How to avoid being ripped off as a tenant

According to the British Property Federation, rents fell in December for the first time in 11 months. Prices fell fastest in Wales (down 2.6%) whilst London saw a drop of 2.3%, and the West Midlands of 2.2%.

This is obviously good news for potential tenants; but unfortunately, there are still plenty of financial pitfalls to be aware of. Here are three ways you can avoid being ripped off when you rent a property...

1. Deposit protection
Tenancy deposit protection (TDP) schemes - introduced in recent years - make it easier for tenants to get their deposits back at the end of the tenancy. In a nutshell, landlords must protect their tenants' deposits using a TDP scheme if they've let the property on an assured shorthold tenancy starting after 6 April 2007.

There are three TDP schemes approved by the government. These are the Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. Make sure your landlord is doing his or her duty and has registered with one of these. To be on the safe side, ask for a copy of the printed documentation.

2. Don't part with your cash too quickly!
Don't be scammed into shelling out for a property that doesn't even exist! This is 'fake landlord' fraud has become widespread, and could leave you several hundred pounds out of pocket.

Here's how it works: You come across an advert (typically online) for a promising place to rent. When you contact the 'landlord' (who often says he or she lives abroad) they will ask you to make a money transfer to a friend or family member.

They'll say this is to prove you have the funds for the deposit and rent - before they'll show you the property. However, when you go to collect your cash from the money transfer firm, you'll find it's disappeared off the face of the Earth... along with the 'landlord' and the property. Money transfer is a notoriously insecure way to 'prove funds'; and a genuine landlord will never ask you to come up with money before you've even seen a place. Steer well clear!

3. Hidden extras
You also need to be aware of any fees, charges and hidden costs demanded by the landlord or managing agent. These aren't usually illegal, but they can be ridiculously high, so don't get caught out.

For example:

Holding fees: The amount you'll be charged by the agent for 'holding' the property, while your references are being checked.

Administration fees: The cut the agent takes for organising the contract between you and the landlord.

Management fees: These can be charged either by a landlord or a managing agent (if one is being used) and are meant to cover the upkeep of a property's communal areas (like the hall or garden).

They can add up to hundreds of pounds a year, so find out exactly what you're paying and what services it covers!

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