16 questions to ask the landlord when viewing a house to rent

Wondering what questions to ask when viewing a house to rent? Tenancy agreements can be adapted, so discuss these key terms with your new landlord ahead of signing a contract

A UK residential street
(Image credit: Busà Photography / Getty)

Whether you're moving out for the first time or not, knowing what questions to ask when viewing a house to rent is a must to ensure that you and the landlord are on the same page.

Finding a rental, especially in a hurry, can be a stressful undertaking. However, you should always aim to be as thorough as possible when looking for a place to live, regardless of whether it's for five years or five months. 

Renting is a reality for a huge number of people and, these days, a perfectly respectable option. You can and should expect a good standard of accommodation and a good relationship with your landlord. To make sure that your renting experience is positive, you should always ask a series of important questions when touring the apartment, which we outline below with the help of leading experts in the property sector. 

What are the top questions to ask your landlord?

If you need to find somewhere to live quickly and don't have the time or the energy to ask too many questions, zoom in on the most important ones. Jake Barlow, Founder of Property Store advises that as a tenant, you should find out that 'the landlord complied with all of their legal responsibilities. If they have, they will be able to show gas and electrical safety certificates, provide you with a copy of the energy performance certificate and ensure that fire safety regulations are and have been properly maintained. '

'If the landlord doesn’t have a robust onboarding process that includes giving you access to these important documents, there’s a chance the relationship isn’t off to a strong start.'

But these are just the basics. If you're looking for somewhere to live longer term and have the time to do your research, there are many more questions you should pose to a prospective landlord. 

1. When and how should I pay the rent?

The first month’s rent is generally payable before you move in, then monthly on the anniversary of the date the tenancy started. This can be done via bank transfer, direct debit or standing order. Insist on a receipt if the landlord’s old school and asks for the initial payment by cheque, and don’t hand over cash.

2. What's the local area like?

Adam Male, Chief Revenue Officer at online lettings agent Mashroom, recommends that this be one of the first questions you ask, as the area where you live will make a massive impact on your wellbeing.  'Get a first-hand account about the local area from the person showing you around the property, even if you already know about the postcode. Find out about everything from transport to local restaurants and whether it’s a safe area at night.' 

'Ask about the local community and what it’s like to live there on a day-to-day basis. People often desire areas they’ve visited a few times, yet living in the postcode is an entirely different experience. That’s why you should find out everything you can about the specifics of the area.' 

Live-in landlords or landlords who rent out their properties directly are especially valuable when it comes to telling you about the local area, but an estate agent will also be able to answer some of your questions. 

3. Is the property furnished, part-furnished or unfurnished?

This is another key area of renting a property. Do you already have a lot of furniture that you need o fit into a new place, or are just starting out your renting journey and ideally need somewhere that already has a bed/sofa/wardrobe? Male's advice is: 'If you’re viewing a property that’s currently still occupied, it can be hard to establish what furniture will be left behind once the tenants move out.' So ensure you know how the property will be left for the next tenant(s). 

'Before you sign your tenancy agreement, make sure you clarify whether the property is fully furnished, partly furnished or completely unfurnished, in order to find out what fixtures, appliances and furniture will be included when you finally move in. '

4. Have gas and electric checks been conducted recently?

'By law, landlords need to check that a property is inhabitable by conducting professional gas and electric checks. It’s often something that is overlooked during viewings, but it’s essential that tenants know that safety checks are up to date so they can be assured that they’re moving into a safe home.'

'Ask for a copy of these certificates for your reassurance, and don’t be afraid to check that appliances are in good working order before you move in too.' Says Male.

5. How long is the notice period, and how do I give this notice when I want to move out?

Most tenancy agreements are set for a fixed term of at least a year, with a notice period of at least two months before the end of the contract. Unless there’s a break clause – usually after six months - neither party can usually terminate the agreement early. If a new contract isn’t issued at the end of the fixed term, it will convert to a rolling periodic tenancy and notice can be given at any time. This should be served in writing, either by post or handed to the landlord in person.

Break clauses are not always included in contracts so be sure to ask the landlord or your letting agent to include this as part of your contract.

6. Which bills will I be responsible for?

Although heating bills are occasionally included in the rent – for example in a modern, purpose-built flat where they’re covered by the service charge – you’ll almost certainly have to pay for gas, electricity, water, broadband, council tax and a TV licence. Ask to see the last year’s utility bills, and whether you’re allowed to change the supplier, which could save you money.

Find out how to switch energy suppliers and how to reduce home energy costs in our guides.

7. Are pets allowed?

This can be a deal-breaker - and used to be somewhat difficult (or very difficult, depending on your area). Things are changing in this area of renting, though. As Male points out, 'the recent Rental Reform Bill white paper announced plans to make it easier for tenants to keep their pets in rental homes. Tenants will be able to request the right to keep a pet in the future, with conditions such as pet insurance likely to be needed to do so. Landlords will only be able to refuse keeping pets in the property if they can provide a legitimate reason.'

In the meantime, it is vital to be frank, as sneaking a pet in without permission could be a breach of contract. Meaning your cat or dog might help to sway your landlord, as will providing details of recent vaccinations and flea treatments. Offer to pay a higher deposit to cover any damage by your pet, and to get the property professionally cleaned at the end of your tenancy if this isn’t already included in the agreement.

8. Can I decorate? 

Many landlords won’t allow you to paint a room, or to fix anything – hanging pictures and mirrors included – to the walls without consent. However, they might be more flexible if you offer to return walls to their original state by filling and fixing holes in the wall you’ve made and by repainting when you leave. The contract should contain a clause stipulating exactly what – if any – alterations you can make, materials to be used – for example paint, not wallpaper - and if you can put up shelving or even install a satellite dish outside.

9. Who do I contact in an emergency?

As Male reminds prospective renters, 'every rental property has a landlord, but not every landlord is hands-on with their property. If you’re going to be a tenant, it’s important to know who will handle requests like maintenance and other factors related to the home.' 

'Make sure you have the contact details of the person or company you should be getting in touch with in the event of an emergency or if something goes wrong during your time as a tenant in that property.'

Believe us when we say: you don't want to be in a situation where your boiler has broken down in the middle of the night in winter and you have no one to call.

10. Is sub-letting allowed?

If you have a job that involves long periods away from home, subletting so that someone else takes care of the rent makes perfect sense. A landlord may not share this point of view, so ask the question and explain your circumstances, and you may be able to get a clause inserted so that subletting is allowed with consent.

11. Is any work going to be carried out between now and the start of the new tenancy?

While the idea of living in a pad with freshly-painted walls, a new kitchen remodel or bathroom is obviously very appealing, discovering that it’s still a building site on moving-in day isn’t. So find out if any upgrades are planned and what the time-frame is.

12. Can I work from home?

This depends on the nature of the business. Running an enterprise that involves customers, clients or deliveries regularly coming to your home, increasing wear and tear, and causing a nuisance to neighbours won’t be allowed, whereas a landlord can’t reasonably refuse permission to a sole trader working on a laptop, such as a freelance writer or graphic designer.

Of course, if you are renting in shared accommodation, it's important to know whether your working from home will disrupt fellow housemates and so it's worth looping them into the conversation to ensure that all parties are happy with the prospective setup in terms of how the space is shared, noise levels and so on.

13. Who is responsible for maintaining the outdoor space?

Outside space is a real bonus but can become a curse if you are responsible for its upkeep and don’t have green fingers... Check with your landlord who is responsible for garden maintenance and establish what you can and can't take care of. If you're sharing, it usually falls under the responsibility of all the occupants, so try and understand how the work is currently divided up if this is the case.

That way if it's actually going to be easier for the landlord to hire a gardener and add the cost to the rent, that can be established ahead of you signing the contract.

14. Do you have an HMO licence?

If you are moving into a flatshare, and three or more unrelated people will be living in it and sharing communal areas such as a kitchen, the house is classed as a House in Multiple Occupation, and your landlord must have a license in order to run the property in this way. The licence is meant to ensure that certain safety and sanitation standards are met. Be very wary of any landlord who won't readily let you see their licence.

15. What is happening with my deposit?

Most renters don't need to worry about deposits these days as there are now stringent rules around how much landlords can ask for and where deposits are held. Male explains: 'Landlords can ask for 5 weeks rent upfront which acts as a security deposit that allows them to recoup costs if any damage is done during the tenancy. You don’t need to pay any more than 5 weeks as your security deposit, so landlords should not be asking prospective tenants any more than what’s required.

'Ask where your deposit will be held during your tenancy and make sure you ask how long you will have to wait in order to receive it back, providing there’s no damage to the property once you leave.' 

16. Is there a working carbon monoxide alarm?

Landlords in the UK are required to have a functioning carbon monoxide alarm installed in a rental property. Avoid any landlord who doesn't have one as they are breaking the law and you don't want to find out what else they are unscrupulous about, not to mention that they would be putting your life at risk by not having a carbon monoxide alarm.

If you wil be living in a House in Multiple Occupation, the landlord also needs to ensure there's a fire alarm as a condition of their license. 

What should you definitely know before signing a rental contract?

Jake Barlow says that 'with respect to the property it’s important to know that both the landlord and the property are compliant. It’s also good to know the length of your AST (assured shorthold tenancy) to ensure you don’t overcommit in the beginning.'

What should I look for in a good landlord?

'It’s important to have good communication with either the landlord or their agent', says Barlow. 'You should also receive the same levels of transparency from them as you provide in return. This will ensure your relationship is off to a good start. Finally; and I can’t stress this enough, they must follow all regulations to ensure full compliance and ultimately your safety.'

With contributions from