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Before You View
If it's possible, try to go to a property viewing with someone else even if it's just you renting.
Not only is this safer but it also means a second opinion, and an extra pair of eyes to pick up on any flaws you may not have noticed.
As an extra precaution, particularly if you're renting from a private landlord rather than a letting agency, tell a third party where and when you're meeting, and when you expect to be home.
The Viewing Process: Take your Time
Don't let anyone try to rush you through a viewing. In the current high-demand rental market, this is probably your only opportunity to judge the place, so take your time and ask any questions that spring to mind.
It's a good idea to be as prepared as possible before you view a property. Draw up a check list to take along: this may save you from getting so carried away by the wow factor wet room that you forget to look at the wiring.
Remember, when you view a rental property, you're generally agreeing to take it "as seen" - meaning that the landlord or letting agent is under no obligation to change anything once the lease is signed.
So, beware: if you're unsure about the heliotrope walls during an initial viewing, think carefully before agreeing to live with them for the next six months.
More crucially, if you didn't bother to test the water pressure or pay attention to the immediate vicinity, there's not a lot you can do about it once you've signed on the dotted line.
The Local Area
Try and show up slightly early to allow yourself a look around and feel for the neighbourhood, and of the exterior of the property itself.
Hoodie Haven? Is the general area well-lit? Does it look like a well-populated and safe environment or would you feel isolated and vulnerable?
Local Amenities: How close is your nearest shop, park, bus stop, cash-point, garage etc, and, where relevant, are their opening times suitable?
Parking: If you're a driver, how easy is it to park in the area? Are you likely to have to park far from your front door? Is it a safe place to leave a car?
Public Transport: How far is the nearest stop? Will it be a safe route to walk in the dark? How frequent and reliable is the service and does it operate in the evenings and at weekends? How much is a weekly ticket - have you factored the commuting cost into your monthly outgoings?
External Matters - The Property
The Roof Over Your Head:
Check the condition of guttering and roofing - as much as is possible short of turning up with a ladder. Are the gutters firmly attached? Can you spot any loose slates on the roof?
Doors and Drains: Look at the state of drainpipes, and the outside of the door and windows for an overall impression of building maintenance.
Peeling Paint? Avoid anywhere that needs a lot of repair work - this suggests an unreliable landlord.
Garden To Care For? Is the garden tidy and well-kept? Great, if it is - but who is responsible? If it's you, are you capable of doing it? If it's not you, is the cost included in your rent or will you be expected to pay extra to maintain it?
Landfill Site? Are there proper bins or is the entrance strewn with rubbish bags - not only is this unsightly but it can be a magnet for birds or cats to attack, depositing the contents all over your doorstep; worse still, it can attract vermin.
Desolation Row? Are the houses nearby in good repair? Avoid, if possible, moving next door to anywhere that's covered in graffiti or has boarded-up windows.
Interior Issues: The Properties overall condition
Check for signs of damp in all the rooms - typical signs are a musty smell, loose wallpaper, flaking paint and mould spots.
Rat Trap? Look for any signs of infestation such as mice droppings, traps or poison baits - don't forget to check for this in ground floor cupboards.
Flat Or Fridge? Is there central heating, and do all the radiators work? If the property doesn't come with central heating is there an alternative source such as storage heaters/electric heating? Bear in mind this will probably be more expensive than gas central heating.
Rattle And Hum? Is there double glazing? If not, this may cause higher heating bills, and will also be a noise factor if the property is on a busy road. Similarly, enquire about roof insulation - without it, your heating bills will be higher.
Decent Décor? Are the general decorations - paint, wallpaper, carpets, floorboards - in a reasonable enough condition for you to live with? If not, would you be allowed to carry out any decorations?
Will Your Stuff Fit? Is there adequate storage space in the property? Does the kitchen have enough surface & storage space for your needs? Is there room in the bedroom for anything other than a bed, and if not, can you cope with this?
Does the flat have smoke alarms? Can the landlord vouch that they are in proper working order (keeping the batteries charged will be your responsibility once renting, however).
Escape Routes: Do you have adequate escape routes if there is a fire? Do you feel confident that you could get out - from all floors of the property, if applicable - should there be a fire?
Fire Fighting: Are a fire extinguisher and fire blanket provided? Although not mandatory, it would be a good indication of a conscientious landlord.
Security - Safe as Houses
Does the building seem secure from the outside? It's worth thinking how you'd get in if you'd left your keys inside - if it's easy for you, it's easy for a burglar.
Alarmed? Does the property come with a burglar alarm? If not, are there any objections to you installing one?
Main Entrance: Is the front door solid enough? Does it have a door-chain? Would you feel secure once you'd locked it for the night?
Good Locks? Are there enough locks? Are they firm and in good condition? If it looks as if there are actually too many on a main door, enquire about it - this could be an indication of several attempted break-ins.
Secure Windows? Do the windows have locks, particularly on the ground floor? Are they secure and tight? Can you feel a breeze through them?
Outside Lighting: Is there adequate outside lighting? Would you feel secure getting from the front path to the inside of your home?
Electric Shocks - Wiring
Is the wiring in good condition? Look out for any fraying or if it looks particularly old. Are there enough plug sockets for your needs or would you be running the risk of overloading the existing sockets?
Dodgy Plugs? Check that the plugs don't overheat when switched on or don't have yellowy stains.
Working Lights? Switch on all overhead lighting to check that it works.
Appliances Working? If appliances such as a fridge freezer or oven are included, check that they work.
Electricity and Gas
By law, all landlords have to carry out annual gas safety inspections with a CORGI registered engineer and provide tenants with a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate.
Gas Attack? Gas appliances can carry the risk of carbon monoxide - test for this by ensuring that flames burn yellow or orange rather than blue, and look out yellow or brown stains on or around appliances. Some landlords provide carbon monoxide detectors but this isn't (yet) a legal requirement.
Run all the taps (this also applies to the kitchen), flush the toilet, and turn on the shower to check the water pressure is in good working order - you want a strong, steady flow of water - and check that there is hot water from the hot tap.
Down The Pan? Make sure the toilet doesn't leak, and the bath and wash basins aren't cracked.
Well Sealed? Check for clean and undamaged sealant around the bath or shower.
Bathroom Or Sauna? Is there a window or de-humidifier in the bathroom? If not, ventilation and damp may be an issue.
If you are renting a furnished property, check exactly what items of furniture will be included.
Check The Condition: Make sure you try out the bed, the sofa, the chairs, and check any other substantial pieces that come with the flat - if anything is broken, wobbly, or stained, either ask for a replacement or have the extent of the damage written into your inventory, or you could find yourself paying for someone else's carelessness.
Is the furniture fire retardant? This is a legal requirement of the Fire and Furniture Regulations 1988 and furnishings should be clearly labelled to show that they meet standards.
Pots And Pans: Some furnished flats provide crockery, cutlery, saucepans etc - again, check that this is in a good enough condition for you to use, and before you sign an inventory, ensure that the correct number of items are listed.
Making it a Home
Your Own Stuff?
Can you put up your own pictures or bring in furniture of your own?
Furry Friends? Are you allowed pets, big or small?
Only Magnolia? Are you allowed to change any of the décor? Within reason ie no zebra-striped walls walls, for example, many landlords are happy for a tenant to do this as it can increase their chances of re-letting afterwards but you will need to seek permission first.
What's Allowed? It may also be worth clarifying if there are any other no-nos that you should be aware of before making your decision - it'd be annoying to discover too late that your particular landlord had a ban on barbeques or an aversion to garden furniture.
Keep it Real
Paul Weller, Managing Director of Leaders, independent lettings specialist, says: "It's important to be clear about exactly what is important to you, and to be sure your requirements are realistic.
"Figures taken from a recent survey of our tenants show that almost half (46 per cent) viewed no more than three properties before choosing the one they currently live in, with a significant number (12 per cent) choosing the first property they saw without viewing any others.
"These people were all clear about their priorities - be they location, parking, size of rooms or quality of fixtures and fittings.
"However, viewing figures tended to be higher, for example ten viewings or more, when people were looking for an unrealistic combination of features, such as properties with high quality fixtures and fittings in good locations but for low rents."
And Andrew Berry, managing director of haart residential lettings, agrees that preparation is the key to finding the right rental home:
"Potential tenants looking for properties to rent should go armed with a mental check list of things to look out for and questions to ask.
"Typical things to look out for during a viewing include whether the front door has a fob and a latch lock, how secure the windows are, visible or covered over patches of damp, and the state of repair of the kitchen and bathroom.
"As with buyers looking to purchase a home, we would recommend that the tenants visit the property more than once and at different times of the day to check that they are happy with the area."
According to Environmental Campaigns (Encams) noise is a problem for one in three and a serious problem for one in 12, and according to Government figures local authorities received 228,704 domestic noise complaints in 2001/02.
That's a lot of grief for a lot of people. So if you can't hear yourself think and you're stumbling around in a state of sleep-deprived despair, here's a run through some of the options for dealing with noisy neighbours - none of them involving ear-plugs
Defining Unreasonable Noise
Noise, usually defined as unwanted sound, is measured scientifically in decibels. The sound of breathing is 10 decibels, a washing machine is 70, and heavy traffic is 80/90.
Prolonged exposure above 85 decibels will damage hearing - which is probably why The Who's Pete Townshend is almost deaf and suffers "unbearable" pains in his ears.
However, when it comes to defining noise as a statutory nuisance, the current regulations don't rely on decibels to decide. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Sections 79 - 82), has this to say:
"For a noise to constitute a "nuisance" in the legal sense, it must be unreasonable and cause substantial interference to normal domestic activities.
"The frequency and duration of individual occurrences, loudness, time of day/night, as well as the length of time the nuisance has been caused (weeks/months) are amongst the factors which are taken into consideration".
What to do - Informal Measures
If you're convinced that the ear-bashing you're currently enduring more than qualifies as "unreasonable" there are several things you can do. Government advice is as follows.
1. A Quiet Word: If a neighbour is bombarding you with booming drum 'n' bass, the first step, says the Department of the Environment, is to have a quiet word - "you may find that they are unaware that they are disturbing you".
Sage advice, no doubt, and many problems are solved at this early stage. But if the reasonable approach fails, or you don't want to go it alone, you can always call on the mediation service to help.
2. Mediation: Mediation UK will act as go-betweens and will try and negotiate a solution acceptable to all parties. Between 2002 and 2003, they dealt with over 47,000 cases, 78% of which reached full or partial agreement, so they really are worth a go.
Bear in mind, too, that when you decide to sell your house the buyer's solicitor will send you a form asking if you've had any disputes with the neighbours - lie and you can be liable. So sorting the problem out though mediation could save you a lot of hassle in the future as well as ensure a good night's sleep.
What to do - Legal Measures
3. Call the Council: If these informal approaches fail, you'll need to call in the big legal guns - and that means the Environmental Health Officer at your local council.
They are legally obliged to investigate all complaints of unreasonable noise and will come to see if your complaint amounts to a statutory nuisance as defined above.
In the process, they will probably ask you to keep a diary detailing the dates, times, duration, and nature of the noise. And they might install equipment to monitor the racket. They will also write to the person causing the noise and request their co-operation.
If the council decides the noise constitutes a statutory nuisance they will serve a noise abatement order on the perpetrator. This informs them that the noise is an offence and must be stopped.
If there are further offences they can seize equipment (e.g.: a stereo) and they can also bring the offender to the Magistrates Court. Those convicted can be fined up to £5,000 and a further £500 per day for every day they do not comply with the court's orders.
If the noise is part of a wider problem involving a violent or abusive neighbour, the council can hit them with an Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO), which allows the council to take action with the police.
Offenders can be banned from certain actions, have a curfew imposed and can even be banged up for a maximum of five years, a measure which will certainly sort the problem out once and for all.
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