Preparing to rent from a private landlord

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

Check if this advice applies to you

This advice will usually apply to you if both the following are true:

  • you’re going to rent from a private landlord

  • you won’t be living with your landlord

In most cases this means you’ll get an ‘assured shorthold tenancy’. In rare cases you’ll get an ‘assured tenancy’.

This advice applies to people starting one of these tenancies. It’s worth checking your tenancy agreement to make sure.

If you’re not sure, or you’re going to have a different kind of agreement with a private landlord, check your tenancy type if you rent from a private landlord.

You’II need to consider a number of things when you’re looking for a home to rent. For example whether to rent from a landlord or letting agent and the best way to search for a property.

You also need to think about what questions to ask your landlord or letting agent so you don’t lose money.

It can be difficult to get the money needed to rent a property. If you’re on a low income you might be able to get help with renting costs.

Deciding whether to rent from a landlord or letting agent

Whether it's better for you to rent from a landlord or letting agent will depend on your budget and needs. Each option has pros and cons.

If you rent directly from a landlord:

  • you might have less to pay before moving in

  • you might not have to give so many references

  • your landlord might not insist on doing a credit check

If you rent from a letting agent you can:

  • tell the letting agent if repairs need doing (if they manage the property) - they'll speak to the landlord and arrange the repairs for you

  • complain to an independent complaints body if you're not happy with their service

  • get advice about the local area 

Searching for a property

The quickest way to find a property is online, on property search websites. You can easily search for the exact area you want and arrange viewings on websites.

If it’s hard for you to look for a property online you could visit local estate agents. It’s also worth asking friends and family and checking local noticeboards and newspapers.

When you’re looking for a home don’t pay any money without seeing the property first.

Don't rent a property directly from an existing tenant. This is called ‘subletting’ - the tenant might not have the landlord’s permission to rent to you.

If a tenant is just showing you the property on behalf of the landlord they should give you the landlord's details.

Read our advice on subletting to help you avoid problems.

Take someone with you when visiting properties, if you can. It’s safer and they can help you make a decision.

If you get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit

Some landlords and letting agents might say they won’t let you rent from them if you get Housing Benefit or housing costs payments through Universal Credit.

You only need to tell your landlord or letting agent you get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit if they ask.

If you’re turned down for a property because of any benefits you get, try speaking to the landlord or letting agent. You should ask them to:

  • do an affordability check if they haven’t already

  • accept extra references - you could ask more than one of your previous landlords to give you a reference that says your rent was always paid on time

  • let you use a guarantor - this is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you don’t

Check if you can claim it’s discrimination

If a landlord or letting agent has their own rule of not renting to people who get benefits, this could be discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010. You might see this written on property adverts as ‘no DSS’, ‘no benefits’ or ‘no Universal Credit’.

Write to your landlord or letting agent asking them to change their mind. You can use a template letter on the Shelter website. You could still be turned down if you can’t afford the property, so make sure you can afford it before you write.

If the landlord or letting agent doesn’t change their mind or they don’t reply within 7 days, talk to an adviser.

Questions to ask your landlord or letting agent

To make sure the property you're going to rent is safe and affordable you should ask:

  • how much rent you'll have to pay and how it should be paid

  • if your rent includes any bills

  • how long you can rent for - including whether you'll be able to renew your tenancy or end it early

  • if you need to make payments before you move in - for example if you need to pay rent in advance or fees if you rent from a letting agent

  • if and how your tenancy deposit will be protected - check if your landlord has to protect your tenancy deposit

You might have to agree to meet certain conditions or rules when you rent a property. For example you might not be allowed to smoke or keep pets. Make sure you ask about any conditions before you agree to take a property.

Check the Energy Performance Certificate

You should ask to see the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property. The EPC tells you how energy efficient the property is. The most energy efficient properties get an A rating - the least efficient get a G.

You can read more about energy performance certificates on the Energy Saving Trust website.

When you rent a new home it must have an energy efficiency rating of E or above unless it’s classed as ‘exempt’, which means the rule doesn’t apply. You can search the PRS exemptions register on GOV.UK to check if a property is exempt. 

The landlord will break the law if they rent you a property that’s rated F or G and it isn’t exempt - they could be fined by your local council.

You want to rent a property that has an F or G rating

As long as the property isn’t exempt the landlord must make improvements so it’s more energy efficient. The EPC will say what improvements could be made - for example, replacing an old boiler. The improvements must be made before your tenancy agreement starts.

The landlord should get a new EPC when the improvements have been made. You should make sure they show you a copy and check that the rating is E or above.

Don’t sign a tenancy agreement until you’re sure the rating has changed to E or above. Contact your local council if the landlord refuses to make any improvements - you can find your local council on GOV.UK.

The property is exempt

If the exemption is for 5 years, the landlord doesn’t have to do anything to make the property more energy efficient. In some cases, for example if the property is listed, they might not be allowed to make some kinds of improvements.

If the exemption is for 6 months the landlord will have to make improvements, but not until after the exemption has ended.

What checks will be made  

You should ask your landlord or letting agent what documents you'II have to show when you agree to rent the property.

Ask what documents you’II need to show to prove you're allowed to rent in the UK.

Ask who they will want to contact for references, for example your current landlord or employer.

Read more about documents your landlord or letting agent can ask to see.

If your landlord has treated you unfairly

It’s against the law for a landlord or letting agent to treat you differently for example because of your nationality, race or sex - this is called discrimination. 

Discrimination can include things like:

  • asking to see photos of you before deciding whether to rent to you

  • refusing to rent to you because of who you are - for example, because of your disability, sexuality or religion

  • refusing to rent to you because you have children - sometimes called a 'no kids policy'

  • refusing to rent to you because you get benefits - sometimes called a 'no benefits' or 'no DSS' policy

  • asking you to pay higher rent than other tenants

You can check if your housing problem is discrimination.

If you've experienced discrimination, check how to make a complaint.

If you want to rent in a shared house

Before renting in a shared house or flat check if the property is licensed with your local council.

Most shared houses or flats with several tenants have to be licensed. This is to make sure they meet extra safety conditions - for example, they mustn't be overcrowded. 

Find out more about your rights if you rent in a shared house.

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