The price to pay for renting out your house

You may think it's fit to live in, but would a tenant agree?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Faced with the possibility that I may have to rent out my house at the end of the year, I started asking questions about what I should do. A first-time landlady, I was astonished to discover a set of stringent regulations which, if not followed, could land me with a fine of pounds 5,000, up to six months in prison - or both.

The principle is fine. Tenants need to be protected from unscrupulous landlords. But getting an ordinary family home up to scratch can be a very pricey business.

The scary regulations concern gas, electricity and soft furnishings. If you are buying any piece of soft furnishing, it requires a label with a triangle on it showing that it is fire resistant. You need to be particularly careful with any item bought before 1988 which would have been perfectly legal then but may now fall foul of the new laws.

You need safety certificates for gas and electricity (there is a fee for both). Gas appliances and associated pipework need to be in perfect working order with adequate ventilation. They need to be checked at least every 12 months by a CORGI (Council for Registered Gas Installers) engineer. It's a similar approach with electricity, taking care to avoid frayed wiring and badly fitted plugs.

Having cleared all the legal and safety hurdles, you still have to cater for your tenant. My house is, according to the letting agents, very desirable. A modern, three-bedroom townhouse in Fulham in a development that already has many tenants from overseas. Meeting the expectations of the "right kind of tenant" will nevertheless set me back quite a sum.

The kitchen is new so thankfully I don't have to worry unduly about any of the appliances as they are covered by their guarantees. The paintwork is the sort that I could live with but must be redone, both outside and inside, at a cost of pounds 2,000. All three bedrooms need new carpets (pounds 800). I don't have a freezer so I'll probably have to buy one - and a tumble dryer. It's a pity about the shower room not being tiled; perhaps I'll end up doing that too because, in the words of one agent, "you want your tenants to get cosy and not want the bother of moving".

No, I don't want any tenants to move because if they do, I will have to get in touch with the Independent Inventory company immediately. For a house like mine, an inventory can cost up to pounds 140. There is also a check-in fee of around pounds 58.

Before new tenants move in, the house has got to be spotless. Contract cleaners would charge me about pounds 250. This fee would include cleaning the carpets, windows and paintwork but not taking down and putting up curtains. These would need to be taken to the cleaners. Cleaning soft furnishings would also incur an extra fee.

Everybody tells me that it's money well spent to use an agent as interviewing tenants can be a nightmare. This is where someone like Tish McVitie, Lettings Manager at Vanstons Rentals in Fulham, can take over. She will tell you how much you can expect to get for your property, show tenants around, check the references, collect the first month's rent and deposit and arrange for the Independent Inventory company to check the tenant into the property. The fee for this service is 10 per cent of the rental agreed for the period of the tenancy. Vanstons would also prepare a Tenancy Agreement for an extra fee of pounds 60 (plus VAT).

My next jolt came from my building society. It is essential that you inform them of your movements - and remember that you are no longer entitled to any tax relief (MIRAS). You need to fill in a Letting Enquiry Form and if my society was satisfied with all the details, I would then be charged an pounds 80 administration charge plus a staggering 2 per cent extra on my monthly payments. Not all banks and building societies make this charge, so I am definitely looking into remortgaging.

Insurance is another tricky area; many companies increase your premium when you rent out your home, but take away any accidental damage cover. Most importantly, you are not covered for anything your tenants may do deliberately.

Finally, Income Tax. There are different rules for residents and non residents and you need to be very careful to comply with them. Some things (for example mortgage interest and repairs) can be charged against tax so it is advisable to contact your tax office, who print a number of helpful leaflets.

So, there you are. You have got your house into a better and safer condition than it ever was when you lived in it; you are paying more for the mortgage and insurance - and you're no longer even living there.

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