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Viewing a property

Viewings and things to consider

It's extremely important to view a property before you commit to it, whether or not you're part of a group. Arrange a viewing when your whole group can visit together. Later, if you've viewed a number of properties, feel free to ask for a second viewing on your first choice to make sure you or everyone is happy.

Never sign anything or pay any money before viewing and do not be pressured into making a decision. If you have any doubts, walk away.

If you meet current tenants ask about their experiences with the property, the landlord/managing company, the area and the utility costs.

If you or everyone is happy with the property, ask if it's possible to see a copy of the contract – usually an assured shorthold tenancy (PDF) – to take away to read thoroughly before you sign and pay the deposit.

If the viewing is conducted by a private landlord ask them for proof of ownership and identification.

It is a good idea to check the ownership of the property before you sign the contract. For the price of £4, a credit card payment can be made online at the Land Registry website to check ownership of the property.

If you have any concerns over an arrangement made with a private landlord or agent, please contact the accommodation team for advice.

Awareness of potential maintenance issues

Many problems that students run into with their housing could be avoided if they knew to check the property for potential defects before committing to a tenancy agreement. This section is designed to alert you to checking for the most obvious potential problems. Running through the following checklist will give you a reasonably thorough survey of any house you are thinking of renting.

In addition, most students will find their housing over the summer. It is important that you consider what the property will be like when it is cold, dark, and raining. How insulated is the property from the elements?

For guidance when viewing please use the Viewing Information Sheet (PDF).

Gas and electricity

  • Is the heating in the house adequate (imagine whether it will be adequate in the middle of winter)? Electric storage heaters? Gas central heating? Radiators in every room? Do the electric/gas fires work? Does the cooker work?
  • Gas safety – carbon monoxide kills; is there a valid gas safety certificate by a Gas Safe Register registered engineer? Does the Gas Certificate correspond with the gas appliances in the property? See our detailed Safety Information at the bottom of this page.
  • Electric fittings no loose wires, sockets coming off walls, burn marks on/around plugs?

Plumbing

  • Have you tried all the taps?
  • Do the sinks drain?
  • Does the toilet flush or leak?
  • Bath/shower sealant clean and undamaged sealant around bath or shower?
  • Mould and damp is there any? (Damp marks check top floor ceilings, ceiling under the bathroom, mould in the bathroom). Is there a musty smell?
  • Is there hot water and how do you pay for it?

Security

  • Is there a burglar alarm that works?
  • Are all the external doors solid?
  • Have all external doors been fitted with a sturdy lock?
  • Do all ground floor windows have security catches?
  • Are there any security lights outside?
  • In the event of a fire can you easily escape via windows?

Furniture

  • Has the house got enough furniture for the occupants?
  • Is there sufficient space in the kitchen to store and prepare food?
  • Is any of the furniture the property of existing tenants?
  • Is all the furniture in good condition?
  • Is the furniture fire retardant?

Services

  • What services is the owner providing for you, if any? Window cleaning, gardening, lighting of common areas?

Owner

  • Do you know your owner's name and address? Do they live locally to the property?

Outside the property

  • Does the roof look sound? (You can check for damp from the inside of the house too.)
  • Have the gutters got plants growing out of them?
  • Are the drains clear?
  • Is any of the woodwork rotting or unsafe?

Cleaning

  • Is the house clean? If not, will it be professionally cleaned before your tenancy starts?

Safety

  • In the event of fire in the main access passageways of the house, could you get out of the house?
  • Are smoke detectors or fire alarms fitted?
  • Has the house got any fire doors?

Repairs

  • Are there any repairs that need to be done? If there are any problems insist on a written assurance that it will be fixed before the start of your tenancy.

Decorating

  • Does any decorating need doing? If so, who is doing it and who is paying? Has the owner set any upper limit if you are decorating the house yourself? Get confirmation in writing.

Build quality

  • If you are in a flat, what is the sound insulation like between your flat and those of your neighbours?
  • Partition walls are they so thin you would hear everything from the room next door?
  • Is there double glazing?
  • It may be that a careful inspection will reveal some structural problems that are too major for you to consider the property. For example, if the property looks like the roof is about to collapse and hasn't been maintained for the last 1015 years, then you should rule it out.

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Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) and licensing

Landlords must ensure that Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which have three or more storeys and five or more tenants are licensed with the local authority and that they have a licence certificate. To receive a licence the landlord has to be a fit and proper person and meet a number of minimum legal standards. These legal requirements mainly apply to the physical condition of the property and the amount of amenity and space available and can be found easily on local authority websites by searching for 'HMO licensing'.

The local authority will first require that the landlord, or whoever is managing the property, apply for a licence to manage an HMO and pay a fee which varies according to the size of the property. Licensing will require the landlord or their agent to prove that they are a fit and proper person to be managing the property. This will involve checks on criminal records and other past behaviour.
If you are living in a property that is an HMO and you have any concerns about its safety, you will be able to check with your local authority that the landlord holds a valid licence for the property.

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Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)

Energy Performance Certificates include:

  • a rating for the energy efficiency of a home – applying a standard energy and carbon emission efficiency grade from A to G, where A is the most efficient (the average efficiency grade to date is D);
  • a non-enforceable recommendation report – including advice and suggestions on improvements that home owners could make to save money and energy; and
  • the rating that could be achieved if all the recommendations are followed.
  • An EPC for a rented property is valid for 10 years.

As of 1 October 2008 it is mandatory to have an EPC and a recommendation report available for any new tenancy agreement. These must be made available free of charge by a landlord to a prospective tenant at the earliest opportunity and no later than either when the property is advertised, viewed or before entering into a contract to let. (An EPC isn't required with resident landlord/family home properties).

It is in your interest to view the report as a poor energy performance rating can have an effect on your heating bills during the winter months.

See an example of an Energy Performance Certificate (PDF).

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Important safety information

Read our guide to important safety information you need to know when you're renting a house or flat.

Gas safety

A Gas Safe register qualified installer must test all gas appliances (including cookers, central heating, fires and water heaters) in any rented property every 12 months. By law this is the landlord's responsibility. Please check this before signing a contract. It is a legal requirement for the safety certificate to be handed to the tenant.

It is a criminal offence for the landlord/agent not to have all gas appliances serviced and checked every 12 months, or for them to use someone who is not a Gas Safe registered engineer. The service record should either be given to you when you move in or displayed in the property.

If the landlord/agent refuses to have the gas appliances serviced, or they do not act on concerns that you raise, contact the environmental health department at your local council. They will check the appliances are safe and can serve legal notices on the landlord/agent to have a full service carried out. They can also report them to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for not carrying out their legal obligations. The HSE have the power to instigate criminal proceedings against the landlord/agent.

In the case of a gas leak, contact Transco (0800 111 999). If there is a fault they may make the appliance safe by disconnecting the service but they have no power to request that the landlord/agent carries out repairs. If you smell gas or fumes:

  • turn off the supply;
  • open the windows;
  • extinguish any naked flames;
  • do not touch any electrical switches; and
  • call the Transco on 0800 111 999.

Please visit www.hse.gov.uk/gas for further advice.

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Carbon monoxide safety

Faulty gas appliances can produce carbon monoxide, a highly poisonous lethal gas with no smell or taste. It is vital to ensure that there is adequate ventilation in any rooms that contain gas appliances. Even an appliance that has been serviced regularly can produce carbon monoxide. We highly recommended that you purchase a carbon monoxide detector (which should cost about £10). Visit www.hse.gov.uk/gas for further information.

Carbon monoxide danger signs include:

  • a lazy yellow or orange flame (it should be crisp and blue);   
  • sooting or staining around the appliance;
  • condensation in a room containing gas appliances; and
  • pilot lights which frequently go out.

Carbon monoxide fumes result in blood being deprived of oxygen and can lead to brain damage. Sufferers may be unaware that anything is wrong. These fumes can kill within hours and you are very vulnerable when sleeping.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • headaches;
  • diarrhoea;
  • stomach and chest pains;
  • nausea;
  • dizziness;
  • lethargy;
  • drowsiness; and
  • cold/flu symptoms.

If you or your flatmates experience any of these symptoms, stop using the appliance immediately, open windows to allow fresh air to circulate and seek medical advice. Useful contact numbers include:

  • NHS Direct 0845 4647
  • HSE Gas Safety Advice Line 0800 300 363

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Fire safety

When you are looking round a house or flat remember to check:

  • smoke detectors – if none are installed consider asking your landlord to provide them or ask if you can install your own
  • your escape route from each room in the house;
  • if there is a fire blanket in the kitchen;
  • that all furnishings have been manufactured to fire-resistant standards and carry a label stating they meet safety requirements. A landlord/agent may ask you to remove furniture you bring from home if it does not meet with the standards.

Once you have moved in, check the batteries in fire detectors regularly.

Please note:

  • The London Fire Brigade carries out home fire safety checks in this area.
  • It will also fit a free smoke alarm where needed.
  • If you or someone you know wants a home fire safety check you can request one at www.london-fire.gov.uk/homefiresafetyvisit.asp.

For further fire safety advice, visit www.london-fire.gov.uk.

Landlord/agents put in fire detection systems for your safety and the protection of their property. So please:

  • Do not remove the self closing mechanisms on fire doors.
  • Do not prop fire doors open.
  • Never cover up or remove batteries from smoke or heat detectors. If a fire breaks out you risk death or serious injury to yourself or other tenants. The landlord/agent could sue for damage caused to their property. Usually if the battery detector bleeps, the battery needs changing.
  • Most tenancy agreements prohibit the use of candles. If you ignore this and there is a fire you are at risk of being liable for the damage.
  • Test smoke alarms once a week.
  • Inform the landlord/agent immediately if the fire extinguisher or fire blanket has been used. If either is used inappropriately, the household could be charged for a replacement.

Landlords of certain buildings that are occupied by more than one household (e.g. houses split into bedsits) have extra legal obligations to provide adequate fire precautions and means of escape from fire.

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Electrical safety

Dangerous electrical appliances or damaged sockets can cause fire or serious injury. Although there is no legal requirement for the landlord/agent to carry out regular checks they are responsible for ensuring that the installations and appliances are safe to use. 

What are the warning signs?

  • Broken plug sockets.
  • Plugs that get hot when they are used.
  • Sparks from electrical appliances/sockets.
  • Fuses which continually blow.
  • Loose switches.
  • Exposed wiring.

Frequently having to replace light bulbs is not necessarily a sign of problem wiring. Try a different make of light bulb (perhaps more expensive) before reporting the problem. 

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The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

(as specified in Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004)

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a system of assessing the condition of dwellings (houses and flats). Its principle is that a dwelling, including its structure, means of access, any associated outbuildings and garden, should provide a safe and healthy environment for the occupants and any visitors.

To satisfy this principle a dwelling should be free from unnecessary and avoidable hazards. Based on statistics collected nationally on the causes of accidents within the home and their outcomes, the HHSRS gives a rating to any hazards. If an accident is very likely to occur and the outcome is likely to be extreme or severe (eg death or a major or fatal injury) then its rating will be high and it may
be considered to be a category 1 hazard. If this is the case the council has a duty to take action.

Of course there are some hazards which can't be eliminated, steep staircases for example, but any risk of suffering harm by falling could be reduced by the correct positioning of banisters and handrails. There are 29 hazards that have been identified in the HHSRS and the risk of harm from some is relatively minimal. However, there are some which because of the frequency with which they occur and the severity of the potential outcome, are of major significance and could be considered to be 'key hazards'.

These are summarised as follows:

  1. Falls on stairs. This hazard concerns staircases and steps in the home or leading to it. Loose or broken steps or stairs can cause falls, but it is more commonly the case that hazards occur because of the placing of radiators at the bottom of stairs, narrow and/or steep staircases, stairs that are bare and/or polished providing little grip, or steps with no hand-rails.
  2. Falls on the level. This typically relates to loose or uneven paving that can cause trips, but can relate to badly laid or uneven flooring inside a dwelling, bad door sills, etc.
  3. Falls between levels. There is the potential for harm anywhere where someone can fall from one level to another. This is most often where there is no hand rail such as on a deck or raised patio, but it may be where there is deep garden pond not fenced off. It can be inside the home, such as 'ranch-style' banisters which are not safe for children.
  4. Hot surfaces and materials. This describes any appliances that may get hot and are not well positioned. Examples most frequently include cookers near doorways or in narrow kitchens, or badly placed heaters.
  5. Fire. This can be a hazard where risk of fire is above average and/or the outcome could be more serious than normal. It includes the harms that can occur from uncontrolled smoke. Typically high-risk hazards occur in rented accommodation.
  6. Damp and mould growth. Hazards occur where dampness results in mould growth, which can lead to respiratory problems such as asthma and pneumonia.
  7. Excessive cold. This concerns heating and energy efficiency. The inability to affordably heat the home can lead to chronic illness and even death from illnesses that are exacerbated by the cold, such as respiratory ailments and heart disease.

What is the relevance of the HHSRS to me?

If you are a private sector tenant the local authority has a legal duty to take action where there are category 1 hazards and may also take action on finding lower categories of hazard. Your landlord will usually be responsible for the repair and maintenance of your home and the council has powers to make sure the necessary remedial work is carried out.

If, having accepted and moved into a property, you find there are problems that match the hazards listed above, it may be necessary to contact your local council and have these issues investigated if you have had no response from your landlord.

  • Private Sector Housing and Public Health
    Guildhall
    Kingston KT1 1EU
    Phone: 020 8547 5003
    Email: ehadmin@rbk.kingston.gov.uk
    Open: Monday to Thursday 8.45am to 5.00pm; Friday 8.45am to 4.45pm

This service provides help and advice to landlords, tenants and home owners in private sector housing concerning repairs, improvements and adaptations including:

  • Licensing of larger houses in multiple occupation (three or more storeys).
  • Investigation of complaints relating to disrepair, overcrowding, fire safety and lack of amenities or facilities and other housing hazards as specified in Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 (Housing Health and Safety Rating System).
  • Pest control, public health nuisances and matters relating to private sewers and drains.

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