How to rent from a private landlord or letting agent

Find out what you need to do and pay for if you're looking for a privately rented home.

What to ask before you rent

Check with the landlord or letting agent:

  • how much the rent is and how often is it paid
  • who to contact about repairs or other tenancy issues 
  • if you need to pay a tenancy deposit and where it will be protected

Ask for a written tenancy agreement and read it before you sign.

View the property

Make sure that you view the property you want to rent before you pay a deposit or rent in advance.

Watch out for scams where you are asked to pay a deposit on a property that either doesn't exist or has already been rented out.

Find out more from Action Fraud about rental fraud.

Up front costs

You usually have to pay some money up front before the tenancy starts.

Holding deposits

You might be asked for a holding deposit to reserve the property before you sign a tenancy agreement.

Only pay a holding deposit if you're serious about taking on the tenancy. You might not get it back if you decide not to go ahead.

Tenancy deposits

From 1 June 2019, the maximum amount you can be asked to pay as a tenancy deposit is equal to 5 weeks' rent.

Your deposit must be protected in a scheme if you're an assured shorthold tenant.

You may be able to get help with a deposit through a rent deposit or bond scheme.

Rent in advance

You usually need to pay at least 1 month's rent in advance before you move in.

If you're asked for more than this, make sure it's clear how much you've paid and when the next payment is due. 

Letting agent fees

Most fees for tenants are banned. You can't be asked to pay for things like credit checks or references when agreeing a new tenancy.

Documents you'll need 

Landlords or letting agents expect you to prove your identity, show that you are reliable and that you can afford the rent.

They may ask for documents such as:

  • recent bank statements or pay slips
  • proof of benefit awards
  • your employment contract or accounts if you work for yourself

Landlords and agents must also check your right to live in the UK. You'll be asked to show your passport or other documents as part of right to rent immigration check.

Credit and reference checks 

Landlords and agents can ask for references from an employer or previous landlord.

They may carry out a credit check on you when you apply to rent a house or flat. 

A credit reference agency checks if you've had problems paying bills in the past. Landlords and agents can’t carry out a credit check without your permission. 


A guarantor agrees to pay rent or cover any damage if the tenant fails to pay.

You might need a guarantor if you:

  • can't prove your income
  • are a first time renter
  • fail a credit check
  • claim benefits

People often ask parents or another family member to be their guarantor.

The guarantor signs a guarantee agreement. It's a legally binding contract and they should check it carefully. 

Depending on the wording of the agreement, a guarantor could be responsible for:

  • other joint tenants' unpaid rent in a shared property
  • ongoing rent payments after the fixed term ends  

A guarantor can negotiate the terms of the guarantee agreement with the landlord.

Claiming benefits to help with rent

It can be hard to find a place to rent if you claim benefits

Your council or a local advice agency may have lists of private landlords.

You can't claim benefits to help with rent until you've found a tenancy. You usually need to show a tenancy agreement.

Both housing benefit and universal credit are paid in arrears so you usually need to pay your up front costs of renting yourself. 

Check the local housing allowance (LHA) rates in your area to see the maximum help you can get towards rent.

If you already get housing benefit

You should report your change of address to the housing benefit office if you move within the same council area. 

Your housing benefit will be recalculated based on your new rent.

You can ask the council to pay your housing benefit direct to your landlord.

You usually have to claim universal credit instead if you move to a different council area.

If you're claiming universal credit 

You can get a housing element as part of your universal credit payment.

You must report your change of address. Your universal credit will be recalculated based on your new rent.

You can ask for your housing element to be paid direct to your landlord if you find it hard to budget for rent.

Last updated 30 Jul 2019 | © Shelter

If you need to talk to someone, we’ll do our best to help

Get help

Email a link to this article

Thank you - your message has been sent.

Sorry! - your message has not been sent this time.

Was this advice helpful?

Thank you - your feedback has been submitted to the team.

Sorry! - your message has not been sent this time.