Using a letting agent to find and rent a home

If you want to rent a flat, house or a room, you may have to do this through a letting agent. More than half of all private tenancies in England involve a letting agent.

What letting agents do

Letting agents are private businesses that deal with rented properties such as houses, flats and rooms in shared houses.

Landlords pay letting agents to find tenants, collect rent or both. Some letting agencies provide a fully managed service. This includes dealing directly with tenants and arranging for repairs and maintenance.

Letting agents can range from large national chains to small agencies that look after just a few properties. Many estate agents also operate as letting agents.

Most letting agents have offices on the high street. They advertise their properties in their office windows, in local newspapers and on property websites.

Most of letting agents' income comes from landlords. They usually also charge fees to tenants for things like carrying out credit checks or preparing a tenancy agreement.

Make sure you know what fees are charged before you sign an agreement with a letting agency.

Differences between letting agents and landlords

Letting agents don't own the properties they rent out. They always act on behalf of a landlord.

You might not have any direct contact with the landlord if your home is managed by a letting agency.

You have a legal right to know who your landlord is.

The letting agent must tell you the landlord's name and address within 21 days if you write to ask.

Check your tenancy agreement to find out what the letting agent's responsibilities are. Your tenancy agreement should make clear who to contact if there are any problems during your tenancy. For example, if you should contact the letting agent about repairs or go straight to the landlord.

Find out more about responsibility for repairs.

Choosing a letting agent 

Check if the letting agent or estate agent you use is a member of a professional body. It shows the agent has agreed to a voluntary code of conduct and professional standards.

The main professional bodies are:

Each of these organisations lists its member letting agencies on its website.

Letting agent redress schemes

From 1 October 2014, all letting agents have to be a member of a letting agent redress scheme. It's an offence if they don't sign up to a scheme.

Find out more about complaining to a letting agent redress scheme.

Registering with a letting agent

You usually have to register with a letting agency before it offers you a property. You can register with more than one letting agency at a time.

When you register, the letting agent must not charge you for registering your details with it or charge for giving you information on properties.

It is a criminal offence for an agency to make these charges.

Get advice if you have been charged. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.

Claiming housing benefit

If you'll be paying some or all of your rent with housing benefit, ask the letting agent if the landlord accepts tenants who claim housing benefit. 

Not all landlords accept tenants who claim housing benefit.

Tell the letting agent you'll be claiming housing benefit before you pay any fees or sign any agreements. If you don't you may have to pay but still be turned down for a property.

If your circumstances change and you have to claim housing benefit to pay your rent, this should not affect your tenancy as long as you continue to pay your rent.

Get advice if the letting agent or landlord tells you to leave because you are claiming benefits.

Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.

Checks that letting agents do on tenants

When you want to rent a house or flat from a letting agent, it might do a credit check on you.

A credit check involves contacting a credit reference agency to see if you've ever had problems paying bills. The letting agent must get your permission to do this. The letting agent may charge you for arranging the check. Some letting agents pass the charge on to the landlord instead.

If the credit check shows up any problems, the letting agent may offer you a tenancy if you can provide a guarantor. This is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you can't. If you're a young person who does not have a credit history, the letting agent may allow your parents to act as guarantors.

You'll have to provide proof of your income. This can be payslips, bank statements or your employment contract.

The letting agent might also ask you to provide references so that they can check that you are who you say you are. This is usually from a person who knows you, for example an employer. They may also ask you for references from your previous landlords.

Right to rent

If you move in on or after 1 February 2016, the letting agent should ask you to prove that you have the right to live in the UK and the right to rent. 

Find out more about right to rent immigration checks.

Fees and charges that letting agents can make

Letting agents may ask tenants to pay certain fees before they move in and other charges when a tenancy comes to an end or is renewed.

Ask the letting agent about the fees they charge before you agree to take a tenancy. The letting agent should give you an itemised list of all the fees that you could end up paying.

Find out more about fees letting agents can charge.

Calculate how much it costs to start renting

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You will have to pay an estimated upfront

  • Letting agent fees
    National average fees in England, Shelter research
  • Rent in advance
    Your first month’s rent is paid upfront
  • Tenancy deposit
    6 weeks’ rent, or sometimes one month’s rent

Results are approximate and for guidance only.
Get advice on how to handle the upfront costs of renting

Letting agent inspections of your home

Letting agents might carry out inspections of your home during your tenancy, to make sure the property is being kept in good condition.

Your tenancy agreement should say how often inspections are done, but every 6 months or 12 months is normal.

The letting agent should give you at least 24 hours' notice and should not enter your home without your permission. The letting agents may take photos of the property to keep a record of any problems.

You should not be charged for inspections. Get advice if your letting agent tries to charge you for an inspection. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre

Remember to do a proper inventory, including photos, when you move in. Making a detailed inventory at the start of your tenancy could help you get your tenancy deposit back when your tenancy comes to an end.

Find out more about deductions from your deposit.

You should also report repairs as soon as they are needed.

Letting agents and tenancy deposits

When you pay a deposit at the start of an assured shorthold tenancy, it must be protected in an authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme within 30 days of you paying it.

It is your landlord's responsibility to protect your deposit, but the letting agency can do it on their behalf.

Find out about tenancy deposit protection scheme rules.

You must also be given certain information about how your deposit has been protected:

  • which deposit scheme they have used
  • the arrangements for getting your deposit back at the end of the tenancy
  • what happens if there is a dispute about deductions made from your deposit

Find out what to do if your landlord or letting agent hasn't protected your deposit.

Questions to ask a letting agent

Before you agree to take on a tenancy from a letting agency, make sure you know:

  • how much the rent is, and when and how often you have to pay it
  • what sort of tenancy agreement they are offering – such as a 6 month or 12 month assured shorthold tenancy
  • what fees and charges you have to pay before you move in
  • if and how your fees are refunded if you or the landlord decide not to go ahead with the tenancy
  • if there will be more charges if you renew the tenancy
  • who to contact if your home needs repairs and who's responsible for sorting them out

Repairs needed to a property you want to rent

If you have found a place to rent, but the property needs some repair work, ask the letting agent to do this work before you move in or as soon as possible after you move in.

Ask for written confirmation from the letting agent that the repair work will be done. When you move in, make a note on your inventory of anything that needs cleaning or repairing.

If the letting agent tells you that repairs will be done, but won't confirm this in writing, think carefully before signing a tenancy agreement. If a letting agent won't do repairs before you start a tenancy, they may be unwilling to do repair work once you've moved in.

Get advice about repairs. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.

Responsibility for repairs in a rented home

Most major repairs are the responsibility of the landlord. Many landlords who use letting agents ask their letting agents to sort out repairs. Others prefer to deal directly with tenants.

Before you sign, check the tenancy agreement says who to report problems to and who is responsible for arranging repairs.

To get repairs done, contact the letting agent if they manage the property for the landlord. The letting agent is usually allowed to arrange small repairs without the landlord's permission. For bigger repair jobs, the landlord may have agree before the work can go ahead. This can cause delays.

Find out more about problems with letting agents.

If the letting agent is not involved in managing the property, contact the landlord directly to ask about repairs.

Problems with letting agents

You may be able to complain about a letting agent if they have:

Use Shelter's letting agent dispute tool to complain to a letting agent redress scheme about your agent's poor practice.

Video: The difference between a landlord, letting agent and managing agent?


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