Often renting a home in the private sector is seen as having many drawbacks: 'it is insecure', 'it is expensive', and 'you're paying someone else's mortgage' are a few people tell us.
Also while 3.8 million households rent privately in England, more than rent from Councils and housing associations, it is the stories about a few bad landlords and poor conditions that make the news.
In reality a tenancy in the private sector will often give you more choice of property types and areas than social housing or buying a home on a limited budget, and can offer you a long term settled home (or, if you are finding your feet after leaving the Forces, it can offer you a short term, flexible option while you make longer term plans).
It is often also the quickest way to find a home.
How secure is a private tenancy?
Your security will depend on the type of tenancy you have.
The most common form of tenancy in the private rented sector is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. Generally if you are renting a self-contained home that you do not share, or you are in accommodation that you share with other people but not the landlord, then this is the type of tenancy you will have.
An Assured Shorthold Tenancy is a tenancy that gives you a legal right to live in your accommodation for a period of time. Your tenancy might be for a set period such as twelve months (known as a fixed-term tenancy) or it might roll on month-to-month basis (known as a periodic tenancy).
Your tenancy will continue until it is ended properly - either by you or by your landlord. This can happen in one of three ways:
- you and your landlord agreeing to end the tenancy (known as surrender)
- you serving a valid notice
- your landlord taking action to evict you
If your landlord is ending the tenancy then the correct notice must be given to you and ultimately a Court order would be needed to evict you. Notice, unless you have breached the terms of your tenancy, will usually be two months, and even after that if you do not leave a Court Order would be required.
Although tenancies can be for fixed terms our experience is that family homes are often available for long periods and the fact that the initial term is a set time should not put you off. Talk to landlords about their intentions: if they are in it for the long term a family who stays for a long time, pays the rent and looks after the property is better than lots of changes and potentially loss of rent when the property is empty.
For single people looking for accommodation renting a room can be a quicker, and cheaper, way of finding somewhere to live. If you rent a room sharing with other tenants it is likely you will have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy.
If you rent a room living with a landlord as a lodger you will have a licence. This means that you have less security and the landlord only has to give you reasonable notice, which could be a short amount of time, to evict you and there is no requirement to go to Court.
There are other types of tenancy, for example if you find employment that has accommodation provided, and with each you will have certain rights and responsibilities
Accessing private rented accommodation
There are a number of websites now used by landlords and agents to advertise homes for rent allowing you to search by area, size of property and price. Simply searching 'homes to rent' and the areas you are considering will bring you results.
You will also be able to identify local letting agents through these searches. You are able to register with most letting agents so that they can let you know when homes that meet your preferences become available.
It is also worth looking locally: in local newspapers and on advertising boards in newsagents and supermarkets. While those landlords and agents who use the web are likely to charge you fees, have set criteria around tenant selection and be less open to negotiation, individual landlords advertising locally often have one or two properties to rent and may take a more personal approach to choosing tenants.
When looking for somewhere to live local knowledge can be an advantage so make sure that family, friends and work colleagues know that you are looking for a property as word of mouth can often pay dividends.
Once you have found somewhere to rent you will need upfront money to secure that tenancy. You will need:
- Advanced rent (usually one month to 6 weeks);
- A deposit (usually the equivalent of one month to 6 weeks rent): and,
- If you go through a Letting Agent there will also be admin fees.
Your landlord must protect your deposit in an approved deposit protection scheme
Some landlords and agents will also ask for a guarantor.
Help from Surrey Heath Borough Council
The Council may be able to help you secure a home in the private sector or, if you are already a private tenant in the Borough, may be able to help you if you are having difficulty paying your rent, or have a problem with your landlord or your home.
If you are looking for a private rented home in Surrey Heath but do not have the advance money the Council may be able to assist you with its Rent Choice scheme. Rent Choice can provide you with the funds to secure a home.
To qualify you must have a connection to Surrey Heath through:
- Living here (for 6 out of the last 12 months, or 3 out of the last 5 years); or,
- Working here (for at least 16 hours a week based in the Borough in settled accommodation); or,
- Having close family living in the Borough (that is father, mother, brother, sister or adult children) and they have lived here for 5 years.
If you would like to live in Surrey Heath but do not have a connection it would be worth talking to a Council where you do have a connection to see if they can help you move to this area.
You will need to apply by completing a Rent Choice application form and we will need to see details of your finances.
If you qualify we can help by providing a month's rent in advance (usually as a loan) and/or a deposit in the form of a bond (this is not a cash deposit but a 'guarantee' from the Council that can be called on at the end of the tenancy by the landlord if there are any arrears or damage to the property).
We will give you an offer letter which will tell you the level of help we can provide. This will only cover a home that is of a suitable size for your family and is affordable.
If we are providing rent in advance this will be paid directly to the landlord once we have seen a signed tenancy agreement and other documents, such as a Gas Safety certificate.
If we are providing a deposit bond we will need to see an inventory or visit the property to do our own inventory.
We will not usually be able to assist with agents fees.
It is important that you do not put any money down, for example as a holding fee, until we have confirmed that the property is considered suitable and affordable for you.
Paying Your Rent
If you will need help with the rent then you may be eligible for help in the form of Local Housing Allowance (LHA).
This is a benefit administered by the Council for help with rent payments and it could cover all or part of your rent. You do not have to be unemployed to qualify and the help is based on your personal circumstances.
The amount of local housing allowance you can receive will depend on the maximum rent allowed for properties in the area, the number of rooms you need and also on your income, savings and if you have any non-dependents, such as adult children, living with you.
For information on how many rooms you would be assessed as needing and the level of Local Housing Allowance for properties in Surrey Heath use the link below:
- Valuation Office: Calculate your bedroom entitlement under Local Housing Allowance or find your LHA rate
Usually, LHA is paid directly to the person who claims it, and that person is expected to pay the rent. However, the Council must make the LHA payments direct to your landlord if you have rent arrears of eight weeks or more.
We can also pay the landlord directly if it means that you will be able to rent a home from a landlord who won't rent to anyone claiming help unless the rent is paid directly by the Council, or if you have some difficulties in managing your finances due to health or other reasons.
The Council can also help both tenants and landlords make a tenancy successful by providing advice, mediation and negotiation when there is a problem or dispute. Where there are repair issues the Council can offer advice and, if repairs are outstanding, in some cases can take enforcement action.