Renting privately can be a great option. You have much more choice about the type and location of property you end up living in. However, we get a lot of calls from people who have had problems in their privately rented home. Whether you've rented before or you're a private renting novice, check out our top tips to make sure your experience is a positive one.
1. Don't be rushed during a viewing
Always, always arrange to see a property before you agree to take it on. Don't let the agent or landlord rush you through the place. Make sure you write down the key questions you need to ask
2. Don't sign unless you're absolutely sure
Don't commit to an agreement that you may not be able to keep. Sometimes people don't get the grades they need to get into a course or haven't worked out their finances to see if they can actually afford to move out of home. It's virtually impossible to get out of a tenancy agreement without a severe financial penalty if you've just changed your mind.
Your guarantor may end up having to pay rent for a full year for somewhere you're not even living. You'll also probably lose any deposit you paid if you change your mind. Read the agreement carefully before you sign, get advice on anything you're not sure about and make sure you get a copy of the agreement.
3. Triple check the property's condition
If you're moving out of home for the first time you're probably so excited at the thought of your own place that you don't think about the practicalities. But come the freezing cold mornings in January you could be cursing your single glazed windows and leaky shower. Check everything thoroughly.
If you're moving in on the condition that the landlord carries out certain repairs, get a list of repair work and a date by which it will be completed in writing and signed by the landlord. Quality standards in private housing are pretty low and it can be frustrating trying to force a landlord to carry out repairs and improvements.
4. Know what you're liable for
If you're moving into a property with a group of other people, find out if you can be held responsible for anything they owe to the landlord. If your tenancy agreement says you are jointly and severally liable you may end up paying your flatmates' rent if they leave the property.
If your guarantor signs an agreement with joint and several liability they could also find themselves footing the bill for someone else's costs. Read your tenancy agreement carefully. Read the inventory you've been given and make sure you note down anything that you disagree with.
5. Know your rights
Regardless of how you pay your rent, your landlord must give you a rent book. This should contain your landlord's name, address and telephone number even if an agent is managing the property. You have a right to these details and it's important that you keep a record of them.
Your landlord can only evict you by following due process of law.
6. Know your rates!
Understanding who has to pay rates can cause massive headaches for private tenants. If you live in a HMO (a house with a minimum of 3 tenants from at least 2 families) your landlord is responsible for passing the rent on to Land & Property Services (LPS) although he may collect the money from you as part of your monthly rental charge.
If you live in a property that's not a HMO (say you share with just one other person or live in a property with someone who is related to you) you need to be clear on who is responsible for passing the rates money to LPS. Unlike other parts of the UK, students still have to pay rates in NI.
7. Protect your investment
Look after your new home and your property. It's pretty standard to be asked to pay a deposit when you take on a new tenancy. Your landlord can keep some or all of this money if you've damaged the property or owe any rent.
If you pay your deposit after 1 April 2013 it must be registered with one of the 3 DSD approved deposit protection schemes in Northern Ireland. Your landlord should take a detailed inventory and photographs, but if he doesn't you may want to consider doing this and sending a copy to your landlord or agent and keeping some kind of proof that you've done this.
It's in your best interests to take out contents insurance so you're protected if your possessions are damaged or stolen. Your landlord's insurance won't cover your losses.
8. Your new home
Although your landlord owns the property, it's your home while you are the tenant. Your landlord cannot enter the premises without giving you adequate notice unless there's an emergency. At the same time, you shouldn't refuse access to your landlord without a good reason.
9. Be a good neighbour
Not everyone living around you is going to be on the same timescale as you, so keep the late night noise to a minimum.
Make sure you know what day your bins are collected and try to bring them back in as soon as they've been emptied as "bin theft" is a common crime in some areas and you'll probably have to pay for a new one if your bin disappears.
10. Enjoy your independence
Sharing a home with other people can be a weird experience. It can be masses of fun but it can also cause huge disagreements. Drawing up ground rules or discussing problems maturely may help prevent any fallouts between flatmates.
Know who to turn to if something goes wrong. You can get advice from Housing Rights by calling 028 9024 5640 and choosing option 3 Monday to Friday of each week.
Our website has lots of information to help you learn all about your rights and responsibilities as a private tenant.