Most tenants in England use a letting agent to find a home to rent.
What letting agents do
Letting agents find tenants for landlords, collect rent or both. Some letting agents arrange for repairs and maintenance of the property. Many estate agents also operate as letting agents.
Letting agents don't own the properties they rent out. They always act on behalf of a landlord.
Most letting agents have offices on the high street. They advertise properties on property websites and in their office windows. Letting agents range from large national chains to small agencies that look after just a few properties.
Letting agents charge landlords for their services but usually also charge fees to tenants for things like carrying out credit checks or preparing a tenancy agreement.
Calculate the costs of renting
Register with a letting agent
You usually have to register with a letting agency if you want to rent a property through them. You can register with more than one letting agency at a time.
The letting agent must not charge you for registering your details or charge for giving you information on properties. It is a criminal offence for an agency to do this.
Check a letting agent's registration
Check if the letting agent or estate agent you use is a member of one of these professional bodies:
- National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS)
- Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)
- UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA)
- National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA)
Each organisation lists their member letting agencies on their websites.
If a letting agent has signed up as a member of one these organisations, the agent will have agreed to a voluntary code of conduct and professional standards.
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 one.
What to ask before you sign a contract
Most private tenants sign up to an assured shorthold tenancy which must be for a minimum of 6 months.
Before you agree to take on a tenancy from a letting agency, make sure you know:
- how much the rent is, when and how often it has to be paid
- what length of tenancy agreement is on offer – 6 months, 12 months or longer
- if there is a break clause in the agreement
- what fees and charges you have to pay before you move in, on renewal and at the end of the tenancy
- if your fees will be refunded if you or the landlord decide not to go ahead
- who to contact if your home needs repairs
Letting agent checks on tenants
The letting agent may do right to rent immigration checks on behalf of the landlord. They'll ask you to prove that you and any adults who'll be living with you have the right to live in the UK and the right to rent.
The letting agent may ask you to provide references from:
- a person who knows you, for example an employer
- your previous landlords
You'll have to provide proof of your income. This can be payslips, bank statements or your employment contract.
A letting agent may ask to do a credit check on you. This involves contacting a credit reference agency to see if you've ever had problems paying bills. The letting agent needs your permission to do this.
If a credit check shows up problems, the letting agent ask you to provide a guarantor. This is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you can't. The letting agent may allow your parents to act as guarantors if you're a young person without a credit history.
Fees and charges
Letting agents may ask you to pay fees before you move in, when a tenancy comes to an end or if it's renewed.
Ask the letting agent to provide you with an itemised list of all the fees that you could end up paying.
Tenancy deposit protection
You are usually asked to pay a tenancy deposit at the start of an assured shorthold tenancy. It is your landlord's responsibility to protect your deposit, but the letting agency can do it on their behalf.
- your tenancy deposit must be protected in an authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme within 30 days of when you pay it
- you must also be given information about how your deposit has been protected including which deposit scheme has been used
It's important to make a detailed inventory at the start of your tenancy. This could help you get your tenancy deposit back when your tenancy comes to an end.
If you claim housing benefit
Not all landlords accept tenants who claim housing benefit. Ask the letting agent if the landlord accepts 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.
If the property needs repairs
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 what the tenancy agreement says about who to report problems to and who is responsible for arranging repairs.
Ask the letting agent to confirm in writing that any repairs that are needed will be done before 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. It may be difficult to get the work done after you've moved in.
If repairs are needed after you've moved in, 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.
Otherwise, contact the landlord directly to ask about repairs.
When you move in, make a note on your inventory of anything that needs cleaning or repairing.
Letting agent inspections during your tenancy
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 usual.
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.
If you need to contact the 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.
Complaints about 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
Find out more about problems with letting agents.
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?
Last updated 09 Oct 2014 | © Shelter