Beware the trap of the arsehole landlord. TNT finds out how to avoid them and what to do if you have one. Renting property in London is the favoured option for expats – and anyone who doesn’t have a spare half-a-million quid knocking about. But it can feel like there are villainous landlords lurking behind every door, ready to trick you into parting with your hard-earned cash before going AWOL at the first sign of trouble (probably escaping into their underground lair).
It’s particularly rife at this time of year as, according to data from Gumtree.com, rental scams peak in September in the last-minute dash for renting student property or new job accommodation. Luckily, there are now government schemes and accreditation bodies in place to protect tenants’ rights. The important thing is to make sure everything is bona fide before you sign on the line…
Be a scam detector
It sounds obvious, but make sure you view the property first. Photos can be misleading, or the person who is claiming to be the landlord may not even own the property. Make sure you meet with the agent or landlord and view the property in person.
It can be tempting to rent directly from a landlord in order to avoid expensive agency fees, however, accredited agents (bodies include ARLA, NAL and NLA) will carry out important background checks on the landlord, so it could save you a lot of money and stress in the long run. They will also protect your deposit and rent with a client money protection account.
If you do deal directly with the landlord, you should check that they are a member of an official landlord association. You should also ask to see proof of ownership before handing over any money.
Landlords should also provide the necessary certificates and documentation, such as the EPC (Energy Performance Certificate), gas certificate and electrical safety check. And, of course, always read the contract carefully.
“Some landlords have no idea how to legally let a property,” says Kate Faulkner, managing director of independent property advice site propertychecklists.co.uk.
“They are usually the ones with a poorly written agreement with mistakes in it, no gas safety certificate or EPC and no electric checks and they won’t have an inventory done. They won’t protect your deposit and they will likely want to work on a cash basis so it’s untraceable to the tax man. If you avoid properties let this way, you are likely to do OK.
”Who will fix it?
As much as the landlord is responsible for the property, you are too. Indeed, there are certain areas that you are financially liable for.
“It is the tenant’s responsibility to take care of the immediate property, like the walls, floorboards and so on, and they must pay for any damages; but it is the landlord’s duty to repair damage to the structure of the property, as well as the common parts of the building, like the garden or staircase,” Jonathan Hudson, founder of West End estate agent Hudson’s Property, tells TNT. “This may vary in cases where the landlord has transferred responsibility for some maintenance to the tenant in return for cheaper rent.”
So it’s important to be clear about this when signing the contract.The landlord is also responsible for utilities, such as the boiler and kitchen appliances, if they came with the property. If something breaks and the landlord is uncontactable or refuses to pay, contact the agent who rented you the property.
“They should help you seek legal advice, or you can go to Citizens Advice or somewhere like Landlord Law (landlordlaw.co.uk),” says Faulkner.
Make sure you document the problem – with photos and copies of the emails you have sent your landlord, and also check your contract for the time frame the landlord has to fix any issues before pursuing it.
“If the landlord still won’t do anything your next port of call should be your local council,” Spareroom.co.uk’s Matt Hutchinson says. “They may be able to inspect the property and, especially if the issue poses a health and safety risk, can get involved.
Getting your deposit back
If you have done things properly and you have an assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement, by law your deposit should be protected by the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme. “In the case of disputes, the scheme will hold the deposit until it’s resolved,” says Hutchinson.
“If your landlord didn’t use a scheme they can be fined up to three times the amount of the deposit.”If you are renting a room rather than a property, however, you may not be protected, so it’s about making sure you don’t give your landlord any excuse to keep any of your deposit.
“One mistake tenants often make is not paying their last month’s rent in lieu of having their deposit returned – you should do this as you can end up breaching your contract,” advises Faulkner.
“Also, issues tend to arise if you differ in your opinion of what is ‘good condition’. In the main, the best way to avoid problems is to meet with the landlord – and/or the letting agent – once you have cleared everything out and go around the property together with the inventory and agree between you what’s owed or what needs paying for on the day.”