Advice for tenants

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With the average tenant now staying in a property for just under 20 months*, the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) is keen to ensure that tenants don’t assume they know all the answers and that the right questions are asked up front.

London tenants are staying put for the longest, at 20.9 months, a figure which is slightly ahead of the 19.1 months recorded in the Midlands, but considerably longer than the average of 17.7 months found in the North East of England. The lowest average can be found in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the typical duration of stay is 17.1 months.

Susan Fitz-Gibbon, President of ARLA, said: “Asking the right questions when viewing a rental property can guard against any unwanted surprises later on in the tenancy. Whether you’re a regular home mover or someone who likes to stay put, never be afraid to ask what may seem like a simple question as the answer may have a significant bearing on your final decision about a property.

“Renting should be a positive experience, and our figures suggest that many people are staying in a property for longer than the duration of a traditional one year tenancy agreement. For this reason it definitely pays to think reasonably long term when considering your choice of rental home.”

ARLA has the following advice for tenants viewing properties:

1. Who is responsible for the property: You may be shown around by a letting agent, but they may not be responsible for the ongoing management of the property once it is let. If the landlord is going to take on maintenance duties, it may be worth meeting with them before signing the tenancy agreement.

2. Choose an expert agent: The letting industry is not currently subject to any government legislation, meaning that anyone can set up as a letting agent or landlord. You should always ask if your agent is affiliated to a professional organisation like ARLA. All ARLA agents must adhere to a strict code of conduct, as well as offering client money protection and redress schemes, which protect consumers if things go wrong.

3. Winter is coming: Always ask to see a property’s EPC when you view it. This will give you an idea of potential energy bills. As a tenant you will be liable for these and with the recent price increases, a more efficient home will be easier on the wallet. With the winter nights drawing in, it can also be a good idea to view the same property at different times of the day to get a sense of how light each room is and how secure it feels overall.

4. Are you jointly liable? : Many shared tenancies contain a joint liability clause, meaning you are responsible for the actions of your co-tenants. This includes covering their share of the rent if they were to unexpectedly move out. Before you enter such an agreement, carefully consider how well you know your prospective housemates.

5. Batteries not included: Always ask explicitly what items come with the property. Current tenants may have added their own items of furniture and you don’t want to find key pieces aren’t there when you move in! As well as asking about included contents, it is always worth turning on the shower and taps to check pressure.

• *The average length of a UK tenancy is 19.6 months. The data from the ARLA Members’ Survey of the Private Rented Sector, covering Q3 2013, was drawn from 524 member offices. Together with the ARLA Survey of Residential Investment Landlords, September 2013 – conducted among 854 landlords – the report forms the ARLA Review and Index.