- The Midgie
- 1 October 2008
Finding somewhere to live is one of the single most important things you will have to do in a new country. With perseverance and a little luck, you can find yourself living with a great set of people in an exciting part of town.
If you're looking for a room, your first option is to scour sites like www.scotsmanproperty.com, www.citylets.co.uk and www.lettingweb.com. These accept adverts from registered or accredited and lords. Accredited landlords have voluntarily signed up to a code of conduct and are generally more reliable. For more information ask your local council or visit www.landlordaccreditationscotland.com. Other popular options are to search on sites likes www.gumtree.com, www.uk.easyroommate.com or keep an eye out for information boards in coffee shops, supermarkets, community centres and universities.
Although most of the time these adverts are completely above board you should be cautious - there are scam artists around. To make sure you don’t get taken in you should always ask for the landlord’s details when you visit any property. All legitimate landlords will appear on the site www.landlordregistrationscotland.gov.uk unless they are
resident in the property and you are a lodger. Only ever hand money over to the landlord in person. You lose a lot of your tenant’s rights if you hand over money to another tenant.
If there are a few of you looking together it can be easier to go to an agency. Finding an agency is simple: take a walk around town or visit www.lettingweb.com, www.letting-inscotland.co.uk or www.rentamatic.co.uk.
The agency will want to take a long, hard look at your references and bank balance. You’ll almost inevitably need to pay between one and two months rent as a deposit (it’s illegal to ask for more than two months) and in many cases you’ll be asked to pay a non-refundable agency fee after they have found you a property. It is illegal for an agency to ask for money before they have found you a property or to charge you for drawing up a tenancy agreement.
If you are a student or have a less than impressive credit history (pretty normal for a young person) then you might need to find yourself a financial guarantor who is prepared
to sign an agreement that makes them liable to pay your rent if you fail to do so. Properties occupied by three or more unrelated people require an HMO (House in Multiple
Occupation) licence. It’s best to make sure that your landlord has a licence otherwise you may not be able to stay in the property you have just agreed to take.
You may be able to negotiate over price, with lower rents becoming available after a bit of bartering. Once you have successfully negotiated rent with your prospective landlord, you’ll likely be asked to sign a short assured tenancy agreement, which will tie you to that property for a minimum of six months. Read all of the agreement clauses carefully, no matter how boring this may seem. If all flatmates sign the same tenancy agreement then if one tenant defaults on rent the agency/landlord can legally pursue the other flatmates for payment. If this makes you uncomfortable ask if you can sign separate tenancy agreements.
The inventory is just as important as a tenancy agreement. This is a list of all the furniture and appliances in the flat, including details of what condition they are in, that will be supplied by your landlord or letting agent. You will need to sign it once you're happy that you agree with all the descriptions. All kinds of disputes can arise at the end of rent
agreements because the landlord or agency insists ‘the sofa wasn’t like this'. The landlord is entitled to deduct money from your deposit for damage, although you can appeal if
you think they are being unfair.
A Final Word:
Travellers do stay informally, cheaply and illegally in box rooms. These are rooms without windows that landlords are not allowed to rent out. Sometimes tenants illegally sublet these rooms. Whatever the case, your rights as a tenant will be pretty much non-existent.
A Brief Guide to Council Tax:
This is a tax on property rather than income that pretty much everyone, except full time students and foreign language assistants, has to pay.The good news is that the total bill also includes your annual Scottish Water sewerage and water charge. All properties are given a banding based on their approximate value ranging from A (cheapest) to H
(most expensive).Your council tax bill is based on your banding and also on your local area. Councils in the bigger cities will charge you more than those in rural areas.You are
expected to pay your bill in 10 installments from April to January.
If you don't pay, the council won't hesitate to hand you over to a debt collecting agency and then take you to court. Another important note is that all flatmates are ‘joint and severally liable’. In practice this means that if one flatmate defaults on payment, the council can pursue all other flatmates to get the money.With this in mind, make sure that
any departing flatmates have settled their council tax bill. When you move into a property you’ll need to register straight away with your local council tax department.When you leave the flat, remember to tell the council you have moved on, otherwise you could continue to be liable to pay.
A flat full of students or language assistants pays no council tax but in order to avoid paying you'll need to register as soon as you move in and be able to prove your status with
official documentation. If you are a student/language assistant living with professionals, then the household receives only a 25% discount.This usually means that it is not economical for students and professionals to live together. Houses where there is only one person liable for council tax can get a 25% single person discount, and anyone on a low income is eligible to claim a rebate/council tax benefit.There are other clauses and exemptions for young people in formal training - check with your local council for details, preferably by going along in person.
The Scottish National Party government has published plans to abolish Council Tax and replace it with a local income tax system.Although popular amongst some people, the plans have met stiff opposition from the NUS and in the Scottish parliament and it remains to be seen whether they will be pushed through. For now, everyone still has to pay.
■You can’t be charged for 'fair wear and tear'. If you wear down the hall carpet over a year or two you shouldn't be expected to pay for this as damage.
■Take photos of the flat and detailed notes when you move in so that you can use these as evidence in any deposit disputes.
■ Always get a receipt for your deposit.
■ Put all your requests to your landlord about repairs in writing. Phoning is quicker but a written record can be invaluable if things start getting a bit sticky.
■Take gas and electricity readings when you leave the flat and make sure that you have paid your final electricity or gas bill.
■ Be polite and reasonable.Your landlord might be waiting for a contractor rather than deliberately ignoring your request to fix the oven.