There are many different types of housing available to rent privately. You might be looking to rent a self-contained flat or house, or just a room.
When you rent privately, you will usually have to pay a deposit and rent in advance at the start of the tenancy. You may be able to get help with these costs. This is a brief look at some of the issues you'll need to think about when renting privately. If you're seriously considering this as an option you should make sure you know what your rights and responsibilities will be.
Finding a place
You can find out about houses and flats to let from a variety of sources. You might hear about a place online, from a friend, the property section of a local newspaper, an ad in the local shop or directly through an estate agent. It's important that you check that a property is suitable and that you'll be able to afford the rent before you sign a tenancy agreement or pay any money. It's very difficult to get out of a tenancy once you've signed the paperwork.
Costs of renting
If you are satisfied that the property is in good order, find out as much as you can about the costs of the accommodation before you agree to move in. Ask:
- how much is the rent,
- whether the rent includes bills,
- whether you have to pay rates,
- how much the bills are likely to be,
- whether the bills are shared with other people.
You usually have to pay the deposit and rent in advance when you sign the tenancy agreement. Any deposits paid on or after 1 April 2013 must be protected in an official tenancy deposit protection scheme.
Getting enough money for a deposit and for rent in advance is a problem for people trying to rent privately. You may be able to get a loan from the Discretionary Finance Support Fund to pay your rent in advance. You will need to pay this money back.
If a deposit is going to be a problem you should contact Smartmove NI. This is a type of social lettings agent. Many of the landlords Smartmove use will allow tenants to pay off their deposit in installments so you won't need the full amount on the day you move. However, being rehoused by Smartmove will mean that you will lose your homelessness points if you're a Full Duty Applicant.
Housing benefit and other help
If you are on benefits or have a low income, you may be able to get housing benefit to help you pay the rent. This will be calculated under the Local Housing Allowance rules.
You may be able to get housing benefit even if you are working, as long as you qualify for assistance. You might be able to get a loan or a grant from the Discretionary Finance Support Fund when you are released from prison. You might be entitled to financial help to assist with the cost buying clothing or furniture for your new home. The NIACRO staff at your prison will be able to answer your questions about this.
Landlords want to be sure that a new tenant can afford to pay the rent. You may have to pay for a credit check or provide a guarantor. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you do not.
Having a criminal record can sometimes make it more difficult to find new accommodation, although landlords should not discriminate against you because of your past.
Prisoners also have specific difficulties in accessing private rented accommodation due to lack of opportunities to view the property, meet the landlord and access money for the deposit, if they are still in prison. You may be able to arrange a viewing of a property during your parole or resettlement leave, but keep in mind that you will not be entitled to housing benefit for the new tenancy until your release.