Student housing – using a letting agent
Many students live in private rented accommodation which they find through a letting agent. A letting agent acts on behalf of a landlord and the landlord generally pays for this service, but they may also charge you fees.
This page summarises some of the key things that you need to be aware of if you are using a letting agent.
What is a letting agent?
A letting agent helps a landlord to find a tenant for their property. Some also manage the property while the tenant is living there. An agent may operate independently or it may be part of an estate agency firm.
How do you choose an agent?
Letting agents are not regulated, which means that anyone can trade as a letting agent without any qualifications or a licence.
It's best to use an agent that has signed up to the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS), or is a member of a self-regulating body such as the:
- Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)
- National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA)
- Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
- UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA).
A letting agent that is part of one of these schemes or bodies offers some protection as they expect member agents to adhere to certain standards, for example, having a complaints procedure in place. Some may also require agents to have money protection arrangements so that if they go out of business, you will not lose your money.The organisations mentioned above and some others have signed up to a private rented sector code of practice. The code sets out the legal requirements of agents. It may be useful to refer to the code if the agent you use is a member of one of the organisations that have agreed to follow it. A copy of the code is available from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors website at www.rics.org.
Agents that have the Safe Agent registered mark indicate that they protect your money through a client money protection scheme.
You can check if a letting agent is a member of one of these organisations through their website. The links to each site are set out at the end of this page.
Registering with a letting agent
You can register with more than one agent at a time. Lettings agents aren't allowed to charge you for registering with them or for simply providing a list of properties. If they do, they are committing a criminal offence and you can report them to Trading Standards.
What are you likely to have to pay?
Fees can vary from one letting agent to another, so it's best to shop around and ask letting agents for details of their fees. You should also ask for receipts for any payments you make.
Agents can charge an administration fee. This may cover things like drawing up tenancy agreements, inventories and checking references.
Agents can charge a holding deposit if you've agreed to take a property but haven't yet signed the tenancy agreement.
If you're asked to pay a holding deposit make sure you're aware of what will happen before you pay any money. It will be useful to know:
- in what circumstances the deposit can be returned, for example, if you fail a credit check do you get the deposit back?
- in what circumstances are you entitled to withdraw, for example, if you change your mind about the tenancy is the deposit refundable?
- if the landlord decides not to go ahead with the tenancy, will you get the deposit back?
- if the tenancy doesn't go ahead for whatever reason, are you tied to using that agency because it transfers the deposit to another property?
If you do pay a holding deposit it is usually deducted from the security deposit you pay when you move in.
Agents can require payment of a deposit as security against damage or getting into rent arrears. A typical security deposit is one month's rent.
Security deposits for assured shorthold tenancies paid on or after 6 April 2007, must be protected in a government-approved scheme. You must also be provided with details of the scheme.
A tenancy deposit protection scheme will pay back as much of your deposit as you are entitled to at the end of the tenancy. It also provides an alternative dispute resolution service that can be used if there is a disagreement about the deposit at the end of the tenancy.
Rent in advance
Agents can, and often do, ask for one month's rent in advance in addition to the security deposit. If you have to pay rent in advance you should check when the next rent payment is due.
What should you do if you think fees are unfair or illegal?
If you think that an agent is asking for an unfair or illegal charge, you could complain using the agent's complaints procedure if they have one.
If you do complain, the agent may not find you accommodation. So if you can, it may be best to use another agent, or delay complaining and taking action until after the agent has found you accommodation and you've moved in.
You can take action for an agent charging an illegal fee, by taking court action for the return of the money. Or you can report them to Trading Standards.
If you paid a fee which you think was unreasonably high, or you weren't given details of the charge in advance, you may be able to challenge it on the grounds that it's unfair. The local authority's Trading Standards Officer, Tenancy Relations Officer or a housing specialist may be able to help you with this.
Getting a guarantor
Many letting agents will ask you to provide details of someone who can act as guarantor for you. The guarantor generally covers the rent in case you don't pay it.
Complaining about a letting agent
From 1 October 2014, letting agents must belong to a government approved redress scheme for dealing with complaints about letting private rented accommodation.
If you have a complaint which hasn't been resolved using the agent's own complaints procedure, you can complain to the scheme that the agent belongs to.
A local authority can fine an agent up to £5,000 if they don't join a scheme. There are three approved schemes and further information can be found on each of their websites.
- The Property Ombudsman - www.tpos.co.uk
- Ombudsman Services: Property - www.ombudsman-services.org.uk
- Property Redress Scheme - www.theprs.co.uk
Checking your immigration status
If you're renting private rented accommodation in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley or Wolverhampton, on or after 1 December 2014, the agency may check that you have the right to be the UK before letting accommodation to you.
- Deposits for private rented accommodation
- Sharing accommodation
- Living in a house in multiple occupation (HMO)
Other useful information
- Housing advice - NUS at www.nus.org.uk
- Find your nearest licensed NALS agent at www.nalscheme.co.uk
- Find a letting agent at www.arla.co.uk
- Find an estate agent at www.naea.co.uk
- RICS member directory at www.rics.org.uk
- Search for an agent at www.ukala.org.uk
- Consumer protection law for lettings professionals at www.gov.uk