Q. I’m going to rent a flat for the first time and need to understand my rights and responsibilities as a tenant, can you help?

A. Certainly, even before you start searching for a property to rent, it’s important to understand the legal aspects of being a tenant. When you become a tenant, you take on certain responsibilities in exchange for certain rights. Your tenancy agreement will typically be 4-5 pages long and very detailed. It lists your responsibilities so read it carefully. The main things you must do are as follows:

  • Pay rent on time – normally one month in advance
  • Pay other bills. In most long-term lets, you’ll be paying council tax, utilities (including water), TV licence and telephone charges
  • Respect neighbours – so no making noise, putting rubbish in the wrong place or obstructing common areas
  • Look after the property.

The agent’s job might be to market the property, arrange signing of agreements and payment of the first month’s rent and deposit. After that, you may find you are dealing directly with a landlord who will look after the management. However, most landlords tend to leave the management up to the letting agent.

The good news is that you are not expected to maintain the building – that’s the landlord’s job. But you should behave in such a way that the building is properly cared for.

For example, you must:

  • Tell your landlord if you are going away for longer than 14 days – because this will affect his/her insurance policy
  • Keep the property secure at all times – so lock it when you go out and don’t give keys to anyone else
  • Tell your landlord when things need fixing to avoid bigger problems later – e.g. a leaking pipe, if not maintained, could make a ceiling collapse
  • Carry out basic maintenance – e.g. change light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries.

Obviously, you must not engage in any illegal activity at the property and nor can you:

  • Alter the property in any way, including hanging anything on the walls or re-decorating without written permission from your landlord
  • Use the property as a business
  • Sub-let….unless, of course, the landlord says you can.

And finally just a few general pieces of advice to protect you, never enter in to a tenancy unless there is a written tenancy agreement, make sure that your deposit is protected in one of the government approved Tenancy Deposit Schemes (TDS). Then at the end of the tenancy if you feel that your deposit has been withheld unfairly, the organiser of the TDS can step in and sort out disputes with your landlord.