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Once you agree to take on a tenancy, you need to get your paperwork sorted out. In most private rental agreements your landlord will provide you with a tenancy agreement, it’s important that you read this carefully before signing it. You should also find out if you will need to provide a guarantor or references and if there are any charges associated with applying for this property. Be careful about paying excessive charges, as these may not be legal.
When you agree to take on a tenancy you will generally be asked to sign a tenancy agreement. Some landlords may offer you a verbal tenancy agreement, but it’s always best to have something in writing. Your landlord must give you a rent book and statement of tenancy terms, even if you are not given a tenancy agreement.
If your tenancy is for a year and a day or longer your tenancy agreement must be in writing. You should read this agreement very carefully; it is a legally binding contract between yourself and your new landlord.
Your tenancy agreement outlines the terms and conditions that apply to you living in your new home. If you break this agreement, your landlord can ask you to leave the tenancy.
Before you move into private accommodation discuss the terms of the tenancy with your landlord or estate agent. While some of the terms may not be negotiable, you should be familiar with all the terms and conditions in a tenancy agreement before signing it.
You need to agree:
In many cases a landlord may have a solicitor draw up the tenancy agreement. This may mean that the tenancy agreement is written in complex language. If this is the case, ask your landlord to provide a tenancy agreement written in plain English. Remember; never sign anything which you do not understand.
If you are moving in to a property with a group of friends, you should carefully check what the tenancy agreement says about rent liability. It the agreement states that you are jointly and severally liable for rent, this means that if one of the tenants moves out the landlord can choose to either pursue that tenant for any rent arrears or insist that the remaining tenants make up the entire rental payment between them. This will also be the case for any guarantors signing up to the agreement, who may find themselves liable for the entire household’s rent arrears.
Moving into a new home is a stressful and exciting experience. It can be easy to overlook things that might turn out to be very important a couple of months down the line. You should read the agreement carefully in case it contains any unusual terms. Some of the more unusual terms that might be contained in your tenancy agreement are:
Your tenancy agreement cannot take away your basic rights. Any terms in the tenancy agreement that attempt to do this could be seen as unfair by the courts.
Only a court can decide if a term is unfair. Generally, a court will not consider terms dealing with rental charges to be unfair, unless they are written in deliberately difficult language. Examples of what a court may find to be unfair include terms which:
If your landlord tries to enforce a term in the tenancy agreement, which you feel is unfair you should contact Trading Standards for assistance.
Many landlords will ask you to provide a guarantor before agreeing to rent a property to you. This is particularly the case if you are a student or you are not working. It’s important to remember that your guarantor will be liable for any rent you owe to the landlord as well as any damage that you may cause to the property, where repairs will cost more than your security deposit. The landlord is entitled to pursue your guarantor through the Small Claims Court if you leave the tenancy with any outstanding debts.
When you ask someone to be your guarantor, you should make sure they understand what they are agreeing to. It’s a good idea to provide your guarantor with a copy of your tenancy agreement, so they can fully understand their potential liabilities. Check if your guarantor is also jointly and severally liable. If this is the case, your guarantor may be sued for damage caused by one of your flatmates.
The agreement that your guarantor signs should make clear under what circumstances they may be asked to provide restitution to the landlord and should clearly state the period for which the guarantor is liable.
When you apply for a property, some landlords or estate agents may require you to pay an “application fee”. Any fee that you pay should not be greater than the cost incurred to the landlord or agent. For example, if an estate agent requires a credit check company to process all new applications, it should not charge applicants any more than the cost of the credit check and any directly associated administration costs. The agent or landlord should not profit from these charges.
Agents cannot charge you a fee simply for adding you to a client list or accommodation list.
Guidance from the Department of Social Development in Northern Ireland states that where a landlord has hired an agent to manage his or her property, the agent should not charge the tenant for any letting fees or “key money”. If the landlord has advertised, let and manages the property him or herself, an appropriate fee can be charged. The fee should reflect the actual cost incurred by the landlord.