Safety Tips for Renting out a Spare Room

Image of Hosting a Student in a Homestay

Renting out a room in your home for the first time can be a daunting experience. There’s a lot to organise, from sorting out a fire risk assessment to ensuring the lodger has the right to rent in the UK. Of course there are security concerns too – you don’t want to allow just anybody into your home, so you’ll want a reference from a past landlord or employer to prove they are a good paying guest.

Below are some helpful tips to KEEP YOU SAFE if you are renting out a spare room for the first time:

Vetting Your Lodger

It is really important to try and verify that your lodger is who they say they are.  Taking the time to do this properly upfront will avoid problems later on.  How best to do this:

1. The Viewing

Personality clashes are usually the biggest cause of conflict in lodger/landlord relationships.  Always ensure you meet your lodger in person at the outset.  This is the best way to ensure that you are a good match and minimise the chances of issues later.

Have a list of pre-prepared questions and make sure you cover them off when you show them around the home.  Try not to make it sound like an inquisition.  Remember that they too are deciding whether you are a good fit for them.  Cover the questions that you want to ask but weave them naturally into the conversation.  It should not be an interview.

Ultimately, trust your instincts.  If you feel that something is amiss with the person, then do not proceed.  In the long run it is better to take a bit more time to find the right person, rather than accepting the wrong one in haste.

2. Referencing

If you think you will be a good fit, then you should ask for a reference.  Generally there are two types of reference you can request: (i) previous landlord, and (ii) current employer.  We would advise that the most relevant is the current employer.  Contacting their employer is a good way to confirm that they are who they say they are.  If you also request details of their annual salary from the employer, this will also reassure you that they are able to pay the rent.

3. Past criminal convictions

This is a delicate subject.  If you are a family home and you want to safeguard your children, for example, it is understandable that you may want more information on a lodger’s criminal history.

If your lodger works in an field that already requires a criminal history check (e.g teaching or healthcare), then they may already have a DBS that they can show you.  Note there is a difference between an Enhanced DBS and a Standard one.  The Enhanced DBS provides much more information and delves much deeper than the Standard DBS does.  A DBS is usually valid for three years, so make sure to check the date of issue.

We should emphasize that it is quite unusual to ask a lodger about their criminal past, and that doing so may actually put them off.  Not necessarily because they have anything to hide, more because they may feel that you are crossing the line in asking questions around this subject.

Another way to broach the subject might be to say that you need this information as part of the conditions of your home insurance policy.  Some lodger landord home insurance policies require you to get confirmation that your lodger does not have any past criminal convictions.  Failure to supply this information to the insurer can invalidate your home insurance.  A signed declaration from your lodger confirming that they do not have any past crimal history will usually be sufficient for an insurer.

If they do not work in a field that requires DBS checks, and you feel uncomfortable asking whether they can provide a DBS, then you could ask them to sign such a declaration.  This might be a more diplomatic way of initiating a dialogue on this subject.

Home Insurance

It is important to inform your home insurance provider that you are taking in lodgers.  A standard home insurance policy may not cover you sufficiently and there may be some exclusions such as with theft. Theft under the usual home insurance policy is compensated if there are signs of forced entry. However, if you rent to a lodger in your home and something gets stolen, you might not be covered for it.

The other aspect to consider is liability cover.  If your lodger injures themselves on your property and decides to sue you, are you covered for the legal costs?  Make sure you ask your insurer this question from the outset.

Take a Security Deposit

Ensure that you ask you guest for a security deposit.  Many people charge up to one month’s rent as security in case your guest causes damages to the room or to the property.  If you are a live-in landlord, there is no legal requirement to register the deposit in a government scheme such as the TDS.  However, remember that any security deposit is first and foremost the property of the paying guest.

If you wish to make deductions at the end of a contract, you should ensure that you can prove you are entitled to do so.  This where a detailed check-in and check-out/inventory process comes in.  Keep photos of the accommodation at both check-in and check-out.  This way if your guest challenges you and escalates the matter (e.g Small Claims Court), you can substantiate your claim over a portion, or indeed all, of the deposit.

Sign a Lodger Agreement

Ensure that you have a lodger agreement in place that sets out the terms of the guest’s stay.  This should clearly highlight items such as:

  1.  Agreement start sate
  2.  Agreement end date
  3.  Rent payment date
  4.  Amount of deposit held
  5.  Deposit refund process
  6.  How bills will be shared
  7.  Use of facilities in the home
  8.  Check-in and check-out inventory process
  9.  Process for ending the agreement (i.e. notice to terminate)

Many people renting out their spare room do not set up a lodger agreement.  No matter how nice the lodger seems when you first meet them, having a contract is always a good idea.  A clear agreement, that both sides have signed upfront, will make sure there are clear boundaries and that both sides know their responsibilities.

Set House Rules

When renting your spare room to a lodger, you’ll need to set the boundaries.  Decide on some house rules before welcoming a lodger into your home, and ensure these are clear from the beginning.  You may choose to put some conditions into the contract, so that if rules are continuously broken you have the right to evict the lodger.  For example, if you do not allow other guests staying over then make this clear from day one. You might also want to emphasize the importance of keeping shared areas like the kitchen and bathroom clean and tidy.

Heath & Safety in the Home

When renting to a lodger, you’ll have to prove that your property is a safe dwelling. Homeowners may never think to have a fire risk assessment, but this is a crucial inspection that you need to do if you’re renting out a spare room. You’ll also be required to have a gas safety certificate and carry out annual gas safety checks on each gas appliance.  It is also good practice to ensure that you have smoke alarms in the home.

Consider Hosting Overseas Students

Finding a suitable lodger can be difficult, because you don’t really know who you are inviting to live in your home.

If you were renting out a whole property you would have the option to use a high street letting agency to act as the middle man.  This might take out some of the risk.  However, high street letting agencies do not work with live-in landlords and people renting out rooms in their family home.

For many homeowners, it can be preferable to host international students through a homestay agency.  They feel as if they have more control over their home and that they can better integrate an overseas student into the home.  Many hosts tell us that a key reason they choose to take in foreign students is that they don’t want to feel like a tenant in their own home.  Host Families do not have to be families (mum, dad + children) in the traditional sense.

Also, most students only need a room for a short period of time so you’d always be meeting new people.  The fact that you are not tied in to long term stays can make the risks much lower than taking in a longer term lodger.

How Can We Help?

We hope you have found the information here useful.  If so, you may also be interested to read posts on what it is like to be a host family and on hosting students compared to taking in lodgers.

If you want to find out more about renting to international students, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.  HFS London is a homestay (host family) agency that works on behalf of London’s top educational establishments. We cover all of London, across most of zones 1-4.

If we can help you in any way, please do contact us – we would love to hear from you!