The guide - top ten: How to land a trouble-free tenancy

1 THE CHOICE IS YOURS For various reasons, while residential lettings have performed relatively well, new tenants will find that rental rates are a bit more affordable than they were six months ago. In a district favoured by young people the rental charge for typical one or two-bedroom flats generally ranges from £550 to £750 a month.

2 LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION Just as in the owner-occupied market, the cost of renting a home depends almost as much on where it is as on what it comprises. Young people pay a premium to live in the "younger" districts – such as Bruntsfield and Stockbridge in Edinburgh and the Byers Road and Shawlands areas of Glasgow – because of the local range of delis, restaurants and bars. Essential services on one's doorstep are also important – never rent a property that requires a car journey to buy a pint of milk or a loaf of bread.

3 UP FRONT COSTS In addition to the first month's rent in advance, the tenant will need to put down a deposit typically equal to one or two monthly rentals, which for a two-bedroom flat might be as much as £1,500. There will also be an agency fee. On completion of the lease, the deposit will be returned, unless furniture or carpets have been damaged and need to be replaced or repaired. Reasonable wear and tear does not count as damage and any honest landlord will distinguish between the two.

4 UTILITY BILLS Moving into a rented flat for the first time is not just about getting one's own place but is also a matter of taking new financial commitments. The tenant becomes responsible (or "jointly and severally" responsible in sharing situations) for gas and electricity charges, and the agent will register the details with the appropriate utilities. From January all homes for sale or rent will need an Energy Performance Certificate, which should give an occupier some indication of likely heating bills. Most rented flats are equipped with a landline telephone but as this costs £125 to activate, many tenants prefer to stick with their mobile phones.

5 COUNCIL TAX Any person over 18, in full time employment and living alone will receive a 25 per cent discount on council tax. If the flat is shared all adult occupants in employment will be liable for full council tax. This charge is separate to each tenant and not included in the monthly rental.

6 GOING SOLO? Some people renting a flat for the first time intentionally live alone, while others prefer constant company. If a one-bedroom flat costs £550 a month, and a two-bedroom version, £750 a month, then sharing with one other person obviously makes economic sense, especially as utility bills can be split as well. A possible downside is that people who were the best of friends may find their relationship changes once they start living under the same roof, so sharing with a stranger can often work better than with someone you know.
7 SHOULD I TAKE MY TELLY? Twenty years ago tenants considered themselves lucky if their landlord provided a black and white TV, but as standards have improved so has the number of non-essential extras provided. Therefore a new tenant will normally find that the rental will include use of a modern television set and DVD player and, possibly, a stereo as well. As regards white goods, fridges and washing machines are provided as standard, but not always freezers and dish-washers.

8 INSURANCE Any young adult living at home probably has personal effects cover as part of the family household insurance policy. As a tenant, however, he or she will need a policy of their own to cover loss or damage to valuables through fire or theft. Damage by a tenant to internal fittings, such as a sofa or carpet, will not normally be covered by a standard household policy, which is one reason why landlords insist on a hefty deposit. Buildings insurance is the responsibility of the owner.

9 STAYING ON Most rental leases are on a short-assured tenancy, which lasts for six months and can be renewed at six-monthly intervals thereafter. An owner may try to make a lease renewal conditional on an increase in rent but that is really dictated by the level of supply in the wider market.

10 BANK OF MUM AND DAD Many landlords are cautious about letting to people in a younger age group and may seek some kind of parental guarantee relating to the cost of potential damage and paying the rent itself. A landlord is likely to be more comfortable about taking on a young tenant whose parents take an active part in the viewing and selection process.

More info: www.djalexander.co.uk

THE SCOTSMAN, 13 December 2008