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Protect Yourself - 5 Steps Tenants Must Take

16th March 2010
By Tim Bishop in Real Estate Law
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Before signing a tenancy agreement, there are some easy steps that all tenants should take to make sure that they are protected financially and personally.

1. Take out your own insurance

It is not safe to assume that the landlord's house insurance will cover theft of any of your personal possessions. More often than not the landlord's insurance policy will only cover the buildings and his or her possessions. Check the position of your lease, but unless it clearly indicates that your landlord will be responsible for insurance of your personal possessions, you should therefore look to take out your own insurance policy for any valuable possessions that you will have in the property.

2. Check whether the property is safe

You should check and get assurances or certificates from the landlord that the property complies with the following regulations:

- Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, amended in 1993

- Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998

- Smoke Detectors Act 1991 (if the property doesn't have smoke alarms ask if they can be installed)

- Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994.

You are also recommended to find out if the landlord has PAT checked (Portable Appliance Testing) the electrical appliances.

The regulations place a legal obligation on the landlord to supply you with copies of the requisite certificates. If your landlord refuses to do so then you should write to him informing him of his legal duty under the regulation to furnish you with a copy at the start of your tenancy. Failing this, you should make a formal written complaint to your local Health Safety Executive which can be found via their website.

All homes being let must have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) from 1 October 2008. The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is broadly similar to the labels now provided with domestic appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines. Failure to provide an EPC could mean a fine of up to £5000.00 from Trading Standards.

3. Check that your deposit has been placed in a Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme

Since April 2007 landlords or managing agents are obliged to place a deposit paid by a tenant into Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme.

This is an authorised scheme which protects the deposit and minimises the risk of landlords unreasonably pocketing your deposit at the end of the tenancy.

Your landlord or agent must tell you within 14 days of you handing over the deposit which one of the three authorised schemes your deposit is protected by and provide you with details of the scheme. The three schemes include:

- The Deposit Protection Service which offers a free-to-use system funded from the interest earned on the money deposited

- Tenancy Deposit Solutions Ltd which is a partnership run by the National Landlords Association (NLA) and Hamilton Fraser Insurance

- The Dispute Service

If your landlord or agent fails to place your deposit within one of the protection schemes they could be liable to pay you up to three times the amount of your deposit.

4. I know the person who is letting the property to me therefore I don't need to sign a tenancy agreement.

Oral agreements can be difficult to enforce because there is often no proof of what has been agreed. If a particular problem arises it will be difficult to enforce what may not have been discussed. Nevertheless a tenancy agreement exists even if there is only an oral agreement between you and your landlord. For example, you may have agreed with your landlord at the beginning of the tenancy how much rent you would pay and when it is due, whether fuel and bills are included, and if your landlord has the right to say who else can live in the property. If you have a dispute with your landlord or you are trying to enforce an oral agreement with your tenant or landlord you should consult an experienced landlord and tenant solicitor.

5. I have not read the tenancy agreement so I can't be bound to its terms.

The tenancy agreement (or lease) is a legally binding document. You should be aware that by signing the agreement you will be bound for the full term of the tenancy and will not be released from your obligations (for example, to pay rent) before the tenancy expires without the consent of the landlord. The landlord should also sign the tenancy agreement. When he signs the tenancy agreement, the landlord is transferring possession of the property to you. A landlord will not be able to repossess the property before the tenancy expires unless you give up the tenancy or break the tenancy agreement; in the latter case a court order is required.

Before you arrange a date and time to sign the tenancy agreement, make sure that you (and all the other tenants if you are in shared accommodation) have seen a copy and read it through so that everyone including the landlord understands their obligations. Ask questions to clarify anything that you are unclear about.

To safeguard your position on any tenancy, consider running any questions you may have past a solicitor experienced in this kind of work.


Tim Bishop is senior partner at Bonallack and Bishop, a firm of Landlord and Tenant solicitors experienced in advising on Lease Extension cases. Tim is responsible for all major strategic decisions at the firm, which he has grown the firm by 1000% in the last 12 years. He sees himself as a businessman who owns a law firm.
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