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50+ Tips for Renters

Rental rights, energy tips, letting fees & more

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Nick | Edited by Steve N

Updated 15 Sep 2016

Over a third of households in England and Wales are rented, and the costs can be staggering – rents are at record highs with the average now £850/month in England and Wales and an eye-watering £1,270/month in London.

Below we've 50+ tips to help you rent a home cheaply and safely – including how to check your deposit's protected, a trick to make paying your rent boost your credit score, ways to furnish your flat for free and more.

We've made every effort to ensure this guide's accuracy, yet it doesn't constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act on it, you do so at your own risk. Huge thanks to Crosse + Crosse Solicitors, Clarke Mairs LLP & all forumites who suggested tips. This guide's been written with English and Welsh law in mind, though much of it will apply to Scotland and NI. See the Scottish Government & NI Direct sites for more.

Ensure you've contents cover from as soon as you move in

If you rent, your landlord is responsible for buildings insurance, so you should only be getting contents cover (essentially, it's for stuff that'd fall if you turned your home upside down).

As buildings insurance generally covers the building itself (unsurprisingly), this is usually the property owner's responsibility. Generally, this means you're unlikely to need building insurance if you're renting. There may be exceptions (eg, if the contract says you need buildings insurance) – check with your landlord if unsure.

How to get the cheapest contents cover will vary depending on whether you're house-sharing or not. In a nutshell...

If only you or your family live in the house:

To find the cheapest cover, combine comparison sites Confused.com*, Compare The Market, Gocompare* and MoneySupermarket* to bag the max quotes in the minimum time, then Aviva* and Direct Line*, which they miss. Better still, try the full Cheap Home Insurance guide – you could even get PAID for cover.

If you're in a house-share:

Getting cover from mainstream insurers can be tricky (a locked room helps, so ask for one). Comparison sites Confused.com*, Compare The Market, Gocompare* and MoneySupermarket* say they provide flat-share quotes, but double-check the policy allows it – comparison sites are very flaky on this.

While it's worth using the comparison sites to get a benchmark price, it might be better to check out a specialist such as Home Protect* or Endsleigh and add AA to the list, which is a broker. You may also find it easier going down the route of finding a local broker via BIBA as these will specialise in tailoring a quote for you.

If you're in a house-share, always let your insurers know you live with others and not on your own (even if your housemates won't be covered by the policy) otherwise you could risk invalidating your insurance.

See the Home Insurance guide for the full cost-cutting technique.

Check your deposit's protected

More than a third of private renters in England and Wales either don't know about the tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme or don't know if their deposit is protected, according to housing charity Shelter. If this is you, check NOW.

Under the law in England and Wales, if you've what's called an 'assured shorthold tenancy' (the most common type) that started on or after 6 April 2007, your landlord MUST put your deposit into one of these schemes within 30 days of getting it. (If you're not a lodger or renting from a council, you've probably got an assured shorthold tenancy, but you can double-check with Shelter's tenancy checker.)

check your deposit's protected

If a landlord fails to protect your deposit you can go to the small claims court to get up to four times back (the deposit itself sent to you or a TDP scheme, plus a penalty of up to three times its value). Shelter has a short guide on making such claims, and though it's far from guaranteed, it does happen, as MSE Jenny found:

My landlord didn't protect my deposit and didn't give it back so I went to court and got back £4,850 (incl court fees) from a £1,020 deposit. It was easy.

If your deposit is in one of these schemes, it means:

  • You'll get the full deposit back at the end of the tenancy provided you've met the terms of the tenancy agreement .
  • If you agree with your landlord how much of the deposit you're due, it'll be returned to you within 10 days of the tenancy ending.
  • If you DON'T agree with your landlord, a free dispute resolution service will investigate and decide how much of the deposit you should get back.

Similar schemes apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland – see the Scottish Government and NI Direct websites for more.

How to check it's protected

To ensure your deposit's protected from the outset, ask the landlord or letting agent which scheme it's with before you sign the contract. If you've already moved in and the scheme isn't named on your contract, ask the landlord and get it in writing.

In England and Wales, the authorised schemes are the Deposit Protection Service, My Deposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme. If you haven't been told which your deposit's protected under within 30 days of paying your deposit, contact them directly to check – Shelter has a useful tool to help. For Scotland and NI, see the Scottish Govt and NI Direct websites.

Quick questions:

What is an assured shorthold tenancy?

My deposit should be protected but isn't. What are my options?

If a previous landlord didn't protect my deposit, how far back can I claim?

Help! My landlord's withholding my deposit unfairly – what can I do?

What if I don't qualify for deposit protection?

What if my tenancy started before 6 April 2007?

If you feel your deposit's being unfairly withheld at the end of your tenancy, it's well worth fighting for. Here's one forumite's story to inspire you – see the Deposit Help forum discussion for more and see below for extra tips on getting your deposit back.

Fought tooth and nail to get deposit back. . . AND WON!!! Our tenancy ended 3 months ago. I have been fighting to get our deposit back. Today I received an email telling me they will release the full amount.

So, there is hope for all of you who are in a similar situation. Just be persistent, be reasonable, and remain professional. – forumite DJ MPH

Tricks to help ensure you get your deposit back

tricks to ensure you get all your money backWhen it comes to checking your property at the end of your stay, landlords can develop better microscopic vision than Superman, but there are ways you can improve the chances of getting your deposit back.

To help stop them zapping your deposit, here are a few tips:

  • Check your contract. Dig it out and give it another read. Does it say the carpets need to be deep-cleaned, or that all picture hooks need to be removed and filled in? If so, make sure these are sorted.

  • Patch up any damage. Fix it properly – covering up a hole in the wall with a picture may seem like a good idea at the time, but leaving it like this when you move out is practically asking for your deposit to be docked.

  • Ensure nothing's missing or broken. Check the inventory thoroughly to make sure everything's as it should be, and replace or fix as needed.

  • Take photos as proof you've left it in good order. These could be useful evidence later if a dispute arises over your deposit.

  • Have a proper deep-clean. Get a scrupulous friend or family member to check the place over to check there's nothing you've missed, and remove all rubbish. See the Save zillions on cleaning products forum thread for tips to help.

If your tenancy agreement states you must get the property professionally cleaned, you may have to provide receipts to prove you've done it, though whether this may be an unfair contract term is a grey area.

But if it states you need to have it cleaned to a professional standard, you could do this carefully yourself and take photos as proof. Here are a few handy tips from our forumites to help:

Bicarb of soda, soda crystals, vinegar, newspaper and Oven Pride are pretty much all anyone needs to clean a house. I've always got the deposit back and have never spent more than £5 and 1/2 a day. – forumite Mrsbmartin

Sugar soap removes emulsioned wall scuffs that no other cleaning product shifts without taking paint too. Wipe gently, don't rub. – forumite Fire Fox

Lie on your back in the middle of each room, you would not believe the snagging found just looking from a different angle. It works! – forumite Whalster

Make paying your rent boost your credit score

Do you pay your rent on time? If so, there's a new free scheme which millions of private renters can use to make paying rent boost their credit rating.

Private tenants can opt into the free Rental Exchange scheme. Launched in March 2016, it records your rental payments and sends the results to credit reference agency Experian. We explain the scheme in our new Make your rent boost your credit file guide.

How does it work?

You pay your rent to a third party called Credit Ladder. Credit Ladder passes on your payment to your landlord or lettings agency, and tells credit reference agency Experian whether you've made the payment on time. Experian then updates your credit file accordingly.

If you know you'll be able to pay on time and you're trying to improve your credit rating or build up a credit history, this can be a clever way to make your rental payments count towards that (though it's early days, and even if you sign up now, lenders won't actually start seeing the data until the end of this year). Of course, if there's a risk you're going to miss payments it could harm your rating.

Save £100s switching energy even if you rent

You've a right to switch energy providersIf you rent, you could save £100s every year by switching. You don't need to own the property to do it, so don't just stick with the previous tenant's gas or electricity firm.

Even if your tenancy agreement says you can't switch, the energy regulator Ofgem says you shouldn't be unreasonably prevented. The exception is if you pay via your landlord for any bills (ie, as part of the rent).

You can still compare even if you don't have previous bills from your new digs. Just tell our Cheap Energy Club some info about the new rental, and if you're a high, medium or low user. It'll show the cheapest tariff for you and give up to £30 cashback.

If you're worried because your landlord says you can't switch, we've designed a factsheet to give to landlords to help explain the situation to them. Please tell us if it helps you switch.

Preventing a tenant from changing energy suppliers may be viewed as an unfair term in a tenancy agreement. Talk to Citizens Advice to see if it can help and see Renters: You Can Switch Too for more info.

You can still switch energy supplier even if you have a prepaid meter

This works in the same way as described above. Even if you rent and have a prepaid meter, you can still switch your supplier providing you pay the energy company directly (check your tenancy agreement too – though if it says you can't switch, challenge it).

If you want to change the physical meter to a billed one, you'll need to get written permission from your landlord first.

This is because it could be seen as a changing the property from its original condition, unless you arrange to change the meter back at the end of the tenancy. The supplier may charge to do this, so check first. See the Cheap Prepaid Gas & Elec guide for more info.

Grab FREE sofas, beds, TVs, fridges and more

get free furnitureIf you've gone for an unfurnished or part-furnished rental, this is a handy trick to help furnish your pad for nowt. Hundreds of top-quality goodies are available daily for free.

It's all about web communities, and the big names are Freecycle and Freegle.

What's the catch? Well, there isn't one. Instead of dumping goods or eBaying them, people harness the internet's power to offer them to their local communities. So as well as kitting up for nowt, the environment benefits as unwanted items aren't flung into landfills.

Of course, there is some moth-bitten tat out there. But there's also top-quality stuff people just don't use anymore. Bagging the best is all about the etiquette – you need to give stuff yourself and keep your eyes peeled.

Grab free apps to check rentals on-the-go

Rightmove's free iOS and Android apps use GPS technology to pinpoint pads for rent near where you're standing, while Zoopla also has its own free apps for iOS and Android. Just download the app to find a list of gaffs up for grabs near you.

Both are clear and simple to use – Rightmove's arguably has the edge for ease and slickness, though Zoopla's heat map also lets you see property values of the area you're in so you can assess likely rental prices at speed.

Forumites find these strangely addictive: "I check it when on a street I like. I get excited when they send me an email. I probably check it every 24 minutes" (Rightmove) and "I've not even considered moving and all of a sudden I keep looking! Can someone talk me out of this odd behaviour please?" (Zoopla). If you try one, please feed back.

Live with and help vulnerable people to help cut rent costs

Share and Care is a home-sharing scheme company which brings together homeowners – generally older and/or disabled people – with 'sharers' happy to live with them and give a little help around the house in exchange for low-cost rent.

Sharers agree to give 10 hours of help a week, and must spend the majority of evenings in the home. 

Sharers and homeowners are both asked to sign a Home License Agreement – these generally last for a year, with a 30-day notice period on both sides. Share and Care says it keeps in regular contact with both parties to ensure the arrangement's working.

There's a page of current listings to apply for on the website. The 13 locations advertised at the time of writing include Saxilby in Lincoln and Wanstead in London (some are for women only).

Accommodation varies from single to double rooms, both furnished and unfurnished, and some include a separate bathroom and living room for the sharer.

The monthly rent you pay depends on where the property is, rather than the nature of the acclamation. The set fees below are paid to Share and Care (not the homeowner, who also has to pay fees to the company), as follows (you may have to contribute to council tax on top):

  • In London: £180/month (incl VAT)
  • London suburbs and other cities: £150/month (incl VAT)
  • In rural areas: £125/month (incl VAT)
Quick questions:

What's expected of me?

Is it going to take up all my time?

Do I need any qualifications?

Use a free app to track and split bills

Keeping track of bills and who's not keeping up with their share of the costs in a house or four or five can be a complete nightmare. Fortunately, the free app Splittable makes a less stressful job of it.

Aplittable

To get started, download the iOS or Android app, or create an account on its website, and add the property you want to manage the bills for. You can invite others to the account from your phone's contacts.

All those with access can then add bills or expenses that they've either paid or are coming up (including due dates) - these might be utility bills, council tax or just home supplies. You can record one-off and regular payments, and it'll also let you add attachments and comments for a particular expense.

Using this information the app will show who's in the red and who's in the 'green', and work out who owes whom how much. You can then request payments within the app, and keep a record of those made.

Quick question:

Can I send and receive payments from within the app?

Warning – joint accounts with flatmates can affect your credit rating

Credit scoring is a system used by lenders to check how financially attractive you are to them, using your past actions to predict future behaviour. Yet if you're 'financially linked' to someone on any financial product, it can have an impact. Even a joint bills account with flat-sharers theoretically means you could be co-scored.

However while it's technically possible joint utility bills could be reported on credit files, current practice is not to do so. Similarly we've also confirmed being jointly named on a utility bill with a flatmate shouldn't mean you're jointly credit scored.

Bear in mind though that if there are two (or more) names on a utility bill and there's a default, it's likely to be reported on both (or all) credit records.

If you move out and away from flatmates who you had joint finances with, once the accounts are separated or no longer active, always write to the credit reference agencies and ask for a notice of 'disassociation', to stop their credit history affecting yours in future. See the Credit Scores guide for full help.

Your landlord should ask before entering

your landlord must knockWhen you rent a property, your landlord may well need to come in from time to time for repairs, as well as to inspect the property (eg, to check you haven't turned a 'no pets' tenancy into an indoor farm).

If your landlord wants to inspect the property, they should give you notice and arrange a time with you first. Shelter says landlords need to give advance notice that's 'reasonable' and at suitable times. This could be 24 hours, although check your tenancy agreement as a different advance notice period may be specified there.

If your landlord or letting agent comes in without asking, you've a right to ask them to stop. If they continue to enter without permission, this could be considered as harassment – a criminal offence. Contact Citizens Advice or a solicitor for help, or even the police if you feel threatened. See the Shelter website for more info.

Make sure you know where your stopcock is

Your mains water tap, or stopcock, is the off-switch for all the water in your home. Hopefully you'll never need it. But if you don't know where it is and a pipe bursts, you'll be powerless to stop it flooding your home.

If you don't know where yours is, check NOW. It could be under the kitchen sink, by the boiler, in the airing cupboard or elsewhere in the property. If you don't know where it is, ask your landlord to show you. See Martin's blog: Stopcock tips – can you find yours?

One MoneySaver's tip:

Stopcocks should be turned a couple of times a year to minimise 'seizing' due to scale. Never open fully, or they're more likely to jam.

Some homes also have an outside stop valve fitted. The Thames Water website has handy videos on how to find your inside stopcock and outside stopcock.

Vet the landlord

If a prospective landlord strikes you as unreliable or unreasonable (eg, they turn up an hour late), think twice. After all, it's easier to walk away now than be stuck with a landlord who won't carry out essential maintenance and repairs as needed – or worse.

Check whether you need your own TV licence

If you rent, whether an entire property or a room in a shared property, you must be covered by a valid TV licence to watch or record live TV, or watch BBC iPlayer. (You don't need one to watch other catch-up services though - see Do I need a TV licence?).

Usually you'll have to organise this yourself (or between yourselves if in a shared house). But speak to the landlord first, as they may already have a licence for the property. If you live in self-contained accommodation, such as a separate flat or annex, you'll need your own separate licence.

I'm in shared accommodation – will one TV licence cover us all?

The answer to this depends on whether you have a separate tenancy agreement for your room, or a joint tenancy agreement with others you share with.

If you've separate tenancy agreements, each of you must have your own TV licence if you watch or record TV. These individual licences will also cover any communal areas.

If you've a joint tenancy agreement, one TV licence may cover the whole house. Yet bizarrely, there may still be other reasons why you need your own separate licence, so it's best to contact TV Licensing to check your circumstances.

If you're a lodger and have a relationship with the homeowner (a family member, partner, nanny, au pair, housekeeper, etc), you'll be covered by the homeowner's TV licence, provided you live in the same building. But if you're a lodger and you have a separate tenancy agreement for your room, you'll need your own licence.

I'm a student – do I need my own?

Generally speaking, yes, though there is a loophole that will allow you to be covered by your parents' licence under some circumstances. See Student TV Licence Trick for details.

Max your interest if you're saving to buy a house

There's no shame in renting – and last year 36% of households in England and Wales did it. Yet if you're lusting to own, ALWAYS save for your deposit the right way to reach your goal sooner. In a nutshell...

  • In December 2015 the Government launched the Help to Buy ISA – and they're a no-brainer if you're a first-time buyer saving for a mortgage deposit. You can earn 4% interest tax-free and then the state will add 25% free cash on top of what you save. For full info and up-to-date best buys, see the Help to Buy ISA guide.

  • Next it's worth seeing if you qualify for a top-interest paying current account, some of which give up to 5% at the time of writing – see Best Bank Accounts for more info. If you're willing to put in the legwork, max your savings further by following the steps in our 60-second guide on the 5% Savings Loophole.

  • If you've put the maximum in your Help to Buy ISA, go for a top-paying easy-access ISA, which gives tax-free savings of up to £15,240 per tax year. See our Top Cash ISAs guide for the best accounts.

  • Once you've maxed your ISA limit and reached the in-credit limit on interest for your current account, put the rest in a top savings account. Full best buys are in Top Savings.

Save 60%+ on rent – become a property guardian

castleFancy living in a church, school or fire station? In return for babysitting empty premises to deter squatters, property guardian companies charge their 'guardians' as little as a third of local rents.

Prices vary hugely but it typically works out at £230 a month, or £400 a month in London. This is a bargain, considering the average private monthly rent in England and Wales stands at £846 a month or £1,273 in London, according to estate agent Your Move.

Buildings include everything from monasteries to mansions, so you could end up living it up in a sprawling country pile for less than a flat.

Since the law changed in 2012 to make squatting in residential, but not commercial, properties illegal, building managers have seen a rise in squatters in commercial properties and are increasingly turning to guardianship to combat this. This may lead to more opportunities to take up property guardianship in the future.

What's the catch?

You must be employed and need to be flexible – here are a few things to consider.

  • Guardians have fewer rights than tenants. You may have to up sticks at two weeks' notice. So this is good for those with flexibility, for example, people who can kip at their parents'. The firms usually try to find alternatives, but it's not guaranteed and you have to pay a transfer/admin fee of about £70ish. Many guardians live in the same place for years though. See more on limited rights.

  • There are fees involved. You must pay a deposit. It varies, but in London is typically £600, elsewhere £350. Most charge a £60ish admin fee when you sign up, plus you need to buy a fire safety pack (c. £60). Rents usually include bills and council tax.

  • Accommodation can be basic (and eerie). Most places need work doing and are unfurnished, so it's more suited to adventurous types. You often share with others, depending on the property size, but usually get your own room. Many of the buildings don't have central heating, so woe betide you if it's winter and you don't have a heater (oil-filled only, usually).

  • You may need your own furniture. It will generally say on the advert whether the room includes any furniture but it also worth checking what's included in the communal areas too. Check out our Freecycle & Freegle guide for some ideas.

This forumite's story sums it up. If you've done it, please share your experience.

My boyfriend and I were guardians for a huge country estate for eight months. Good points were cheap rent and incredible location. Bad were limited security, and being at the mercy of the property owner.

I liken the experience to camping, but in an old property. You have to be flexible and get on with the other guardians. But if you've no commitments, are not spooked by old properties, don't mind roughing it and want to save money, it's worth considering. – forumite MissFox1973

The top property guardian companies

  • Camelot. One of the most established guardian companies, Camelot manages thousands of properties across the UK and Europe.

    It currently has around 65 spots available – you could live in a Victorian vicarage in Burtle, Somerset or a bungalow on the grounds of a former school in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. The average London price is £400ish, elsewhere £200.

  • Adhoc. With around 2,000 guardians across the UK, Adhoc is especially strong for Lancashire, the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Merseyside.

    The firm currently has 78 properties available, including a school in in Stechford, Birmingham and a community centre in Wembley. Prices range from £150 to £700 per month. Utilities are usually included but you may have to pay council tax on top. To be a guardian, you must meet provide certain documentation.

Quick questions:

Anything to watch out for?

Who can do this?

What responsibilities do guardians have?

What do you need to register?

ALWAYS check letting agency fees

Always check for feesIf you rent a property with a letting agent, always check for any extra fees or charges first, and factor 'em in. These can be huge and vary between agencies.

As of May 2015 letting agents in England, must display their fees on their website and in their offices (specifying if they covers the whole house and if each tenant has to pay). The idea's that if you stroll in to see an agent, you'll see their list of fees without having to ask for it. Non-compliance can lead to a fine from the local council. The same rule came into force in Wales in November 2015.

We've heard of some shocking incidents where fees are charged, like £120 for permission to buy a dog or £60 for photocopying a contract.

Extortionate fees from agencies – almost £700 in fees and £250 for the cat!! – @MandaJenko4

You can always try and negotiate lower fees, but there are no guarantees – ensure you get any reductions in writing.

What can they charge for?

Letting agents can't charge you just for registering or to show you their list of properties available for rent. So if they do this, contact your nearest Trading Standards – see Shelter for more help. However otherwise they're free to charge any fees they like – for example, for credit checks, admin, and even releasing your deposit. So always ask before you commit.

The rules are different in Scotland. In Scotland, letting agency fees have been illegal since 1984. So if you're charged, you should write to your letting agent. If this doesn't work, consider going through the courts. Find full help in Shelter Scotland's Reclaim Your Fees tool.

How can I complain?

You can complain to an official body – such as the Property Ombudsman, the Association of Residential Letting Agents or the National Landlords Association – if you think you're being unfairly treated by a landlord or letting agent. This can be for a number of reasons, for example if the landlord isn't keeping appliances to a safe standard, not just unfair fees. Check which organisation your letting agent or landlord is registered with before you complain.

These organisations can look into disputes, but they don't have any real power to force landlords or letting agents into acting. You can also speak to your local authority for help, Citizens Advice or Shelter.

Get your landlord's permission if planning to redecorate

Get your landlord's permission before redecoratingWhen you rent a property, you generally need to return it in the same condition as you found it, though some unavoidable wear and tear should be allowed (think slight wearing of carpets, not destroyed furnishings).

Bear this in mind if you want to redecorate, as any changes will need to be put back. It sounds obvious, but the key point to remember is the property isn't yours. So you can't just put up shelves, for example, without permission. If you want to make permanent changes, it's best to get it written into the contract from the outset.

Otherwise, if you plan to repaint the walls a different colour or make any other changes, first get your landlord's permission in writing. Otherwise it's likely you'll need to paint them back to the original colour before you move.

Your landlord has responsibilities too

If you're renting your property, you're not responsible for everything and there are several things you landlord needs to take care of.

Full details of this will often be set out in your contract, but as a minimum it should include: organising and paying for buildings insurance, putting in fire alarms, checking plug sockets, making sure wiring and electricals are safe and generally maintaining the property to a safe and liveable standard.

There's also certain documentation they're required to provide when you move in:

If the landlord isn't doing any of the above, you can ask your local council's environmental health department for help. It must take action if problems can harm you or cause nuisance to others. If you live in Scotland, you should contact the Private Rented Housing Panel for help.

Try special picture strips instead of nails

Check your tenancy agreement before you get hammer-happy, as many won't let you put any holes in the walls to put up pictures. Yet there's a quick trick to help.

It's possible to get specially designed removable strips that promise to hold up pictures without damaging walls. To find them, ask at your local DIY store, or try searching for 'picture hanging strips' on Amazon's DIY & Tools section or eBay*.

Forumites recommend Command Strips. They usually cost a few pounds for a pack of four, though other types may be available too.

Feedback is generally good, ranging from "used these in all three sizes and they have worked brilliantly" and "they're my new favourite product" to "if you're lucky they work well, but haven't found them reliable". If you've used them, please feed back.

Forumites also warn to check the pack for the weight limit they can take, and not to exceed this. Otherwise, you could wake to find your Mona Lisa broken on the lino.

Note down any flaws – and use 'em to haggle

Once you've found the place you want, don't think you always have to pay the asking price for the rent. Ask if they're open to reasonable offers, and put in a lower price that you think is reasonable. Don't forget, it's a negotiation – they don't have to accept, but it's well worth asking, particularly if you think it's overpriced.

A good way to help you get leverage here is to note down any flaws in the rental. For example, the carpets may be worn in patches, or the bathroom ceiling could do with repainting. Point this out, and ask if they'll take a lower price because of it. If not, see if you can get the repairs thrown in (always get this in writing with the contract).

See the How to Haggle guide for more tips to help. It's well worth a try:

Even £10 off the monthly rent may not seem like a lot to a busy landlord, but it's an extra £120 in your pocket each year.

Key 'dud rentals' checklist

While small issues such as a dripping tap or squeaky floorboard needn't be a deal-breaker, use this list to help you check the rental out when you visit. It's worth taking an eagle-eyed friend or family member to help. Ask the landlord to fix any problems before you move in.

Or if you can live with it, use it to help you haggle on the rent:

  • Spot damp. Case the joint for wet spots, mould, peeling wallpaper and condensation. Does it smell musty?

  • Look up at ceilings. Look for cracks, brown stains, slow drips and leaks.

  • Flick switches. Turn lights on and off, especially with older switches.

  • Inspect the plumbing. Flush toilets and turn taps on. Check cupboards underneath sinks are dry. Check water pressure and that it gets hot, and that the central heating's working properly.

  • Locks are key. Ensure door locks are up to insurance standards. Some policies insist that front and back doors be fitted with a five lever mortice deadlock. Check windows for locks and the front door for break-in signs.

  • Turn on your phone. Check for a signal to see it's not a mobile dead zone.

  • Avoid kitchen nightmares. In the kitchen, mime preparing a dinner. Is there enough room? If white goods are included, check they're working.

  • Take a compass. Check if estate agents' promises of a sunny south-facing garden are true.

  • Pry next door. If renting a flat or terrace, alarm bells should ring if neighbours' properties are rundown. Their problems can quickly become yours. Listen for noise from neighbours and roads. If you can, try to get a second viewing at a different time of day.

Never, ever wire the money

Once you've found your dream gaff, alarm bells should ring if asked to pay rent or deposit by an instant money transfer service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. While you've no protection when you pay by bank transfer, at least these are usually traceable – which means banks or police could use this to help get your money back.

Instant money transfer payments cannot be traced at all in cases of fraud, so are highly popular with scammers. So if someone asks you to pay by MoneyGram or Western Union, be highly suspicious.

Never pay this way. Most landlords should be happy to take a bank transfer or cheque.

Protect your family from gas leaks

Sadly, thousands are affected each year by carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that has no colour, taste or smell. Yet there are simple steps to help protect your family.

Always ask for a copy of the gas safety record. By law, your landlord must provide you with this before you move in. If your landlord refuses, complain to the Health and Safety Executive – failure to follow gas safety requirements is a criminal offence.

Under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, landlords must do a gas safety check every 12 months to ensure gas appliances and fittings are safe, and keep these maintained. All checks must also be done by a qualified engineer that's on the Gas Safe Register, the official gas registration body for the UK.

One forumite's experience is a case in point:

Just after we moved in, I had to call Transco in the middle of the night. We thought we had flu. We had carbon monoxide poisoning and were alive due to a faulty cat flap venting out most of the gas.

The system was condemned. It was a very lucky escape – it never occurred to me to check the gas certificate.

– Forumite november

Ensure you've generous or unlimited broadband usage if flat-sharing

If you're in a flat-share and you know everyone will be downloading, make sure you've a decent download limit on your broadband package, or better still go for an unlimited package (most are anyway these days). Fail to do this and you may be stung with extra charges from a housemate's EastEnders catch-up marathon.

Be aware many contracts are 12 months, and some even longer. If you move out before the contract is up, you'll still have to pay for remaining months, unless you can change the name on the contract to someone who's still going to be living in the house (check with your provider).

See the Cheap Broadband guide for the full list of best buys, including unlimited and superfast broadband, plus how to work out how much data you'll need.

Get first dibs on properties on your favourite streets

If you want something in a specific area or street, set an alert on Rightmove or Zoopla and it will email each time a vender lists a property. Simply type in your location and click 'Create an alert' on Rightmove, or 'Create email alert' on Zoopla.

NEVER sign a contract you aren't happy with

Once you get the contract, read it carefully before signing. Check it includes how much the deposit and rent are, when it's due, and what it covers (eg, council tax, utility bills, and other dos and don'ts, such as whether you're allowed to smoke or sublet).

Discuss points you disagree on, or don't understand, with the landlord or letting agent. If they agree to change it, don't just take their word. Ensure the contract's changed too so you've proof. Katy Rushworth from legal firm Clarke Mairs LLP told us:

"Tenancy agreements will often have things in there that simply do not apply to that particular property. They may have the wrong person stated as the landlord, wrong property address, refer to a garden that doesn't exist – the list goes on.

"There's no reason tenants should sign up to something they are not happy with. Equally, the agent is being paid to get these things right. So don't just accept 'it's the standard document' – who knows what the standard document relates to!"

One MoneySaver's experience is a reminder to check what you're signing up to:

Our letting agent went right over the top pasting rules into the contract. It tells us to clean the shower head for one hour in vinegar each week, after every shower we must use a towel and squeegee to clear all water from the cubicle to prevent drying marks, etc.

– paddyrg

Take a meter reading when you arrive

It's easy to forget this when you've a tonne of unpacking to do, but do meter readings for your gas and electricity when you move in. This way, you can pass them on to the suppliers to ensure you aren't charged for energy that the previous occupants used.

It's also worth noting you should do a meter reading every time you get a bill. Don't rely on your energy provider's estimate; these are often way out. If they're underbilling, you'll have a big whack to pay at the end of the year. If they're overbilling, then they've unfairly got your cash.

If your direct debit is way off kilter, call up and ask for it to be changed. You've a range of rights to ensure it's correct. See the full Energy Direct Debits guide for help.

Squeeze 'em for info

Before you sign on the dotted line, ask as many questions as possible, and get important answers in writing. Even if they don't tell the truth, you may notice them squirming when you broach certain subjects.

Our top 10 rental questions to ask:

  1. How long is the contract? Are there scheduled rent increases?

  2. How long has it been up for rent?

  3. Can I see electrical, boiler and gas installation checks/reports?

  4. Is the deposit in a deposit protection scheme? Which one?

  5. Is maintenance of communal areas expected (eg, the garden)?

  6. Is it furnished, part or unfurnished? Which items are included?

  7. Who lives upstairs/next door? Have there been any disputes?

  8. How long were the previous renters living there?

  9. Is a parking space included, or is a parking permit needed?

  10. What's the council tax band? (You can also check this yourself.)

If the occupants are in during your viewing, use the opportunity to ask about the best and worst things about living there.

Your tenancy type affects your rights

Which type of tenancy agreement you have, and when your contract started, will affect your rights, so check which you've got. In a nutshell, 'assured shorthold tenancy agreements' are generally the most common type if renting with a private landlord.

These generally last six months to a year, and mean your landlord must provide some repairs (plus other criteria too). When an assured shorthold tenancy ends, it becomes a 'month-to-month' tenancy. So unless your landlord ends it, you can stay on.

Yet finding which tenancy type you've got can be tricky. It depends on a huge amount of factors, including when you moved in, how you pay rent and who you live with.

To help, housing charity Shelter has useful Tenancy Checker tools for England and Scotland. Just answer a few points on where you're living and when you moved in, and it'll quickly tell you which type you've got, plus your rights for each. Shelter also has info on tenancy types in Wales, or try Housing Advice NI for Northern Ireland.

It's also worth reading forumite G_M's useful posts on rent increases if you're on an assured shorthold tenancy, and what happens when a fixed term ends.

Warning! You could be held responsible for the actions of other tenants

If it's a joint tenancy, each tenant will be responsible for the actions of the others. So be careful who you sign up to these with – if one person doesn't pay their share of the rent, the others will need to fork out for them.

Joint liability clauses in shared tenancies mean you're responsible for the actions of your co-tenants in certain areas, as stated in the contract. If they accidentally set fire to the sofa, you may have to pay for the repairs.

Once you've found the perfect place, make sure you get in ASAP

Once you've found your palace and you're itching to get in, there are tricks that can help bagging it.

  • Know your budget. Don't be pushed past it – letting agents are experts at doing this. For help doing a proper budget, use our free Budget Planner.

  • Make a good impression. Don't forget, you're being checked out too. They're more likely to want a tenant that's professional, prompt and polite.

  • Get your references lined up. If your landlord will need references (eg, from your employer), ensure you ask your referees in good time.

  • Be prepared to go fast. Good rentals are often snapped up, especially in sought-after city areas. Once you've decided, move quickly with your offer. Yet don't be irrational – stick to your budget and don't be pressured.

  • Go through the contract ASAP. Raise any issues as soon as you can with the landlord, so there's time to get them changed before you move in. Also check who's managing the property (ie, the landlord or letting agent).

  • Have the rent and deposit ready. Make sure you have enough cash set aside for the first month's rent and deposit (usually about six weeks' rent). This can be a lot more than you think, so work it out early. For example, £200/week rent could mean you'd need to put down about £2,000 to cover these.

Pack an 'essentials' box to help when you arrive

Put key items you'll need immediately in a clearly-labelled box, and pack it last (so it's the first box you'll get to when you're unpacking). A box with a kettle, mugs, tea, biccies and loo roll can be a godsend when you've no idea where everything is.

Double-check the inventory & report any defects

If you're given an inventory when you arrive, ensure you fill it in and carefully check for any existing damage in the property or its contents. Don't worry about being too specific – note down anything you can see, be it a cracked tile, damaged paintwork or a chipped mirror. If you can, take photos as evidence too.

Even if they don't give you an inventory to fill in, list any defects in writing to the landlord as soon as you can; see Shelter for a printable inventory template. Ensure it's signed and dated, and keep a copy so you can see what's on it when you move out.

This way, if the landlord tries to eat into your deposit for any of these when you leave, you'll have hard proof the damage was already there where you moved in. Similarly, take photos when you move out so you've proof it's in good order – see above.

Save your landlord's number in your phone for emergencies

The time you lock yourself out is exactly the moment you realise you should have done this earlier. So don't just keep this pinned to a notice board or in the back of a diary – save your landlord or letting agent's number to your phone now if you haven't already. You might just be glad you did.

Use the right 'rent a property' finders

There's a plethora of search sites which let you quickly search for property to rent in your chosen area. They won't all come up with the same listings, so it's best to try a few if you can.

The best we've found:

Rightmove

Rightmove

The Mac Daddy of home search sites, Rightmove lists a huge number of rental properties, with over 300,000 to choose from.

  • Slick and tidy website, with a clear and easy to search and a good amount of filters to refine your results.
  • Its 'draw a search' feature lets you literally, er, draw where you want to live on a map – good if there are streets you're keen on (or want to avoid).

Zoopla

Zoopla

Zoopla also lists a huge amount of rental pads, and its site says it lists over 208,000 properties to rent at the time of writing.

  • Clear and simple to use, it also has a similar 'draw search' feature, plus this allows freehand drawing for extra speed.
  • Its nifty heat map view shows average property values at-a-glance (click 'Heat' on top right of map), useful if you want to find areas likely to be pricey.

Home.co.uk

Home.co.uk

MoneySavers also rate lesser-known Home.co.uk. It says it lists almost 209,000 houses, flats and rooms to rent at time of writing.

  • Can be clunky and lacks the charm of the other sites, but includes extra info, including how the rental price compares with others nearby.
  • Lets you set the exact search radius you want to use, eg, search all properties in a radius of 0.219 miles – good for nerds.

OnTheMarket.com

OnTheMarket.com

OnTheMarket.com launched in Jan 2015 after six leading estate agents clubbed together to challenge the dominance of Rightmove and Zoopla.

  • It's shaken up the online home selling market with rules for members restricting the number of portals they can list their property on, making it somewhat "exclusive".
  • It'll let you filter by when the property was added to the site, to make sure you're only seeing rentals hot off the press.

Remember to redirect your mail and update all your addresses

When you move, it's always a good idea to get your post redirected to your new address. This can be very helpful as it will avoid you missing an unexpected bill being sent to your old address.

You can set this up via the Royal Mail website. For UK redirection it currently costs £31.99 for up to three months, £41.99 for three to six months and £59.99 for six to twelve months.

It's also important you make sure you update your address with everyone who needs to know it. This can avoid hefty fines – for instance, if your driving licence is out of date you're risking a £1,000 fine.

Here's a quick checklist for updating your address:

... and to register to vote

When you move, you don't automatically get registered to vote at your new address. If you aren't registered, you don't get a say on who represents you.

It can also help boost your credit score as if you're not on the electoral roll it's unlikely you'll get accepted for credit. This is because credit reference agencies use the register to confirm where you live in order to counteract fraud.

The registration process now requires that, rather than one person registering all members of a household, each individual needs to register themselves. You can register on Gov.uk.

You'll also need to keep an eye out for the Household Enquiry Form, which is sent out every year to check people are registered to vote, and must be sent back to avoid a possible fine.

Check out the neighbourhood

No matter how plush the pad, MoneySavers are unanimous that location counts. After all, you can add your own touches when you're renting, but you can't move it to another spot. So prowl the neighbourhood on foot, hunting for clues.

Of course, if it's only temporary rented accommodation for a month or so, you may be happy to put up with a less-than-glowing area. But if you're planning to rent there for a while, a little research can go a long way:

  • How safe is the area? Steel yourself and take a look at the Police.uk crime mapping website for England and Wales. It breaks down recorded crimes by street, including burglary, robbery and anti-social behaviour (gulp!), all of which mean dearer insurance premiums.

  • Get info on noise levels, air pollution and transport links. You can get oodles of free information online on school league tables and even noise level checks. See Free House Price Valuations for a full list – though our guide's designed for buyers, it has useful tips to help renters too.

If you're a total newcomer and you're planning to rent there for a while, you could even stay in a local bed and breakfast to get a real feel for the area. Get the lowdown from locals and ask a local bobby or Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator.

Top 10 moving day questions to ask the landlord

With all the stresses of moving, it's easy to forget simple, practical questions you'll wish you've asked. Worrying about when the dustmen come is easily forgotten when you're humping boxes upstairs, but even less fun when you're left with overflowing bins for a week. So we've put together some key questions to ask:

  1. Where's the mains water stopcock (see stopcock tips above)?

  2. Where's the fuse box?

  3. Where are the gas and electricity meters?

  4. Which days are rubbish and recycling collected?

  5. Are there instruction manuals for any electrical items?

  6. Who supplies the gas and electricity?

  7. Where is the thermostat?

  8. What's the landlord or letting agent's number?

  9. Where are the TV aerial and phone line sockets?

  10. Which provider supplies the home phone and broadband?

Scope out transport links and travel costs

When choosing an area to rent in, don't forget to factor in public transport if you or your family will need it for work or school. How frequent are buses and trains, and how much are they? If a season ticket's expensive, savings had by renting in the sticks can quickly be swallowed by the cost of the commute.

For London commuters, CommuteFrom shows which towns are the quickest hop from the office. Just select a central London rail or Tube station, pick a maximum journey length, eg, no more than one hour, and it brings up the best commuter routes.

Sadly there isn't a similar version for the rest of the UK, but try searching test routes you'll need on the National Rail journey planner, or for bus routes and frequency, check your local council's website – Gov.uk has a handy tool to find yours.

Get an itemised bill for calls if flat-sharing

If you're in a flat-share, make sure you get an itemised bill for your calls, so you don't end up paying for someone else's long-distance calls to Outer Mongolia. To do this, just contact your provider to request itemised billing.

When you move in to rented digs, it's also worth speaking to the landlord to see what services the previous tenants had. If you're happy to go with the same provider, you may save on installation costs if the wiring's already there.

Don't feel you have to stay with the same provider if it isn't the cheapest though. See the Cheap Home Phones guide for the full list of best buys.

Don't under-insure your home's contents

When you're renting, contents insurance can give useful protection if there's a break-in, or your stuff gets damaged. Yet don't under-insure – this could lead to insurers not paying out when you need it.

For example, say you're insured for £12,000, but actually have £24,000 of contents, and then £6,000 worth is stolen. The insurer could then assess your property and only pay out in proportion to your cover, meaning you'll get just £3,000 back.

Or worse still, the policy could be cancelled for being underinsured. If this is the case, you must disclose it in future, hiking insurance costs – and making it more difficult to get cover at all.

To work out the correct amount, walk from room to room, noting down what everything would cost on a new-for-old basis, including smaller items like clothing. It soon adds up. For a full list of best buys, see the full Home Insurance guide.

Instantly compare removal costs

If you're moving from your parents with no furniture, a car and a couple of mates will likely suffice. If not, many people choose to enlist extra help from a removal firm.

To get five local quotes instantly, head to Reallymoving.com and fill in an online form. Also check that the company belongs to the British Association of Removers.

If you decide to use a local 'man and van' service, watch out as they may not have insurance for any damage caused in transit (always check). So here, it's a question of balancing a lower price against service, and only going with what you're happy with.

If hiring a van to do the move yourself, do note you may need to be 25 or over – always check the contract. Also consider extra insurance to cover the excess (the amount you'll pay towards a claim). Otherwise small scrapes can cost large, and may be more likely if you aren't used to driving a van. See the Cheap Car Hire guide.

Give yourself a money overhaul

Moving into a new place is the perfect time to grab your finances by the nipples and tweak 'em hard. You'll be signing up to new services anyway, so could save £1,000s on your previous bills by ensuring you grab everything cheapest.

For starters, find the Cheapest Home Phone and Cheapest Broadband, then try Digital TV Cost Haggling and Water Bills. Those are just the start.

For a detailed checklist of over 30 quick ways to cut bills, see the full Money Makeover guide.

You CAN switch to a water meter if renting

For some in England and Wales, switching to a water meter could save hundreds. A quick tip can help you work out if you could be better off with a meter:

Rule of thumb – If there are more or the same number of bedrooms in your house than people, consider getting a water meter.

Plus as stated in the Water Industry Act 1991, if you've a fixed-term tenancy agreement of six months or more you DON'T need your landlord's permission – though it's best to let them know first if you can.

For full info on water meters versus standard billing including free calculators, see the Cut Water Bills guide.

Sadly, in Scotland it isn't free to have a water meter installed (it's quite expensive) so, unless you live alone in a manor-type property, you should stick to billed payment.

Take snaps when viewing

Take photos of the property on your mobile if you can. They'll be a useful reference point later, when all the places you've seen start to blur into one. Though of course, bear in mind it's private property, so don't post them online.

Can you do council tax rebanding if renting?

Council tax rebandingUp to 400,000 homes in England and Scotland are in the wrong council tax bands. Yet in 10 minutes, at no cost, it's possible to check 'n' challenge your banding, not only potentially slashing what you pay now, but getting a backdated rebate from far back as 1993.

Thousands have already tried this and succeeded. Plus as you pay council tax regardless of whether you're the tenant or owner, if you're renting, it's certainly worth going through the system to see.

Before you challenge your band, courtesy dictates you should discuss it with your landlord first though. This is also because it's a good idea to agree on who gets the cash from any payouts, particularly if the claim's backdated to before you lived there, or if you pay the landlord for council tax (ie, their name's on the bill).

Note a reassessment means your band could be moved up as well as down. See the Council Tax Bands guide for the full step-by-step details.

Students don't pay council tax

If you're a full-time student living alone or sharing with other students, you DON'T need to pay council tax, no matter how many of you live in the house.

If you're sharing with one or more non-students though, it gets more complicated. You still won't be charged council tax, but you may want to consider how to best split the household's council tax bill.

  • Live with a non-student? If a student lives with one non-student, the student won't be taxed and council tax will be charged as if a single person lives there (so long as the student's full-time, otherwise check). That means the non-student can apply for the 25% single person's discount.

    However, this poses a moral dilemma. Should the non-student pay the 75% due? Or should the student contribute? Our suggestion is to split the 25% difference between the two people, so the non-student pays 62.5% and the student 12.5%.

    From the student's perspective, they wouldn't pay anything if their housemate was also a student. From the non-student's perspective, they'd only pay 50% of the bill if their housemate was also a non-student.


  • Live with more than one non-student? The student is still exempt but because there are two non-students the house has to pay the full 100% charge. So it gets complex – the student hasn't added to the council tax bill, but nor has their presence resulted in a discount.

    You'll need to decide if and how you want to split the tax bill, though the legal stance is that full-time students aren't liable for the bill if non-students can't or don't pay.

You need to apply to your local council for these discounts – they aren't deducted automatically. To apply, visit Gov.uk.

Get free advice if disputes arise

If you're having problems with your landlord, or you need extra advice with any issues while you're renting, there are several places that can offer free help.

Housing charity Shelter has specialist housing advisers that can help you negotiate, as well as free advice helplines – see its sites for England, Wales, Scotland and NI for contact details for where you live.

Not having locks for each room may affect insurance claims in shared accommodation

If you're renting shared accommodation, eg, in uni halls, your insurance won't cover you for theft unless there's been a violent or forced entry. So always make sure you lock your room's door when you leave, even if you're just popping out briefly.

If you're in a house share that doesn't have locks on each room, be aware this may adversely affect any home insurance claims. As there won't be any signs of forced entry (after all, a burglar could just walk into your room!) they may not pay out. You could get tenants' home insurance – see our Home Insurance guide for more.

Consider carefully whether you should really buy instead

If house price mania had a World Cup, Britain would lift the trophy. Yet there's still the question of what, when and whether to buy. See the Mortgage Schemes guide and Pros and Cons of Renting forum discussion to help, as well as Martin's Property warning blog.

Get a FREE first-time buyers' guide

Of course, we aren't saying you should rush out and buy a property. But if you're making the jump from renting to buying, we've a detailed free printed and PDF guide to help you get the very best mortgage deal possible.

The MoneySavingExpert.com Free Mortgage Guide is a fully detailed step-by-step guide to getting the best possible mortgage deal, suitable for first time buyers, buy-to-let getters and those who've had poor credit histories.

For every 1% you can cut off your mortgage deal, you'll save £1,000 a year on a £100,000 repayment mortgage. So it's well worth taking the time.

Renting for hols? Swipe five-star villas for two-star hotel prices

Of course, this guide's about renting a home in the UK. But it's worth noting that if you're off on holiday, there's a useful trick to get posh accommodation abroad at a fraction of the cost.

If you don't fancy battling for a sun-lounger each morning, rented villas offer space for for large groups of friends, or families with kids who need to let off steam.

The bonus with these is that, as a rule of thumb, the larger the group, the bigger the per-person saving, so they're great if there's a party of you. For full dos and don'ts, plus how to check it's not a fake villa, see Cheap Holiday Rentals.

Add your tips for renters on the forum

Picture of people chattingThe House Buying, Renting and Selling forum board is a great place to share your experiences of renting with others, from hunting for the perfect rental to moving tips 'n' tricks you've learnt along the way.

Whether you want to natter about what to do if the landlord didn't empty the house, renting with pets or if you've got a pigeon stuck in the chimney (!), it's well worth a visit. Plus if you've tips to help others, share them in the 50+ Renting Tricks discussion.