Rents continue to rise - they're at record highs, with the average £790/mth nationally and an eye-watering £1,240/mth in London. So we've 50+ Renting Tips to keep costs down. Some will help with the actual process of renting itself, others with special issues affecting renters. Here are just a few, as a deposit...
1. New. Make paying your rent boost your credit score. Private renters can now opt in to a free scheme that records your rental payments and sends the results to credit reference agency Experian. To see how to do it, read our new Make your rent boost your credit file guide.
2. £3,000 free towards a mortgage. Renting is not a lesser option. Yet when finances suit, many who rent would also one day like to buy. A better credit score helps, and for most first timers a top Help to Buy ISA is a no-brainer too, as you get a 25% bonus on your savings - up to £3k. This can be used on ANY home up to £250k (£450k London).
Plus if you're starting the route towards getting your first home, read our free 56-page MSE First-Time Buyers' Booklet.
3. Renters have the right to switch and save on energy bills. If you pay your gas & elec bill directly (not via your landlord), you're entitled to switch. Some landlords may claim you need permission in your tenancy agreement, but regulator Ofgem says they can't be unreasonable.
If in dispute, print out and show 'em our Landlord Energy-Switching Factsheet. The exception is where you're changing something physical, eg, switching from a prepaid (key or card) meter to a credit meter - then you need permission.
To find the cheapest tariff, whether you're on a standard meter or prepaid, use our MSE Cheap Energy Club comparison to compare across the market to see how much you can save. It can also estimate usage for you. Stephen tweeted: "@MoneySavingExp Switched on a rental property, saving £240 over the year. Easy."
4. Save 60%+ on rent by becoming a property guardian. For those who can be flexible, in exchange for cheap rent, you can baby-sit empty properties to deter squatters - these can be private homes, fire stations, churches or schools.
For inspiration, check out forumite MissFox1973's story: "My boyfriend and I were guardians for a huge country estate for eight months. Cheap rent and incredible location, but limited security."
We found a room in a former hospital in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, for £230/mth, or in an old office block on the outskirts of London for £240/mth incl bills. Full info in Property guardians.
5. Check your deposit's protected - if not you could get up to 4x back. If you've the most common tenancy called an 'assured shorthold tenancy' and moved in after 5 April 2007, your landlord or letting agent MUST put your deposit into a Govt-backed protection scheme by law in Eng & Wales (similar schemes apply in Scot/NI) - see Is your deposit protected? for full info, incl how to check your tenancy type.
The scheme has a free arbitration service if there's a dispute. If a landlord fails to protect your deposit you can go to the Small Claims Court to get it back PLUS a penalty up to 3x its value and court fees, going back 6 years. It can be painless, as MSE Jenny explains: "My landlord didn't protect my deposit and didn't give it back so filed an online claim and got back £4,850 (incl court fees) from a £1,020 deposit. Easy."
6. Grab cheap contents insurance. Your landlord is responsible for buildings insurance, so you only need to consider contents (essentially the stuff that'd fall if you turned your home upside down). Use a contents calculator to see how much to cover. Full help in Cheap Home Insurance - in short:
- Only you/your family live in the home? To get cheapest cover, combine comparison sites Confused.com*, Compare The Market, Gocompare* & MoneySup* to bag max quotes in min time, then check Aviva* and Direct Line*, which they miss.
- If you live in a house- or flat-share. Getting cover from mainstream insurers can be tricky (a lock on your personal room helps). Confused.com*, Compare The Market, Gocompare* and MoneySup* provide flat-share quotes but double-check the policies offered meet the cover you need. If struggling, specialist insurer Home Protect* can help, or use BIBA to find a local broker.
7. Beware nasty letting fees. Renters can be hit by huge fees, as Amanda tweeted, "Extortionate - almost £700 in fees and £250 for the cat."
We've heard of fees for photocopying a contract, getting your deposit back and references. Sadly there are no regulations on what these charges are, but since May 2015 agents must at least clearly display fees in their office and on their website. For what to watch out for plus your (limited) rights and how to complain, see Fight unfair fees.
8. Furnish for FREE - sofas, beds, TVs & more. If you've gone unfurnished or part-furnished, online community giveaway sites can help you - for nowt. Some top-quality goodies are available. Forumite Soon2bjobless says: "Got a dishwasher, while my daughter got a washing machine, freezer and microwave". For sites to use and full help see our How To Use Giveaway Sites tips. Alternatively, get stuff cheap on eBay with our 40 eBay buying tips.
9. Are you paying the right council tax? If you live alone you are entitled to a 25% discount, so tell your council, plus full-time students don't count for council tax purposes. So if it's a student-only home there's no tax, if there's a student and a non-student, there's the 25% sole occupancy discount. See council tax discounts info.
- The tricky 'student with a non-student' scenario. The bill is the responsibility of the non-student, so there's a tricky question of how to split the bill - which is 75% of the full charge. My solution is...
If the student was with another student they'd pay nowt - and if the non-student was with another non-student they'd pay 50% of the full charge. So split the 25% difference - the student pays 12.5%, the other 62.5%.
Extra tip: Some (not all) councils upped rates by up to 4% on 1 April. But many have been overpaying for years and are due cash back - @petch82 tweeted: "Massive thanks @MartinSLewis - challenged my council tax banding saving me £1,500+". See Check & Challenge Your Council Tax Band (out of courtesy you could give your landlord a heads up).
10. Is your landlord doing its bit? They're responsible for...
(i) Buildings insurance.
(ii) Fire alarms, plug sockets, wiring and electricals.
(iii) Furniture they've provided - it needs a fire safety certificate.
(iv) A gas safety certificate (annual checks).
(v) General upkeep so it's in a safe and liveable standard - they don't have to colour walls bright pink if that's your taste.
If these aren't done, ask your council's environmental health department for help. It must take action if problems cause harm/nuisance.
Extra tip: If you want to make changes, get their permission even for minor things such as putting up shelves or repainting. Don't get hammer-happy hanging pictures - it destroys walls and deposits. Forumites recommend specially-designed picture strips to hold up pics without using damaging nails.
11. You needn't let your landlord in without warning & more quick tips.
- Landlords should give 24 hours' notice to enter. Landlord visit rules
- Take photos so you're not stung on the inventory. Inventory help
- It's one TV licence per tenancy agreement. TV licence rules
- Change address when moving or risk fines. Address checklist
- Renters can switch to a water meter. It might be cheaper if there are more or the same number of bedrooms than people - in Eng & Wales if your tenancy is for 6+ months you DON'T need the landlord's permission. Water meters
12. You may be eligible for help paying rent. If you're on a low income and struggling to pay rent, see if you qualify for housing benefit/grants. In social housing it reduces your bill. Renting privately, you get cash.
First read our housing benefit info and then take some time to do the full 10-min Benefits Check-Up to see your full entitlement.
This article first appeared in the weekly email on 27 April 2016.