This blog is part one of a new four part series on understanding your lease!
For most of us, paying to rent a property is one of our largest monthly outgoings, which makes the lease a key document to understand. Other than with respect to statutory rights (i.e. those that arise automatically by law), the relationship between tenant and landlord is governed entirely by the lease. Even if you haven’t read the document properly before you signed it you will still be bound by it, other than in very unusual circumstances, so it’s a good idea to get to grips with the contents before getting carried away with your move.
Key Information. Every lease will state basic information including the parties to the agreement, the address of the property, the length of the lease, a description of the property, whether it is being rented furnished or unfurnished and the type of lease that you are signing (most private sector leases tend to be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy). If you have a good letting agent and on the ball landlord this information should not be missing, but if it is you can request it from either the letting agent or landlord.
Rent. The agreement should indicate the date on which it begins i.e. the date from which your obligation to pay rent starts, as well as the frequency with which the rent will be due and how much it is. There should be a statement of any utilities included in the rent, as well as any charges for upkeep of communal areas etc and how much has been taken as a security deposit.
The landlord’s obligations. In most private sector leases these are kept to a minimum but will include the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that the building structure is kept in good repair, to make sure facilities for heating, water and gas are all working properly, to test and maintain appliances such as a cooker and to give proper notice before arriving at the property. These basic obligations are enshrined in law and cannot be excluded or passed to the tenant – if they are not met then you are well within your rights to complain about a landlord. Where you are renting with an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (dated after 6 April 2007) the landlord must pay your deposit into a deposit protection scheme within 30 days. If this is not done it may affect the landlord’s ability to remove you from the property and the landlord could also be financially penalized.
Tenant’s obligations. These vary but usually include the responsibility to pay rent and charges on time, to keep up to date with utility bills, to keep the property in good condition, to allow the landlord access to carry out repairs and safety checks and to notify the landlord if any repairs are required. There will also usually be negative obligations i.e. not to damage the property, create a nuisance, or be too noisy.
Notice period. This is the period of time in advance that a tenant or landlord must notify the other party of the intention to end the lease. Most Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements will have a fixed term of a year and you must wait until the end of the year to leave without penalty. However, look out for a ‘break clause’ that allows either the landlord or the tenant to break the lease before the term comes to an end if certain steps are followed (usually the break clause can only be activated after a specific period, such as six months, and the breaking party will need to give notice to the other – usually two months). TTV recommends that you always follow the steps for activating a break clause – if you don’t then the lease will remain in force, including the ongoing obligation to pay your rent.
At the end of the lease. There will be a procedure to follow when the lease comes to an end and the document should state what is required of the landlord and tenant in this situation. Particularly crucial for the tenant are the steps that are required in order for the deposit to be returned – for example, the tenant may have to pay to get the property professionally cleaned, the lease may state the charges if the tenant leaves furniture behind in an unfurnished property and it will also deal with the steps for returning the security deposit and handling any disputes. If you need more information on protecting your deposit you can read our helpful advice in response to questions such as ‘will I get my deposit back’ here.
These are the basic clauses to ensure you understand before signing a lease. If you feel that any information is missing, or there are unfair obligations being imposed on you in the document, then it is a good idea to take advice before signing anything.