Every landlord has a horror story about a terrible tenant, but it can work both ways.
Potential tenants need to be careful when it comes to finding a new place to stay. Glaring red flags like damp, exposed wiring and other health hazards are symptomatic of a badly kept property but there are other subtleties to be wary of.
loveMONEY talks to the co-ordinator of Renters’ Rights London, Portia Msimang, to uncover the warning signs (this article has since been updated by the loveMONEY team).
Rogue landlord database
Tenants will soon be able to view the Government's database of 'rogue landlords', Prime Minister Theresa May has announced.
The database, which was set up in April, is unlikely to make any immediate difference, however, as not a single name has yet been entered into the system, the Guardian and ITV found. Furthermore, it only includes landlords that have been convicted since April this year.
Londoners already have access to a landlord checker tool, although it only covers landlords who were fined or convicted in the preceding 12 months.
With database coverage so patchy, it's essential you conduct your own checks - here's how to get started.
Pressure to take the property on the spot
Bullying landlords may try and pressure you to take property on the spot. Even though the market is competitive, a good landlord won’t pressure you to make a decision that quickly.
“We all know when we’re being treated well and when we’re not,” says Portia.
“Try to withstand the pressure – say things like “I need three hours to think about it”.
Being shady about your deposit
Make sure your landlord will take a deposit, and that you know where it’s going.
Tenant deposits should be kept in a secure account. In England and Wales, this means the Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits or the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. In Scotland, you’re looking at Letting Protection Service Scotland, Safe Deposits Scotland and my|deposits Scotland while in Northern Ireland, deposits are put into The Tenancy Deposit Scheme.
Your deposit should be protected within 30 days of your tenancy.
Trying to get you to sign a licence
A licence doesn’t actually give you the right to occupy a space; you just have the right to use it.
Portia talks about someone she knows who was tricking her into signing a licence rather than a tenancy agreement, convincing her that she had fewer rights than she should have been entitled to.
“People shouldn’t be afraid. If it behaves like an Assured Hold Tenancy, then it should be an Assured Hold Tenancy,” she says.
They can’t give you a copy of a contract to look at (or any any other essential documents)
You should be able to look at a mock-up of different documents like the energy performance certificate (which you can ask for a copy of to keep) and, more crucially, your tenancy agreement.
If you’re not allowed, it’s time to start asking some serious questions.
Speaking of essential documents, your landlord’s licencing certificate should be on display in the property.
They can't give you an inventory
If the property isn’t in a great state of repair when you view it, it might be a sign that your landlord is rather lax.
Having an inventory lets you know what isn’t in peak condition when you move in, meaning that you’re more likely to get more of your deposit back when you move out.
Even if they do show you an inventory, take photos when you move in so that if your landlord tries to pin a previous tenant’s fault on you, you’ve got evidence to support your case. Look out for essentials like smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors too.
What you can do to avoid them
It doesn’t help to be defenceless in this situation. Take these actions if you suspect your landlord is a little ‘off’.
Do a land registry check
It only costs £3 to do a land registry check which will tell you if your landlord actually owns the property you’re interested in. It’s all online and only takes a few minutes.
Portia says that to reassure yourself and get in the know, ask as many questions as you can on the spot. Ask about what’s included in rental payments, the length of tenancy and who does maintenance and repairs. If they seem shaky, try asking them basic questions about the property.
What specific question should you ask for if you’re suspicious?
“Where’s the stopcock?” says Portia.
While you’re there, it’s wise to push the smoke alarm buttons to see if they work.
If you're looking at a property through a letting agency, ask to go to the office and make sure you find out what redress scheme they're part of.
Talk to previous tenants
Tenants will have a better idea of what your landlord is like. If the landlord tells you that you can’t meet your future flatmates, be alarmed.
Rate your landlords – and encourage other tenants to do it too!
You can find an address through the sites’ search engines and see what former tenants have said or you can leave a review of your own.
Take it with a grain of salt though. Portia says that people who are discontent are more likely to review than those who are content.
I think my landlord is dodgy
The key takeaway from this is to never feel pressured into taking a room that you’re not entirely comfortable with.
“Landlords have a disproportionate amount of power over tenants,” says Portia.
“If you’re worried, don’t take that flat. There’s no pressure – you’ll find somewhere to live.”
If you know of a landlord’s bad practices, report them to your local council. The more specific you can be, the better. For example, if there are health and safety issues in the house, contact the Environmental Health Department. This is helpful if you’ve got hazards which could potentially build up.
Find out more about your rights as a tenant by reading Tenant rights: what you should know about contracts, deposits, rent rises and more.