How to rent from a private landlord or letting agent

What funds, documents and information you'll need to have ready before you start looking for a place to rent.

What to ask before applying for a property

Ask the landlord or letting agent about:

  • how much the rent is, when and how often is it paid
  • the amount needed for a tenancy deposit
  • any fees and charges (including renewal fees)
  • fee refunds if you change your mind about the property or if the landlord decides not to rent to you
  • the type of tenancy agreement they plan to use

Viewing 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.

Credit checks for tenants

When you apply to rent a house or flat, the letting agent may carry out a credit check on you. They'll ask a credit reference agency to check if you've had problems paying bills in the past.

The letting agent must have your permission to do the credit check. There may be a charge for the check, although sometimes the landlord pays for it.

If there are any problems with the credit check, the letting agent may still rent the property to you if you have a guarantor.

Rent, rent in advance and tenancy deposits

Landlords and letting agencies usually ask for at least one month's rent in advance plus a deposit of one month's rent or more. You usually have to pay this before you sign the tenancy agreement.

Your tenancy deposit must be protected in a government-backed scheme if you are an assured shorthold tenant. Ask your landlord how your tenancy deposit will be protected.

Find out about tenancy deposit protection scheme rules.

You can take court action against your landlord if your tenancy deposit isn't properly protected.

Letting agent fees and charges

If you find a home through a letting agent, you will usually have to pay letting agency fees.

The letting agents must clearly set out details of their fees on their websites and in their offices.

You shouldn't be asked to pay for registering your details or for being given property details.

Documents to show landlords

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

If you moved in on or after February 1st 2016, landlords and letting agents will ask you to prove you have the right to stay in the UK. You'll be asked to provide your passport or other documents as part of right to rent immigration checks.

They may ask for documents such as:

  • recent bank statements
  • your pay slips or your accounts if you work for yourself
  • proof of benefit awards
  • a letter from your employer confirming that you work for them
  • your employment contract

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

Rent guarantors

A guarantor is someone who signs a document agreeing to pay the rent if you don't pay it. Guarantors must usually be UK residents who own property.

You may need a guarantor if you:

  • are a student or young person renting for the first time
  • can't prove that you can pay the rent.

Many young people ask their parents or another family member to be their guarantors.

Your guarantor should check the agreement carefully. Some agreements commit the guarantor to pay more than just your rent. If you're in a house share, your guarantor may risk being held liable for your housemates' unpaid rent​.

A guarantor agreement is legally binding.

Claiming benefits to help pay the rent

Check local housing allowance (LHA) rates in your area to see the maximum housing benefit that can be paid.

Before you pay any fees or sign any agreements, ask the letting agent if the landlord accepts tenants who are claim benefits. Not all landlords do.

You can ask them if they would rent to you if the council agrees to pay your housing benefit to your landlord.

You need to pay the first month's rent yourself because housing benefit and universal credit are paid in arrears.

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

If your circumstances change and you have to claim housing benefit to pay rent in a property you're already living in, this shouldn't affect your tenancy as long as you pay your rent.

Checking the tenancy agreement

When you have paid your deposit, rent in advance and fees, your agent or landlord usually gives you a tenancy agreement to sign before you can move in.

Most private tenants have an assured shorthold tenancy.

Check your agreement carefully before you sign it. This sets out the rights and responsibilities that you and your landlord have during your tenancy.

It should tell you what type of tenancy you have and how to end or renew your tenancy.


Find out how to complain about letting agents.

What to do if you need to complain about a private landlord.

Last updated 09 Oct 2014 | © Shelter

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