Using a letting agent to find and rent a home
This content applies to England only.
Housing laws vary between England and Scotland. Get advice relating to Scotland
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 in some way.
Letting agents will often charge fees for things like carrying out credit checks or preparing a tenancy agreement. Make sure you know what fees will be charged before you sign an agreement with a letting agency.
What letting agents do for tenants and landlords
Letting agents are private businesses that deal with rented properties such as houses, flats, and rooms in shared houses. Landlords pay them to find tenants and/or to collect rent. Some letting agencies provide a 'fully managed' service, which includes dealing directly with tenants and arranging for repairs and maintenance.
Most of letting agents' income comes from landlords but they usually also charge fees to tenants.
Letting agents can range from small agencies that look after just a few properties, to large national chains. 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 papers and on property websites.
Differences between letting agents and landlords
Letting agents don’t own the properties they rent out. They always act on behalf of a landlord.
If the property you rent is managed by a letting agency, you might not have any direct contact with the landlord. However, you still have a legal right to know who the landlord is. If you make a written request to the letting agent, it must tell you within 21 days your landlord's name and address.
Check your tenancy agreement to find out what the letting agent's responsibilities are – for example, whether you contact the letting agent about repairs, or go straight to the landlord.
Your tenancy agreement should make it clear who you need to contact if there are any problems during your tenancy.
Choosing a letting agent
You should check that the letting agent or estate agent you use is a member of a professional body. If they are, it should be easier to get help with complaints or disagreements.
The main professional bodies are:
- National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS)
- Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)
- UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA).
- National Association of Estate Agents(NAEA).
Each of these organisations lists its member letting agencies on its website, so you can find one in your area.
Registering with a letting agent
You will usually need 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 with a letting agent
When you register, the letting agent must not:
- charge you for registering your details with it
- charge for giving you information on properties.
Tell the letting agent if you plan to claim housing benefit
Not all landlords accept tenants who claim housing benefit. If you will be paying some or all of your rent with housing benefit, ask the letting agent if the landlord will accept tenants on housing benefit. Do this before you pay any fees or sign any agreements, or you may have to pay but still be turned down for a property.
If your circumstances later 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 our directory to find a local advice centre.
Checks that letting agents do on tenants
If you want to rent a house or flat from a letting agent, it may do a credit check on you. This involves contacting a credit reference agency to see if you have had problems paying bills in the past. The letting agent has to get your permission first to do this. It may charge you for arranging the check, although some letting agents pass the charge on to the landlord instead.
If the credit check shows up any problems, the letting agent may be still prepared to 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 pay slips, 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 will usually be from a person who knows you, for example an employer. They may also ask you for references from your previous landlords.
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.
If you have found a property that you want to rent, ask the letting agent about the fees they charge – do this 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.
Letting agent inspections of your home
Letting agents may 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 will be 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 our 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.
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 your tenancy, it must be protected in an authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme within 30 days of you paying it. This is your landlord's responsibility, but the letting agency can do it on their behalf.
You must also be given certain information about how your deposit has been protected. This includes:
- which deposit scheme they have used – use our deposit checker to find out if your deposit has been protected
- 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 your letting agency 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 the following:
- 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.
- Under what circumstances your fees may be refunded if you or the landlord decide not to go ahead with the tenancy.
- If there will be more charges later if you renew the tenancy.
- How much the rent is, and when and how often you have to pay it.
- Who to contact if your home needs repairs, and who’s responsible for sorting them out.
Are 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 work will be done. Make a note on your inventory of anything that needs cleaning or repairing when you move in.
If the letting agent tells you that repairs will be done, but will not confirm this in writing, think carefully before signing a tenancy agreement and get advice – use our directory to find a local advice centre. If a letting agent is unwilling to do repairs before you start a tenancy, they may be unwilling to do repair work once you're living in your new home.
Who will be responsible for repairs in your new home?
Most major repairs will be the responsibility of the landlord. Many landlords who use letting agents will ask their letting agents to sort out repairs on their behalf. Others prefer to deal directly with tenants. Before you sign your tenancy agreement, check that it says who to report problems to, and who is responsible for arranging repairs.
If the letting agent manages the property for the landlord, you will need to contact it to carry out repairs. The letting agent will usually be allowed to arrange small repairs without the landlord's permission. For bigger repair jobs, the landlord may have to give their agreement before the work can go ahead. This can sometimes cause delays in getting things fixed. See our page on problems with letting agents if you’re in this situation.
If the letting agent is not involved in managing the property, you’ll need to 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:
- asked you to pay fees that you think are unfair – see our page on letting agent fees and charges
- put unfair terms in your contract
- not given you enough time to read the tenancy agreement before you moved in
- failed to protect your tenancy deposit using an authorised scheme
- refused to do essential repairs or taken too long to carry them out.
To find out more about challenging unfair fees and making complaints, see our page on problems with letting agents.