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Private rented accommodation

This content applies to England

Practicalities of finding and securing an appropriate private rented accommodation, including landlord requirements for tenants.

Covid-19: Moving home during the pandemic

The national restrictions on movement introduced on 5 November 2020 do not apply to the following activities in connection with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property:[1]

  • visiting estate agents letting agents, developers or show homes
  • property viewings when looking to buy or rent
  • preparing properties for moving in
  • moving house
  • visiting properties to undertake sale or rental activities

The guidance on moving homes advises on how to move home safely and what to do if someone is self-isolating or is clinically extremely vulnerable. The guidance lists a number of safety precautions aimed at minimising the risk of infection, including holding virtual viewings and conducting inventory and other checks when the property is unoccupied. The guidance changes regularly.

For more information about emergency measures introduced to deal with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on tenants and homeowners, see Coronavirus (COVID-19) and housing.

Types of private rented accommodation

The various types of private rented accommodation include:

  • self-contained houses or flats
  • part of a house shared with other people
  • flats and houses with a landlord who lives in another part of the same building
  • flats or houses with a landlord who shares the same flat or house as the tenant

The type of accommodation is one of the factors in establishing what rights an occupier has.

Shared accommodation, including bedsits, shared houses, flats in multi-occupation, hostels and bed and breakfast hotels, may be defined as houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). An HMO is a house or flat that is occupied by people who do not form a single household. HMOs are covered by additional legislation that requires them to have adequate facilities and safety procedures.

Availability of private rented accommodation

The main advantage of private rented accommodation is the amount of choice that can be available regarding location and type of property. In some areas there is a large stock of private rented accommodation to choose from, but in others (especially in rural areas) the availability and choice of housing available may be much more limited.

Private rented accommodation may be the only feasible option for people who are not able to access council or housing association rented accommodation, and for whom buying a property is too expensive.

Cost of private rented accommodation

Private rented accommodation is often more expensive than other forms of rented housing, as the vast majority of new private rented lettings are  subject to very limited rent control. Landlords are able to charge whatever rents they consider reasonable and which people are willing to pay. This can mean that in areas of housing shortage, or particularly popular areas, rents can be very high.

In addition to the cost of rent, there is usually an up-front initial cost to be met in the form of a deposit and rent in advance.

Accommodation and letting agencies may make charges for the services they provide.

Housing benefit will not always cover the amount of rent that landlords charge. This can mean that tenants are left with a shortfall to make up, and risk accruing rent arrears. Most tenants with private landlords are paid housing benefit using the local housing allowance (LHA) scheme. The LHA Direct calculator shows the LHA rates for different sizes of property in different areas. This shows the maximum amount paid to a claimant under the LHA scheme.

Most single people aged under the age of 35 have their housing benefit restricted to cover the rent payable on the equivalent of a single room in a shared house.

If housing benefit does not cover the full amount of rent due, it may in some circumstances be possible to apply for a discretionary housing payment if the restriction is likely to cause exceptional hardship, or if there are exceptional circumstances. A discretionary housing payment may also be awarded to an existing housing benefit claimant to meet rent in advance or a deposit.

Security of tenure

Private renting can be much more flexible than other forms of housing, with periodic and fixed term, short and long lets available. If necessary, tenants may be able to find and move into a property in the private sector very quickly. However, in general, private tenants have less security of tenure and fewer rights than most tenants of social landlords.

Quality

Private rented accommodation varies widely in terms of quality. Very high standard accommodation can be found, but many flats and houses at the cheaper end of the market are in a poor state of repair. The standard of the accommodation and the facilities provided will generally be reflected in the levels of rent charged.

Landlord accreditation schemes

Landlord accreditation is a form of self-regulation under which landlords who meet certain standards can apply to be accredited by a recognised scheme. Schemes are usually administered by local authorities, landlords associations or universities.

Accreditation can apply to the landlord, the properties themselves, or both. Many schemes are free for landlords to join, while some charge a small annual fee for the membership. Accredited landlords can access a range of benefits from these schemes, such as easier access to rent guarantees, deposit bonds, grants for repairs, reduced licensing fees for Houses in Multiple Occupation, tenant referencing, advice and support.

The minimum standards set by accreditation schemes mean that tenants should expect certain standards of management and have greater confidence that their landlord is trustworthy and responsive. A landlord's non-compliance with the standards of the scheme can lead to their accredited status being revoked.

Unipol and accommodationforstudents.com operate an accreditation scheme for private landlords who let properties to students. Accreditation Network UK offers comprehensive information about accreditation for local authorities, landlords and tenants.

Selective licensing

Local authorities have the power to introduce selective licensing for all privately rented housing (not only houses in multiple occupation) in the whole or part of its area, where an authority believes that it would reduce or eliminate specific housing problems.

Finding a vacancy

It can take time or be difficult to find suitable affordable private rented accommodation, depending on the housing market in the local area. Some landlords do not accept people who claim benefits.

When looking for private rented accommodation, it is important to get regular information about vacancies and follow it up the same day or as soon as possible. Sources of information include newspapers, websites, and accommodation agencies.

If a local authority finds that an applicant is homeless (or threatened with homelessness) and is eligible for assistance, it has a duty to provide advice and assistance in looking for a home. Some local authorities discharge this duty by providing homeless applicants with lists of hostels, bed and breakfast hotels and landlords looking for tenants.

As lettings can be made quickly, clients should aim to visit and decide whether a property is suitable without delay. They should have money and references ready in case they decide to take it.

Paying a holding deposit

A holding deposit is an amount of money paid to a landlord or letting agent to secure accommodation prior to signing a tenancy agreement.

References

Many landlords/agents require prospective tenants to provide one or more references from previous landlords, bank managers or employers.

Rent in advance and deposit

A prospective tenant usually requires rent in advance and a deposit.

In some areas,there are deposit guarantee schemes (sometimes known as 'deposit bond schemes') to help people who do not have a lump sum of money to move into private rented accommodation. Schemes either pay the deposit for people or, more commonly, guarantee that the deposit will be paid if the property has been damaged during occupation. Some schemes have an arrangement with the local Housing Benefit office to ensure that housing benefit assessments for people using the scheme are fast tracked.

Guarantors

As a condition for letting a property to a tenant, some landlords require a guarantee from a third party, called a guarantor, that they will meet the obligations under a tenancy. This is most likely to be the case where the tenant is a young person or a person with a poor credit rating.

The tenancy agreement

Although the terms of a tenancy agreement could be negotiated between the landlord and the prospective tenant, in practice the tenant may not be able to negotiate favourable terms due to their need for accommodation.

A tenant  should read the agreement carefully to check the details before signing up to a tenancy.

See Guidance on unfair contract terms for more information.

Inventories

An inventory is a document detailing the contents and condition of a rented property. A photographic or video record is often used to supplement or replace a paper inventory.

There is no legal requirement for a landlord who is letting a property to prepare an inventory. However, an inventory can protect both the tenant and the landlord where there is a dispute over the return of the deposit and could be used as evidence where a dispute comes before a tenancy deposit protection scheme's dispute resolution service or the courts.

Landlord's inventory

Where an inventory is supplied by a landlord or agent, the tenant should check the inventory against the actual contents and condition of the property. They should note any discrepancies before signing the tenancy agreement or signing the inventory to state that it is an accurate record.

Tenant's inventory

If the landlord does not provide an inventory, a tenant can prepare their own inventory and invite the landlord to sign it to state that it represents an accurate record. If the landlord refuses to sign, the tenant can ask an independent witness to check and sign the inventory.

[1] reg 6(2)(g) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/1200.

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