How to rent from a private landlord or letting agent

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

What to ask before you rent

Ask the landlord or letting agent:

  • how much the rent is and how often is it paid
  • the amount needed for a tenancy deposit
  • what fees and charges are made (including fees if your tenancy is renewed)
  • if you'll get a refund of fees if you change your mind or if the landlord decides not to rent to you
  • what tenancy agreement you'll be asked to 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.

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 details of the properties they have available. 

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.

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 and letting agents will also 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.

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

Credit checks on tenants

The landlord or their letting agent may carry out a credit check on you when you apply to rent a house or flat. 

They'll ask a credit reference agency to check if you've had problems paying bills in the past. They can’t carry out a credit check without your permission. 

If there are any problems with the credit check, you could be asked to provide a guarantor as a condition of renting to you.

Rent guarantors

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.

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

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

A guarantor agreement is a legally binding contract. Your guarantor should check the guarantor agreement carefully. Some commit the guarantor to pay more than just your rent. The guarantor may risk also being held liable for joint tenants unpaid rent​ if you're in a house share. 

Rent, rent in advance and tenancy deposits

Before you move in, you will usually have to pay both:

  • at least one month's rent in advance
  • a tenancy deposit of at least one month's rent

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

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

Benefits to help pay the rent

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 may be able to claim housing benefit or universal credit housing costs to help you pay the rent. (You can also claim benefits to pay rent in a property you're already living in).

You usually need to pay the first month's rent yourself because these benefits are paid in arrears.

You can ask if they would rent to you if the council agrees to pay your housing benefit direct to your landlord. (The DWP may agree to pay universal credit housing costs direct).

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

Check the contract before you sign

Most private tenants have an assured shorthold tenancy.

Check the tenancy 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.

If you need to complain

Find out how to complain about letting agents.

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


Last updated 21 Aug 2017 | © Shelter

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