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Tenants’s rights, responsibilities & tenancy agreement

What you need to know about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, as well as key points you need to be mindful of when reviewing your tenancy agreement.

In this article, let’s look at the rights and responsibilities for tenants, as well as how to review your tenancy agreement carefully.

First things first, you should always make sure that there is a written tenancy agreement between you and the landlord. The most common agreement in the UK is called Assured Shorthand Tenancies or AST. ASTs are superseded by the law, so in the event of a dispute, the law takes precedence over any wrongly drafted clauses in the agreement.

Key points you need to watch out for in your tenancy agreement

  • Agreed rent per month and mode or payment.  This is an obvious one – just pay attention to the rent amount that it has been calculated accurately, especially the conversion from per week rent (that’s how rents are often advertised) to per month (there are more than 4 weeks in a month).
  • Tenancy start and end dates, and the process for ending the tenancy early. There should ideally be a notice period of 1 to 2 months depending on the tenancy period.
  • Break clause. It is common to have a break clause in long-term tenancy agreements. We recommend having this clearly spelled out so that you have the flexibility to move out easily in the event of a change of circumstances for you.
  • Process for periodic rent review. We have seen agreements that have an inflation-linked rental price increase every year.
  • Deposit amount and how it will be protected, along with details of when the deposit can be fully or partly withheld (e.g. to repair the damage you have caused, deducted when you are vacating the property). The landlords are now required to put the tenants’ deposit into a Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme and provide the receipt to the tenant within a few days of giving the deposit account. The landlords lose some rights (related to tenant eviction) in case they do not put the deposit amount into a tenancy deposit scheme.
  • Property managementThis can be a topic of contention during the tenancy, so pay special attention to this. It’s not uncommon for landlords to hand over regular repairs and maintenance work to private agencies – make sure you have their full contact details, including emergency phone numbers. If your landlord plans to take care of property management, make sure to talk to him/her in advance on how quickly he/she can respond to emergencies – for example, if there is a water pipe leakage in the middle of the night, or there is a major issue when the landlord is living abroad or away on holidays in a remote location.
  • An outline of the bills you are responsible forTypically all utility bills and council tax are payable by the tenants, while any building management fee is paid by the landlord. Occasionally, gas heating in the flat may be covered by the landlord if there is a central heating system in the building.
  • Pets. Most landlords are adamant that they will not allow pets to reside in their property. Sometimes, if the property is part of a purpose-built apartment block, this can be dictated by the regulations of the building, leaving no margin for discussion. Make sure you are fully aware of the rules that apply to the property regarding this matter.

There are various public sources available for information on tenants’ rights and responsibilities that you may want to review…

Understand your rights & responsibilities:

Understand the tenancy agreement (Assured Shorthand Tenancies or AST)

Understand the Tenancy Deposit Protection

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Your checklist when viewing a property

When viewing a property, there are a number of things that you will want to check.  After all, this is the opportunity for you to evaluate if it meets your requirements and if you need the landlord to make any changes to the property as part of your offer (e.g. repairs, add or remove furniture, etc.).

Also, using this checklist will help you to avoid making a decision that is based only on the emotional connection that you may have made with the property and its location. Renting a property is a financial commitment and you want to make sure that it’s the right home for you on all levels.

Outside the property & surrounding areas

Sources of noise & pollution

  • Is there any sign of a construction site or scaffolding? If so, find out what is the nature of the work being done (e.g. construction, refurbishment) and for how long is it expected to continue. This may be an issue, making the place noisy, disrupting traffic, limiting parking space, etc.
  • Is the building close to a busy street or busy crossroads with a traffic light? If so, check on which side of the building is the property located. If the windows look over a busy traffic light area, it may be an issue for you in the summer, when you’d want to keep your windows open.
  • Is it close to a school, hospital, fire station? These could all be sources of noise, especially if the property is not equipped with double-gazed windows. Make sure you are aware of and comfortable with being in close proximity to these.

Convenience

  • Where are the closest amenities, local shops and transport links? What are the opening times.
  • How do you get to the closest Tube, train or bus station? Are you comfortable walking along that route? Try it out and make sure it’s Ok for you as you’ll be doing this on a daily basis if you decide to rent this property.

Safety

  • Is there any security system in place, such as security cameras outside the building or in the common areas, burglar alarm, entry-phone system? Are the external doors well-secured?

Outdoor space

If the property comes with a garden or a terrace, it’s worth clarifying a few questions, such as:

  • Is the garden or terrace shared? For example, in the case of a rear garden, both flats on the lower ground and ground floor may have access.
  • Who is responsible for maintaining space?  Generally, this falls under the responsibility of the tenant (unless it is a communcal space) and you will need to add this to your budget.
  • How is the outdoor space secured? Who has access to the garden door? Can someone easily jump over the door to the garden from the street?

The neighbors

Ask about the neighbors.  Are they a young family with children (in which case you may need to be sensitive about hosting late night parties), young professionals, etc.? If you can, ask the existing tenants or the building’s porter or concierge to find out more.

Inside the property 

  • Is the property in good condition?  Are there any repairs required? In particular, check the flooring (any loose tiles?), windows (do they open and close properly), walls and the furniture.
  • Are the windows double-glazed? How good is the insulation? Are the windows secure and do they lock properly?
  • Are there any signs of mould? Are there any water stains on the walls or ceilings, that could be an indication of leakage issues? In particular, make sure you check the built-in cupboards if there are any. If there are signs of mould or water stains, it’s important that you get more context around the issue – was it a one-off incident or is this a recurring issue, how has it been fixed, etc. If you suffer from mould allergies, you may decide that this is not the right property for you.
  • What heating system is in place? Is there central heating? Some buildings have communal central heating and the heating and hot water are generally included in the rent. Are all the radiators functioning properly? Is there any sign of water leakage on the wall or floor next to any of the radiators?
  • Where is the boiler or the water tank located? If you are viewing a 1 bed property, the boiler could be located in the master bedroom (e.g. wardrobe), which can be an issue if you are a light sleeper.
  • Are all the taps working properly? Is the water pressure good enough? This is not systematically part of the ‘check-in inventory’ and low water pressure could be the sign of a significant plumbing issue, requiring a lot of work. You should systematically check that everything is in order before making an offer.
  • Where are the phone sockets, broadband connection, etc. located? Will you need to get an extension? If so, who will cover these costs?
  • Do all the kitchen appliances work? These are generally checked during the ‘check-in inventory’ but it’s best if you can learn in advance of any repairs that are required so that you can include these in your conditions as part of your offer.
  • What furniture stays and what goes?  If the property is tenanted at the moment of viewing it’s easy to get confused about what you will get when you move into the property and what actually belongs to the current tenant.

Finally, ask about the landlord: who is he/she and what do they do? Do they own several properties or is the one you’re viewing the only one? Do they live locally or abroad? Will they be managing the property? A local landlord may be more inclined to directly deal with any issues in the property, while a landlord based abroad will probably use some form of property management agent. It’s also good to know a bit about the person who owns the home you’re living in.

If possible talk with the existing tenants. Ask about how long they have been living in this property and why they are moving out. Ask them about the landlord and there experience in getting things fixed. Speak with the porter or concierge (if there is one) – they can often be a minefield of information and would know the area and residents very well!

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Top tips when negotiating the rent

How to get the best deal?

Tip #1 – Don’t let your emotions over-control your decision

Even if you think that is the best property out there, don’t show your excitement. That property has not been designed for you (even if you think it is). You will design your own home after your MBA or a few years after it.

Tip #2 – Have the right information on the property to negotiate

The more informed you are on the property, the better it is. Here are some elements to know:

  • Property vacancy: For how long has the property been on the market? If it has been on the market for long, the landlord may be more willing to accept a lower rent than the asking rate.
  • Size of landlord’s property portfolio: Does the landlord own multiple properties or just a single property? If he just owns a single property, the he / she may be dependent on the rental income to pay for the mortgage, whereas a larger landlord may think of his overall portfolio income first, which can make him more flexible on tenancy terms like monthly rent, break clause, minor improvements to the property, etc.
  • General condition of the property: Any factors that may give you some space to negotiate a discount on the asking rent? For example, is the furniture worn down? Are there minor repair works that would ideally be needed but that you are willing to do without? In these cases, you may be able to negotiate a discount on the asking rent on the basis that the landlord will not need to spend money on getting things fixed before you move in.
  • Comparative rental information: we recommend that you do some research to find out the asking rent on comparative properties in the area, as well as the rent the current tenants of the property are paying. You can also do a general Internet search (on sites like ZooplaMousePrice) to find out if this property has been listed there by other agents for a lower price, or to find out previous rents for this property.

Tip #3 – There are many amazing properties out there!

The most critical aspect that will help you negotiate well is to have 2 or 3 good alternative properties on your shortlist. These properties should be within your budget, provide similar quality living space (location, area etc.) and be available for similar terms (duration of lease, etc.).

This will put you in a position where you can afford to ‘let go’ of a property and not feel pressurised to accept terms that may not reflect the market value of the rental property or not present a balanced deal.

It’s also helpful to plan your search so you have sufficient time to find the right property before needing to move out of your current accommodation. The general recommendation is to start searching within 4 to 6 weeks before your moving date.

So when you get a copy of the tenancy agreement, make sure you fully understand the terms that are outlined.  This will include the agreed rent, notice period, break clause, etc.

And don’t forget… you will not get a lower rent or better terms unless you ask for it!

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Steps to find your home sweet home

PropFinding.jpg

Here are some steps you can use to find your property.

Step #1 – Get Prepared

  • Your requirements – know what you want
  • Picture and have a description of your dream home
  • Be ready for the reference check, it will help you secure the place you will love. For LBS students, paying 6 months in advance is an alternative to provide proof of work and/or guarantees

Step #2 – Search for the right property

Step #3 –  Secure the place you fancy!

  • Negotiate with the landlord or agent on what you can. Up to 20% off the listed rental price is possible
  • Make an offer & complete the reference check
  • Before signing any reservation and making a reservation payment, write down your requirements – this is an important step
  • Complete & sign all required documentation and the lease agreement.

Step #4 – Organize and settle in

  • Identify removal firms and cleaning services etc. and negotiate with all of them
  • Organise parking if needed
  • Do an inventory check
  • Arrange and set up of your required utilities; gas, electric, Internet etc
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Council Tax: What it is, and how to not pay it

Wondering why you received a little letter in your mailbox asking you to cough up thousands of pounds in council tax? Let’s start with what Council tax is. This tax is how local authorities – Westminster council in the case of you Baker Street residents – generate revenue to pay for services such as rubbish collection, street cleaning, education, and firefighting within your borough. The price paid is set per household, varying by the value of the property itself and the borough that it falls under.

However, did you know that as a student, you’re entitled to a discount on your council tax, or an exemption altogether? Here’s how it works:

  • Any household which is occupied exclusively by full-time students qualifies for a full exemption on council tax.
  • If your home is made up of both full-time students and non-students, you will get a council tax bill through the door each month, but only non-student tenants will have to pay it.
  • If everyone in your home is a full-time student except for one non-student, unfortunately the latter will have to pay the bill themselves, but will receive a single person discount of 25%

Finally, if you are indeed liable for council tax, you can still opt to pay your council tax in twelve monthly instalments rather than ten – finance experts will already know that there’s such a thing as ‘time value of money’, and you can rest assured that you’ve managed to get a leg up on the council!

How to claim your student discount or extended instalment schedule? Simply write or email the council at the address provided in the council tax demand letter, quoting your account number. List the names of the students living in the property, being sure to include proof of full-time education for each student. The Programme Office should be able to provide with a document that can serve as your confirmation of student status.

Councils can be slow to respond, but if you don’t hear back for a few weeks, it may be worth picking up the phone and calling them to chase up!

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Save money & time – Use Monzo/Revolut & Transferwise

Have you just arrived in London, but do not have a local bank account?

Sign up for Monzo or Revolut! They provide the new generation of banking services – easy, fast, mobile, touch, cheap, and consumer-friendly.

Forget about queuing and waiting in a branch. Forget about the 20 minutes waiting on the phone before speaking with an agent. Forget about the mess and low services you were used to.

Do you want to transfer money from your non-UK bank account to LBS, a UK bank account, an estate agency or any service in the UK?

Use Transferwise! It is fast, secure and far cheaper than international transfer services from traditional banks.

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Our guide to moving with your family

What are the aspects to consider if you are thinking to move to London with a family?

HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON WITH A FAMILY: LIVING

Currently, in order to live and work in England, you need an ID (for European people) and the NIN, the National Insurance Number. For people outside the EU passport is still required.

My advice is to look for a house as far as you arrive in order to have a permanent address, because a proof of address is necessary for almost everything.

In order to open a bank account, you have to provide (which may be the electricity or water utilities, the TV license or the Council tax, (that is the only one to pay to the Council where you leave) or the National Insurance Number.

In order to apply for the GP, which is a clinic with many different doctors, you need to show the bank account or one of the above-mentioned proofs of address.

Renting a flat or a house in London can be very expensive and it absorbs most of your monthly budget.

HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON WITH A FAMILY: WORKING

If you have a degree and right to work in the UK, and if you are looking for a good position, it’s not so easy to find the dream job. It takes time, as your English must be very good and you have to be very skilled in your field. In the UK there’s a high competition.

In order to work, it is essential to have the National Insurance number (NI) – a sort of English tax code. However, you can have access to the national health care even if you don’t have it yet.

You can only apply for it once you’re in the UK. You must have the right to work or study in the UK to get a National Insurance number.

You can start work before your National Insurance number arrives if you can prove you can work in the UK (you are from the EU and prove you can work in the UK (check on this for all the information). You should tell your employer that you’ve applied for one, and give it to them when you have it.

You can only get the NI with an interview through one of the Jobcentres where you’ll be asked about your circumstances and why you need a National Insurance number.

The letter will also tell you which documents to bring to prove your identity, such as passport or identity card residence permit

British Citizenship: you can apply only if you have been living in the UK for at least 5 years and you need to pass an exam that evaluates your knowledge of English history and culture.

 HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON WITH A FAMILY: SEARCHING HOME

London is massive. I lived in Paris (which is not exactly small…) but it is nothing compared to the largeness of London. You mostly live in your borough, so it is essential to choose it well and consider the commuting to work.

Choosing the borough is not easy: once you have established your budget and the area considering the commuting, you can take into account schools, safety and parks. If you like travelling, you might also consider the transfer to the airports. West Hampstead is great for that.

What are the most family-friendly areas of London? Generally, West London is the most recommended if you are looking for a quiet life, with good parks. In this area, I can mention Kensington, Chiswick, Hammersmith, and Ealing.

In South London, the most recommended boroughs for families are Sutton, Richmond, Dulwich, and Wandsworth

In North London, West Hampstead and Muswell Hill.

Besides, I suggest considering the schools. Each school is given a score from Ofsted, and it is public. Once identified a property, I recommend also to check if you are in the catchment area of a good school.

HOW TO MOVE TO LONDON WITH A FAMILY: THE COST OF CHILDCARE

In England, there are no public nurseries. Up to three years there are only private nurseries and the cost for a full time is very high: around 1200-1300 £ a month are the cheapest solutions. The UK Government supports families with low incomes (but really low ones!), granting 15 hours’ free childcare per week for two years old.

In the best case, you will pay the whole amount till the age of three. When your child will be three, you are eligible to have 15 hours per week by the Government. However, you don’t pay 15 hours less, you have actually a discount on your monthly fee.

What are the alternatives?

Many moms don’t work or have part-time solutions or arrange with grandparents. Other options are the childminders, that are usually less expensive than a nursery, and the babysitters, that cost £10 per hour excluding taxes.

When a child is three years old, he can go to the preschool, but generally, they have reduced time (9-12.30), and if you are an expat without grandparents, it is a little difficult to consider, unless you have a babysitter.

So till the beginning of the school with the Reception, the costs of childcare is expensive.

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LBS students? There is more than Baker Street or St John’s Wood

Don’t self-limit yourself to Baker Street/Marylebone or St John’s Wood!

The easy decision for LBS students is to choose Baker Street/Marylebone or St John’s Wood. It might be due to the famous FOMO – be close to the school and as many students as possible. After 2 or 3 months, there are so many complaints: the flats are old even if the rent you would pay is in the highest end in London, nurseries are expensive (between £2,000 and £5,000 a month), food and restaurants are expensive, the flat is 25 minutes by walk from a tube station. After the first year, most of the students living in those areas will move to another neighboorhood.

Be open-minded! There are so many areas that are amazing, like Islington/Angel, West Hampstead, Maida Vale, and Camden. You can be 20-25 minutes door-to-door to LT1 by living in one of those areas, with the advantage of having better amenities, better deals in your everyday life and avoid the need of moving to a new place for your 2nd year at LBS.

These are just a few neighborhoods. You can use our free concierge services to discover flats and neighboorhood in a very easy way.

london-city-map-best-of-london
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Finding the right flat – Top 5 mistakes

The best advice that we can give is… use your free concierge services at SearchSmartly 🙂


Mistake #1 – Signing a contract without having someone viewing the property

Have you ever heard about the 3 MBA 2015s that ended up renting apartments at LBS for 3 months because the flat they signed for was … not a flat.

HouseHunting

We have warned you guys! Have at least a trusted friend to physically visit any flat you intend to rent.


Mistake #2 – Trusting the pictures on the estate agency websites/Zoopla/RightMove

Did you know that 67% of the pictures you see on RightMove, Zoopla and estate agency websites are pictures that are 5 to 10 years old? Those pictures do not represent the reality.

Kitchen

Mistake #3 – Accepting a flat visit without any pictures/details about the property

If you have time to kill, it is better spending it at the Windsor. Many estate agents (not all) are incentivized based on the number of visits they make during the day. They also need to report to the landlords how many viewings were conducted against their flats.

Yes, estate agents are mainly paid by landlords, so they serve first the landlords. That is why potential renters are usually called in the industry “applicants” and not customers …

windsor

Mistake #4 – Working with a “bespoke” estate agent that nobody knows

Don’t be fooled by fake estate agents. There are some of them in New York, Paris and… London. Yes, you can find some properties on Gumtree but no, don’t hand over money to estate agents you find on Gumtree.

NOO

Mistake #5 – Relying on a verbal agreement and sign a reservation contract 

Have you noticed that the kitchen needs a lot of cleaning? If you really want the flat, write down in the reservation and/or tenancy agreement contract a condition stipulating that a professional cleaning of the kitchen needs to happen before you move in.

Does the flat come furnished? Understand and list down all the furniture you want to keep in the flat, take pictures and list them down on the reservation and/or tenancy agreement.

When the reservation contract is signed, you have lost most of your negotiation power.

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Our Journey Begins

So here we are!

After a few months developing our concierge services, here we are ready to find a place for you to call home, settle in and enjoy life. SearchSmartly is live!

Sit down and let us guide you!

The SearchSmartly team

“A home is where your heart is. A place that SearchSmartly proudly helped you find!”  — SearchSmartly