Consumer rights: I need a tenant but want to avoid lettings agents

Renting out a property involves a multitude of time-consuming duties. If you are short of time and confidence it can pay to bring in the professionals


Q. I have a small flat in the basement of my house. I've decided to let it out but am not sure what I need to do. What rules and regulations do I have to comply with? Where can I find information without going through an expensive agent?



SJ, Brighton

A. Providing the necessary tenancy agreement is just the start. You have a lot of responsibilities as well, such as keeping the flat and its contents and appliances in good repair; making sure the gas and electricity supply are safe (a carbon monoxide detector is a good idea as well as fire and smoke alarms); the flat and furniture comply with fire regulations; you have an energy performance certificate for the flat; and you protect your tenant's deposit in a government-approved deposit scheme.

Your tenant has to take good care of the flat and everything in it and pay the agreed rent on time. The tenant should also pay for council tax and utilities unless you decide to include them in the rent. Make a full inventory of everything you leave in the flat. If anything is damaged or missing when the tenant is due to leave, you can charge for a replacement or keep an appropriate amount of the deposit. If everything on the inventory is present and in good condition and the rent and bills have been paid up to date, you must return the deposit in full. You can't keep it to cover ordinary wear and tear. If the deposit is in a government-approved deposit scheme, and there is a disagreement about how much the tenant should get back, the scheme should resolve the dispute. You'll find all the information you need at direct.gov.uk.

You will have to pay income tax on the rent you get but you can deduct a reasonable amount for running expenses. If you have to redecorate the flat between tenants, that would count as running expenses.

If you have a mortgage on the flat you must get the lender's permission to let the flat out. If you don't let your insurance company know about the tenant you may not be fully covered.

I know you feel an agent would be expensive but bear in mind that you will have to show prospective clients around the flat, provide the tenancy agreement, collect the rent and deal with broken appliances. If you change your mind, hire a letting agent who is a member of the Association of Residential Letting Agents, the National Association of Estate Agents, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or the National Approved Letting Scheme and they will work to specified standards.

Q. Last month we had a fire which completely wrecked our house. We've lost everything and the structural engineers are sure the house will have to be pulled down and rebuilt. On the bright side the insurance company is very helpful. The ridiculous thing is the double glazing company. We ordered new windows in May from a local firm. They've been made and are ready to install. We've explained everything to the firm's boss, including the not inconsiderable problem that we no longer have a house to install them in, and have nowhere to store them, but he insists we accept delivery and pay up. He's even generously offered to install them later, when we're ready! Are we supposed to rebuild our new house to fit these windows? Anyway, we can no longer afford them.

TL, Lancashire

A. I'm so sorry that you've had such a bad time and amazed that your letter is remarkably positive. This really is a case of two sides of the story. On one side it seems unbelievable that anyone would expect you to pay up, in these circumstances, for something you no longer need. On the other hand, the company has made your windows to your specifications, paid out for the materials and labour, and can't sell those windows to anyone else. If you don't pay for them the company will lose money. You have a contract with the firm. They've delivered on their side of that contract.

However, these are exceptional circumstances. Many firms would take a sympathetic approach, see this as an opportunity to do a good turn and even get some positive local publicity out of it. Unfortunately, your letter did not mention the name of the firm in question so I could not approach them for comment. All you can do is to appeal to their better nature. Remember this firm simply may not be able to afford to lose the money. Send them a copy of this correspondence if you think that will help.

Could you meet them halfway and pay some of the costs? If they keep the windows perhaps they could reuse some of the materials. Offer to tell the local papers how they've helped out in your time of need.

If the firm is a member of a trade association it may have a mediation service, which could help you to reach a compromise. I wonder too whether the insurance company might include the cost of the windows in the total amount of your claim. Talk to the company's loss adjuster about this.

If you can't reach a settlement, the window firm may ultimately decide to take you to court for payment. I can't tell you what side of the fence a judge would come down.

www.moneyagonyaunt.com

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