Up to 40% of tenants were unaware of the laws created to protect them

With more and more young people struggling to get onto the property ladder, the rental market has dramatically increased. A recent survey showed that despite there being an increase in long-term letting, up to 40% of tenants were unaware of the laws created to protect them and under half reported being unaware of fake landlord scams or how to avoid them.

Whilst a large proportion of the private rental sector are doing everything by the book, unfortunately there is still a minority who are not. By for-going an agent, private tenants are risking losing their hard-earned cash.

It’s with this in mind, that we’ve put together a list of things private tenants should beware of in order to better protect themselves and their savings.

Being unaware of tenants and landlords rights and responsibilities

It’s important to remember that not every landlord is an experienced property tycoon, many landlords are accidental and therefore there’s no guarantee that each and every one is well versed in property law and the finer details of drawing up a rental agreement. Often unknowingly, private landlords and tenants can neglect to fulfil their legal responsibilities.

When going through a letting agent, you have the benefit of years’ of knowledge, industry expertise and exposure to property law. Our advice to tenants letting through a private landlord is to swot up on your legal knowledge and ensure you are well versed in what your rights and responsibilities are as a tenant. This way, you can ensure that both parties are fulfilling their legal obligations and adhering to the correct protocol.

Becoming responsible for someone else's portion of the rent when a joint tenancy

Although many joint tenancies go to plan, some do not. Whether it’s due to a falling out, loss of employment or a simple relocation, some joint tenancies come to an end earlier than expected. Many tenants are unaware that when they sign a joint tenancy agreement and the other party moves out or fails to pay the rent, they have joint and several liability for the full amount. Furthermore, if rent is not paid in full, the tenants remaining in the property could be evicted.

If you are in a joint tenancy and one party decides to leave early, it is best to have a discussion with all tenants and the landlord present to come to a reasonable agreement on who is responsible for that portion of the rent and if the person leaving the tenancy is to be replaced. The responsibility for finding a new tenant may fall with either the remaining tenants or the landlord, depending on the terms of the rental agreement.

Fake landlord scams

In a survey, little under half of the respondents claimed to be unaware of fake landlord scams. The scams operate with fake landlords advertising non-existent properties on free websites such a Gumtree and convincing prospective tenants to transfer deposits via online banking. With the demand for affordable, rental properties increasing, and scam landlords pressuring tenants to transfer funds as soon as possible in order to secure their dream home, it’s understandable that many are falling victim.

To avoid getting caught out by this type of scam, do not transfer funds to a landlord without viewing the property. If there is absolutely no way you can carry out a viewing in person, avoid listings with little to no photos of the property and ensure the landlord is able to submit to you a copy of their ID and relevant insurance certificates before you go ahead with the transaction.

Landlords and agents who are members of trusted professional bodies such as NALS or ARLA will place tenants’ funds into a Client Money Protection scheme. This ensures funds are placed into a separate bank account, protecting tenants against theft, fraud and misappropriation. Ensuring your funds are being placed into a CMP scheme is especially important if the transaction is being carried out before you have viewed the property.

Being unable to get the full deposit back from the landlord

You’ve come to the end of your tenancy, left the home as you found it, and yet the landlord is refusing to relinquish your deposit. Whilst it’s standard protocol for a letting agent to take an inventory upon check-in, inexperienced landlords are unaware of the importance of an inventory and may neglect to carry out this vital step.

To avoid disagreements over deposits, insist that the landlord carries out an inventory check at the beginning of the tenancy. Although it may seem like additional and unnecessary admin, a documented inventory signed by both parties is the simplest way to settle disputes over deposits.

All landlords now have a legal obligation to place tenants’ deposits into a recognised deposit protection scheme. It is important to ask for proof and details of the scheme before commencing the tenancy. In the case of a dispute, the tenancy deposit scheme will hold the funds until a resolution has been reached. If your deposit has not been placed in one of the recognised protection schemes, the landlord will be ordered by the court to repay the full amount.

Repairs and damage to the property not being dealt with quickly and efficiently

Despite what you may envisage, many landlords do not live around the corner from their rental property. Whilst many do have an emergency contact near the property, a number, due to oversight, will not. For tenants this could mean long waits for maintenance issues, lost keys and general repairs to the property.

By ensuring your landlord has the proper insurance and gas and electricity certifications you can reduce the risk of things going wrong and having long waits for repairs. Before you move in, ask the landlord who the emergency contact is and roughly how long you can expect to wait for a response.

Mike Cook, Managing Director of Romans Lettings, offers some words of wisdom: “We strongly advise prospective tenants to research the pros and cons of using a letting agent. After a bit of digging, you’ll soon see that the service and peace of mind you get when working with a reputable agent far outweighs the minimal cost savings.”

To find out more about our tenant services, please click here.