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 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 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 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.
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, but you still 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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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 with a letting agent
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.
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 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
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. 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.
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.
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 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.
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. 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:
- 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 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:
- 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. 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 won't confirm this in writing, think carefully before signing a tenancy agreement and get advice.
Use Shelter's 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.
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:
- asked you to pay fees and charges that you think are unfair
- 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