Get answers to common housing questions
At Victorstone, we work extensively with potential tenants who are searching for appropriate rental accommodation in London. Regardless of whether you’re making the move from elsewhere in the UK or crossing oceans to come and live or study here, we know that a big part of enjoying a positive experience in the city relies on finding the right place to live.
Before you start your property search with us, read on for answers to some of our most frequently asked questions. You’ll also find insights into what you can expect from the lettings process as a tenant.
Should your landlord ask before entering your property?
When you rent a property, you landlord may well need to come in from time to time to carry out repairs or routine inspections.
If your landlord wants to inspect the property, they should give you notice and arrange a time with you first. As a general rule, they should give you at least 24 hours’ notice unless it’s an emergency (though check your tenancy agreement, as the amount of notice they require may be stated in it).
If your landlord or letting agent comes in without asking you, you do have the right to ask them to stop. If they continue to enter without permission, this could be considered as harassment, and is a criminal offence. See the Shelter website for more information or get advice.
Will your deposit be protected?
Under the law in England and Wales, if you have an assured shorthold tenancy (the most common type of private tenancy agreement) that started on or after 6 April 2007, your landlord must put your deposit in a Government-backed protection scheme within 30 days of getting it. If they don’t, a court can order them to pay you a penalty of one to three times the deposit (though this is rare).
An approved tenancy deposit protection scheme will ensure your deposit is returned to you, provided you have met the terms of your tenancy agreement, you have paid your rent and bills, and you have not caused any damage to the property. If you agree with your landlord how much deposit you’ll get back, it has to be returned to you within 10 days of the tenancy ending.
If you find your deposit was eligible for the scheme so should have been protected, but your landlord has not placed it into an appropriate protection scheme, you can apply to a county court. The court can order your deposit to be repaid, or paid into an official tenancy deposit protection scheme. It may also order the landlord to pay you up to three times the deposit’s value. See Gov.uk, NIDirect or the Scottish Government website for more information on deposit protection services in the devolved nations.
Could joint accounts with flatmates affect your credit rating?
Yes – and you need to be aware of this before you sign agreements with any other parties.
Credit scoring is a system used by lenders to check how financially attractive you are to them, using your past actions to predict your future behaviour. If you are financially linked to someone through any financial product, such as a loan, it can have an impact on your own credit rating. Even having a joint bills account with flat sharers can mean you are co-scored.
Technically, joint utility bills could be reported on credit files, but current practice is not to do so. However, if there are two (or more) names on a utility bill, and there’s a default, it’s likely to be reported on both or all credit records. If there’s no default or other problems, most utility companies don’t report this.
If you move out from flatmates who you had joint finances with, once the accounts are separated or no longer active, always write to the credit reference agencies and ask for a notice of ‘disassociation’ to make sure your flatmates’ credit history doesn’t affect yours in future.
Can you switch energy suppliers when you rent a property?
Yes – you have a right to switch suppliers, even if you’re renting. And in some cases, you may lose money by sticking with the previous tenant’s gas or electricity supplier.
Those on energy providers’ standard tariffs can save up to £300 a year by switching. It’s often possible to do this even if you’re renting, as you don’t need to own the property to sign up to a different provider. You’re free to switch providing you pay the energy company directly, and your landlord doesn’t do this on your behalf.
You should check your tenancy agreement to see if there are any terms in there that relate to finding a new energy supplier. However, even if your contract bans switching, Britain’s energy regulator Ofgem’s guidance states that: “If a tenant is directly responsible for paying the gas and/or electricity bills, they have the right to choose their own energy supplier and the landlord or letting agent should not unreasonably prevent this.” See the Ofgem website for more information.
So, if your tenancy agreement says you can’t switch, it may still be possible to challenge it. Firstly, discuss the situation with your landlord. If they refuse to let you move, be sure to tell them that preventing a tenant from changing energy suppliers may be viewed as an unfair term in a tenancy agreement. From here, you can get in touch with Citizens Advice for more information.
Can you switch to a prepaid gas or electricity meter?
You can still switch your supplier to save money if you rent a property, providing you pay the energy company directly. Check your tenancy agreement – if it says you can’t switch, seek advice.
If you want to change the meter itself – for example, by changing a prepaid to a credit meter – then it’s best to get written permission from your landlord first. This is because it could be seen as a changing the property from its original condition, unless you arrange to change the meter back at the end of the tenancy. The supplier may charge to do this, so check first.
Finding furniture, appliances and other home essentials
If you’ve got an unfurnished or part-furnished rental, look at sites such as Freecycle and Freegle. Hundreds of top-quality items are available on here every day, for free. Instead of dumping goods or selling them, people offer them to their local communities. The environment benefits as unwanted items aren’t flung into landfills, and you can take advantage of much lower prices on your everyday basics, from sofas and beds to TVs, fridges and other kitchen gadgets.
Tips to help you get your deposit back
You’ve paid the deposit for your rental accommodation in good faith that you’ll get it back. But in some circumstances, your landlord may choose to withhold some or all of this initial payment. Here’s how to make sure you get your money back without any arguments or delays.
Check your contract
Dig this out and give it another read. Does it say the carpets need to be deep cleaned, or that all picture hooks need to be removed and filled in? If so, make sure you meet these requirements before you move out.
Mend any damage
Covering up a hole in the wall with a picture may seem like a great idea at the time but leaving it like this when you move out is practically asking for your deposit to be docked. If you have been responsible to damage to the property, make good before the final inspection – even if it costs you cash.
Make sure nothing is missing or broken
Check the inventory thoroughly to make sure everything’s as it should be. As above, if something is missing or broken, be sure to replace or fix it as needed.
Take photos as proof you’ve left everything in good order
These images could be useful evidence later if a dispute arises over your deposit.
Arrange a proper deep clean
Get a scrupulous friend or family member to check the place over to check there’s nothing you’ve missed and make sure you remove all rubbish before you hand over the keys.
In some cases, it will be enough to deep clean the place yourself. But if your tenancy agreement states you must get the property professionally cleaned, you may have to provide receipts to prove you’ve done it. Whether this may be deemed an unfair contract term is a grey area.