landlord or their letting agent as soon as possible to discuss your options.

Can my landlord increase the rent?

If you’re signing a fixed term tenancy agreement, perhaps for 12 or 24 months, your landlord can only increase your rent during that term if you agree.

Your landlord can increase your rent at the end of your fixed term as part of a tenancy renewal if you agree.

If your tenancy becomes periodic, meaning it rolls month by month, or week by week, your landlord can only increase the rent once a year without your agreement.

Can you decorate a rented house?

If you wish to decorate a rented property, you should always ask your landlord’s permission before doing so.

Your landlord may be happy for you to decorate with their agreement, but they may stipulate in your tenancy agreement that no work like this should be carried out.

Can I rent with a pet?

It may be possible for you to rent with a pet if your landlord agrees.

Our guide is packed with great tips which can help.

Further reading…

How to ensure you get your tenancy deposit back

Everything you need to know about wear and tear

How to save for a mortgage when living at home

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