A guide for renting a house or flat 

Fri, Sep 04, 2020

If you are looking for more information on how to rent a property we've put together some useful pointers to help and to create a positive relationship with your landlord

When you enter an assured shorthold tenancy you are entering into a contractual arrangement. This gives you some important rights but also some responsibilities.

Take your time to read any documents and contracts carefully. When you rent a home, people sometimes expect you to make a quick decision, or to sign documents before you’ve had time to think about them. You shouldn’t feel forced into a decision and it is important to understand the terms and conditions of any contract you are agreeing to before you sign it.

Before you start
  • Are you renting from a landlord or a letting agent? Is the landlord or letting agent trying to charge any fees? From 1 June 2019, tenancy deposits were capped and most fees charged in connection with a tenancy banned. There are also set procedures in place regarding holding deposits. 
  • Work out how long you want the tenancy for, you can ask for a tenancy to be any time between 6 months and 7 years. This has to be agreed with the landlord.
  • Calculate what you can afford, think about how much rent you can afford to pay: typically 35% of your take-home pay is the most that many people can afford, but this depends on what your other outgoings are (for example, whether you have children).
  • Are you are entitled to Housing Benefit or Universal Credit? If so, you may get help with all or part of your rent. If you are renting from a private landlord you will receive up to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate to cover or help with the cost of rent.
  • Which area you would like to live in and how you are going to search for a rented home? The larger the area where you are prepared to look, the better the chance of finding the right home for you.
  • Do you have all your documents ready? Landlords and agents will want to confirm your identity, immigration status, credit history and possibly employment status.
  • Do you have the right to rent property in the UK? Landlords and agents must check that all people aged over 18 living in their property as their only or main home have the right to rent. They will need to make copies of your documents and return your original documents to you.
  • Will you need a rent guarantee? Some landlords might ask someone to guarantee your rent. 

Ways to rent a property

Direct from the landlord
Look for landlords who belong to an accreditation scheme. Accreditation schemes provide training and support to landlords in fulfilling their legal and ethical responsibilities, such as The National Landlords Association, the Residential Landlords Association and the Guild of Residential Landlords run national schemes.

Through a letting agent
It is illegal for letting agents and landlords to charge certain fees from 1 June 2019. Where a letting agent is permitted to charge fees, by law, a breakdown of all fees should be clearly visible to you in the agent’s office and website including any third party website they advertise on.
  • Letting agents must be a member of a redress scheme. You should check which independent redress scheme the agent is a member of in case you have an unresolved dispute.
  • If they receive money from you such as rent payments, you should also check they are a member of a client money protection scheme. 
  • Reputable agents are often accredited through a professional body like ARLA Propertymark, Safeagent, RICS or UKALA.
  • Landlords and property agents cannot unlawfully discriminate against a tenant or prospective tenant on the basis of their disability, sex, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief or sexual orientation.
  • Watch out for scams! Be clear who you are handing money over to, and why.

Looking for your new home - things to check

Deposit cap
Check that the tenancy deposit you’re being asked for is not more than 5 weeks’ worth of rent (where annual rent is less than £50,000) or 6 weeks’ rent (where annual rent is more than £50,000).

Deposit protection
If the landlord/agent asks for a deposit, check that it will be protected in a government approved scheme. Some schemes hold the money, and some insure it. You may be able to access a bond or guarantee scheme that will help you put the deposit together. 

You may be offered a deposit replacement product as an alternative to a cash deposit. Depending on the product, you may be required to pay a non-refundable fee up-front (often equivalent to one week’s rent) and/or a monthly payment for the duration of your tenancy. With most products you will still be responsible for the costs of any damages incurred at the end of the tenancy or required to pay an excess on any claim for damages or unpaid rent.

A landlord or agent cannot require you to use a deposit replacement product but may allow it as an option without contravening the Tenant Fees Act. There are several different products available on the market.

Length of tenancy
There is usually a fixed period of 6 or 12 months. If you want more security, you can ask for a longer fixed period.

Children, smoking and pets
Check if there are any rules about them, as well as for other things such as keeping a bike, dealing with refuse and recycling.

Check who is responsible for bills such as electricity, gas, water and council tax. You or the landlord? Usually the tenant pays for these. 

Fixtures and fittings
Check you are happy with them, as it is unlikely that you will be able to get them changed once you have moved in.

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
If you have solid fuel appliances like wood burning stoves or open fires, check carbon monoxide detectors are provided. If not, your landlord must install them. They could save your life.

Safety Check that the property is safe to live in - fitness for human habitation
Your property must be safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm. If not, you can take your landlord to court. You should check whether your tenancy agreement excuses you from paying rent should the building become unfit to live in because of, for example, a fire or flood.

Check who your landlord is
They could be subletting – renting you a property that they are renting from someone else. If they are subletting, check that the property owner has consented and find out who you should speak to if any repairs need doing.

Ask whether the property is mortgaged
Landlords should let you know about this upfront, because you may be asked to leave the property if the landlord does not pay their mortgage payments.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)
HMOs are usually properties where 3 or more unrelated people share facilities such as a kitchen or bathroom. Some HMOs must be licensed. Check that your landlord has the correct licence. Landlords of licensed HMOs / houses must by law give tenants a statement of the terms on which they live in the property.


When you’ve found a place - check the paperwork

Tenancy Agreement
Make sure you have a written tenancy agreement and read it carefully to understand your rights and responsibilities before you sign it. The landlord or agent usually provides one. If you have any concerns about the agreement, seek advice before you sign.

Agree an inventory (or check‑in report) with your landlord before you move in and, as an extra safeguard, make sure that you take photos. This will make things easier if there is a dispute about the deposit at the end of the tenancy. If you are happy with the inventory, sign it and keep a copy. From 1 June 2019, landlords/letting agents cannot charge certain fees.

Meter readings
Remember to take meter readings when you move in. This will help make sure you don’t pay for the previous tenant’s bills.

Contact details
Make sure that you have the correct contact details for the landlord or agent, including a telephone number you can use in case of an emergency. You are legally entitled to know the name and address of your landlord.

Code of practice
Check whether whoever is managing the property is following a code of practice.

The landlord must provide you with:
  • ‘How to rent: the checklist for renting in England’
  • A gas safety certificate - he landlord must provide one at the start of the tenancy and within 28 days of each annual gas safety check, if there is a gas installation.
  • Deposit paperwork if you have provided a deposit, the landlord must protect it in a government approved scheme within 30 days and provide you prescribed information about it. Make sure you get the official information from your landlord, and that you understand how to get your money back at the end of the tenancy. Keep this information safe as you will need it later.
  • The Energy Performance Certificate - this will affect your energy bills and the landlord must provide one (except for Houses in Multiple Occupation). Properties let on tenancies entered into after 1 April 2018 must have an EPC rating of at least ‘E’ (unless a valid exemption applies).
If your tenancy started or was renewed after 1 October 2015 your landlord cannot evict you with a section 21 notice (no fault eviction) if they have not provided you with these documents. If your local authority has served your landlord with an Improvement Notice related to necessary repairs in your property, you cannot be evicted with a section 21 notice (no fault eviction). If there are outstanding prohibited payments or a holding deposit that you are due to have repaid to you under the Tenant Fees Act 2019, you cannot be evicted with a section 21 notice (no fault eviction). However, you can still be evicted with a section 8 notice if you break the terms of your tenancy.

The landlord should also provide you with:
  • A record of any electrical inspections, all appliances must be safe and checks every 5 years are recommended
  • Evidence that smoke alarms and any carbon monoxide alarms are in working order at the start of the tenancy - you should then regularly check they are working.

Living in your rented home

You must…
  • Pay the rent on time - If your rent is more than 14 days late, you could be liable for a default fee. Further, you could lose your home because you have breached your tenancy agreement. 
  • Pay any other bills that you are responsible for on time, such as council tax, gas, electricity and water bills. If you pay the gas or electricity bills, you can choose your own energy supplier.
  • Look after the property - get your landlord’s permission before attempting repairs or decorating. It’s worth getting contents insurance to cover your possessions too, because the landlord’s insurance won’t cover your things.
  • Be considerate to the neighbours - anti-social behaviour may be a reason for your landlord to evict you.
  • Not take in a lodger or sub-let without checking whether you need permission from your landlord.

You should…
  • Make sure you know how to operate the boiler and other appliances and know where the stopcock, fuse box and any meters are located.
  • Regularly test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors – at least once a month.
  • Report any need for repairs to your landlord. There will be a risk to your deposit if a minor repair turns into a major problem because you did not report it.
  • And don’t forget to register to vote.

If you are responsible for paying the energy bills, you can choose to have a smart meter installed. We recommend that you discuss this with your landlord before you get one.

The landlord must…
  • Maintain the structure and exterior of the property.
  • Ensure the property is free from serious hazards from the start of and throughout your tenancy.
  • Fit smoke alarms on every floor and carbon monoxide alarms in rooms with appliances using solid fuels – such as coal and wood – and make sure they are working at the start of your tenancy. If they are not there, ask your landlord to install them.
  • Deal with any problems with the water, electricity and gas supply.
  • Maintain any appliances and furniture they have supplied.
  • Carry out most repairs. If something is not working, report it to your landlord or agent as soon as you can.
  • Arrange an annual gas safety check by a Gas Safe engineer (where there are any gas appliances).
  • Give at least 24 hours notice of visits for things like repairs – the landlord cannot walk in whenever they like.
  • Get a licence for the property if it is a licensable property.
  • Ensure the property is at a minimum of EPC energy efficiency band E (unless a valid exemption applies).

The landlord should…
  • Insure the building to cover the costs of any damage from flood or fire.

At the end of the fixed period

If you want to stay
Should you wish to extend your tenancy after any initial fixed period, there are a number of important issues to consider:
  • Do you want to sign up to a new fixed term? If not, you will be on a ‘rolling periodic tenancy’. This means you carry on as before but with no fixed term – your tenancy agreement should say how much notice you must give the landlord if you want to leave the property – one month’s notice is typical. 
  • Your landlord might want to increase your rent - your landlord can increase your rent by agreement, or as set out in your tenancy agreement, or by following a procedure set out in law.
  • The deposit cap introduced by the Tenant Fees Act 2019 means you may be entitled to a partial refund of your tenancy deposit. 

If you or the landlord want to end the tenancy
There are things that both landlords and tenants must do at the end of the tenancy:
  • Giving notice - it is a legal requirement for landlords to give you proper notice if they want you to leave. Normally, the landlord must allow any fixed period of the tenancy to have expired, and they must have given at least 2 months’ notice.
  • If you want to end the tenancy early, you could be charged for this. 
  • Your tenancy agreement should say how much notice you must give the landlord if you want to leave the property – one month’s notice is typical.

Return of deposit
Try to be present when the property is inspected to check whether any of the tenancy deposit should be deducted to cover damage. If you do not agree with proposed deductions contact the relevant deposit protection scheme.

Make sure that your rent payments are up to date. Do not keep back rent because you think that it will be taken out of the deposit.

Do not leave bills unpaid. This might have an impact on your references and credit rating.

Clear up
Remove all your possessions, clean the house, take meter readings, return all the keys and give a forwarding address. Dispose of any unwanted furniture via a local collection service. The landlord is usually entitled to dispose of possessions left in the property after, typically, 14 days. The landlord must let you know, or try to let you know, that they intend to dispose of possessions you leave behind.

If things go wrong

Most problems can be resolved quickly and easily by talking to your landlord or letting agent. There are often legal protections in place too for the most common problems that you may experience during the tenancy:
  • If you have a complaint about a letting agent’s service and they don’t resolve your complaint, you can complain to an independent redress scheme. Letting agents must be a member of a government approved redress scheme.
  • If you are having financial problems, or are falling into rent arrears, speak to your landlord as they may be helpful, and are likely to be more sympathetic if you talk to them about any difficulties early on. 
  • If the property is in an unsafe condition and your landlord won’t repair it – contact your local authority. They have powers to make landlords deal with serious health and safety hazards.
  • If you have a serious complaint about the property and your local authority has sent a notice to the landlord telling them to make repairs, your landlord may not be able to evict you with a section 21 notice (no fault eviction) for 6 months after the council’s notice. You can still be evicted with a section 8 notice if you break the terms of your tenancy.
  • Failure to comply with a statutory notice is an offence. Depending on the notice, local authorities may prosecute or fine the landlord up to £30,000. Local authorities have powers to apply for banning orders which prevent landlords or property agents letting out property if they are convicted of certain offences. If a landlord or property agent receives a banning order, they will be added to the database of rogue landlords and property agents. Landlords or agents may also be added to the database if they are convicted of a banning order offence or receive 2 or more civil penalties within a 12 month period.
  • If a landlord or letting agent charges you a ‘prohibited payment’ (a banned fee according to the Tenant Fees Act 2019) or unlawfully retains a holding deposit they could be liable for a fine of up to £5,000 and if there are multiple breaches they could be liable for a fine up to £30,000 as an alternative to prosecution. Local authorities are responsible for issuing these fines.
  • If your landlord is making unannounced visits or harassing you – contact your local authority, or if more urgent dial 999.
  • If you are being forced out illegally, contact the police and your local authority. If your landlord wants you to leave the property, they must notify you in writing, with the right amount of notice – you can only be legally removed from the property with a court order.

For more information visit our tenants page or call 0330 22 11 222