What is a letting agent
A letting agent carries out work for a landlord who wants to let out a property to a tenant. The letting agent may, for example, draw up the lease and/or manage the property (including collecting the rent, inspecting the house and making arrangements for repairs, maintenance and improvement or insurance of the house).
You could also approach a letting agent as a tenant to help you find a property to rent from a private landlord.
More about the work of letting agents at mygov.scot.
Using a letting agent to find a home
An accommodation or letting agency may be able to help you find accommodation owned by a private landlord. If you register with an agency you will be asked the type of property you are looking for and how much rent you're willing to pay. You will normally be asked to give details of your job and income, and may also be asked to provide references from your employer, bank, and present or previous landlord.
If a letting agency refuses to help you find accommodation because you are getting Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, this could be unlawful discrimination.
It's against the law for an accommodation or letting agency to ask for payment for:
- putting your name on its list or taking your details
- providing a list of properties available for renting
- checking your references
- running a credit check
- any costs relating to finding accommodation, setting up or renewing a tenancy.
These would be illegal fees and premiums and you can get them back.
Before using a letting agent, check they're registered.
Immigration checks by landlords in England
Landlords, including householders, in England who let private rented accommodation must do 'right to rent' immigration checks. This means checking that adults over 18 have the right to live in the UK before allowing them to rent the property.
There is no requirement on landlords of private tenants in Scotland to make such checks.
If a letting agency offers you accommodation to rent
If you are offered accommodation by an accommodation or letting agency, you should inspect the property before accepting it and ensure you have full details about:
- the terms of the tenancy agreement
- the amount of rent you will have to pay, and whether it includes any services, fuel and water charges
- how much rent you will have to pay in advance
- whether you will have to pay a premium and/or a security deposit and, if so, how much
- whether the property has a mortgage. You can lose your accommodation if the property is repossessed due to the landlord's failure to keep up mortgage payments
- the name and address of the landlord
- whether the landlord is registered. All private landlords in Scotland should be registered with the local authority.
Accommodation and letting agencies have to follow the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Generally, this means that an agency must tell you what they know about a property and what they should reasonably be expected to know. They should also tell you what they become aware of when marketing a property, which could affect your decision to rent a property.
Some letting agents may also be required to meet the regulatory requirements of other bodies such as the Financial Conduct Authority and Law Society of Scotland. They may also have to comply with other codes of practice if they are registered with other voluntary or industry bodies.
Letting agents in Scotland must apply to join the Register of Letting Agents. It's an offence for a letting agent to work if they're not on the Register, unless they applied before 1 October 2018 and their application has still to be determined. The Register of Letting Agents is run by the Scottish Government and in order to register a letting agent must pass a fit and proper person test.
You can find out if a letting agent is registered, has been refused or had their registration removed by searching the Scottish Letting Agent Register.
More about the Register of Letting Agents on mygov.scot.
Letting agents in Scotland must also comply with the Letting Agent Code of Practice. The Code sets out rules about:
- standards of practice
- engaging landlords
- management and maintenance
- ending the tenancy
- communications and resolving complaints
- handling landlords’ and tenants’ money, and insurance arrangements
The Letting Agent Code of Practice says that letting agents must comply with all relevant legislation when carrying out their business. Also they must not unlawfully discriminate against a landlord, tenant or prospective tenant on the basis of protected characteristics such as sex or disability.
If a 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 letting agent asking them to change their mind. 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 letting agent doesn’t change their mind or they don’t reply within 7 days, you can take further action. You can complain and ultimately take court action.
Information about letting agents for tenants
There's a guide for tenants about letting agent regulation on mygov.scot. This covers what to do if you have a problem with a letting agency.
Information for landlords about using a letting agency
Making a complaint about a letting agent
If a tenant or landlord thinks that a letting agent has broken the rules of the Code of Practice, they should tell the letting agent in writing so that the letting agent can take action to resolve the issue. All letting agents in Scotland must have a clear written complaints procedure which outlines the stages and timescales that a complaint must go through.
If the tenant or landlord is dissatisfied with the response to their complaint (or they don’t receive a response in a reasonable time), they can take their complaint further by applying to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber).
Read more about making a complaint about discrimination in housing.
You can get advice about taking a complaint to the First-tier Tribunal from a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.