Tenancy Answers - Renting On Benefits
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Renting On Benefits

Why Don't Landlords Want to Rent to Me?

Landlords are business people, business people tend not to take un-necessary risks.
 
The majority of prospective tenants on benefit have no viable income and minimal assets - this makes you a risky proposition because if you were to decide not to pay the rent, it would take a long time to evict you and, once evicted, the landlord would have difficulty getting back the unpaid rent from you.
 
In addition to this, most tenancy agreements require rent to be pad in advance.  Housing benefit is paid in arrears.  Many claimants are not able to pay their rent until the Housing Benefit arrives - meaning they are always behind with their rent.  For a landlord with financial commitments of his/her own, this is not a good situation.
 
Many mortgage lenders, and insurers, will not allow their customers to let to benefit claimants.
 
A final issue, although less serious than the first 2, is that you may not be easily able afford or find a new property when evicted.  Whereas the majority of tenants will leave at the end of their 2 months notice, a claimant with no where else to go may have no choice but to stay in the property, forcing the landlord into expensive legal action to evict the tenant.
 
These are generalisations, you may feel that none of them apply to you, but with 4.88 million Housing Benefit claimants, there are going to be 4.88M different sets of circumstances - generalisations will always happen.

How can I find a property?

You need to start by accepting that you are not regarded by landlords and agencies as 'ideal tenant' material.
 
A letting agent will deal with hundreds of landlords, most of them will not accept benefits claimants (see above), but some of them will. So you need to telephone each agent in your town 2 or 3 times a week to see if one of their benefit-friendly landlords has had a suitable property come free. If they say "we'll phone you when something comes in" ignore it because they won't (see above). Benefit friendly properties are so scarce they get let very quickly - so calling once a week won't be enough, something might have come and gone in between your phone calls.

If you don't want to go through an agency, you may find private landlords in your local paper, free-ads or these websites - but again, check regularly becausue suitable properties will be let very quickly.
 
http://www.tenantstips.com/Home/DSS-DHSS-properties-to-rent-on-housing-benefit2/DSS-search-for-houses-and-flats-accepting-DSS-DHSS-and-housing-benefit
http://rentdss.com/
http://www.gumtree.com/flats-houses
http://property.vivastreet.co.uk/real-estate
http://www.houseladder.co.uk/UK/Property_To_Let.aspx
http://www.spareroom.co.uk/flatshare/search.pl? (select other search options)

Can I improve my chances?

Yes.  It is all a matter of reducing the perceived risk to the landlord.  A reference from your current/previous landord attesting to your regular rent payments and care of the property will help.  What will help even more is if you can provide a creditworthy homeowner who will legally guarantee that you will pay your rent and meet all your obligations.
 
If you can borrow money, you may want to offer 6 months rent in advance, or offer to pay a larger than normal deposit.
 

What Will I Need to Pay?

For all properties, you will have to find at least your first months rent before you can move in.
For most properties, you will also have to find a deposit - this will usually be at least equal to a months rent, but is often more as the landlord will want extra security due to your status.
For all properties let through agencies, and an increasing number let by private landlords, there will be an administration/reference fee - this will vary enormously.

What if I Can't Afford It?

Some councils have schemes to help with initial rent & deposit/bonds.  Unfortunately, due to the financial limitations of most local councils, this help is often only available to those who are genuinely homeless.  Using council bond schemes may make finding a property more difficult as landlords are wary of such schemes due to the paperwork required if a claim needs to be made on the bond.
 
There are also commercial deposit insurance schemes available like TenantDeposit who will give the landlord a guarantee in exchange for you paying a regular monthly amount (like an insurance premium) to them.  You would only be accepted for such a scheme if you could provide a guarantor.  Landlords may be wary of such schemes because they are not commonplace.
 
If neither of the above are viable options, then you may have to review your aspirations.  For single people and young couples, it is often possible to rent just a room in a shared house.  If the landlord lives in the same property, you would be a lodger.  Lodgers usually have less demands placed upon them for deposits, rent in advance, references etc because their rights are much less than a tenants.