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Guide to renting

Lydia Fitzsimons
Lydia Fitzsimons
  | Edited by Tom Church
Updated 15th September 2021

If you’re thinking about renting a property, Latest Deals has produced this helpful guide which tells you everything you need to know, and answers any questions. From deposits and reference checks, to property viewing checklists and different types of tenancy agreements, here is everything you need to know about UK private renting.

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Renting a property

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If you’re not in a position to buy a property, renting is a common solution. Renting is the process of making an agreement with a landlord called a tenancy, and paying them to live in their property. 

Before you start the private renting process (this means renting from a private landlord, not a public sector body), it’s important to be aware of common problems and questions, to save yourself time and money, and to ensure things go as smoothly as possible.

Advantages of renting

With house prices rising, renting is a good alternative if you’re not financially able to buy a property. It offers flexibility, and can allow you to live in an area you may be unable to afford to buy in.

How to find a place to rent?

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If you’ve decided that you want to rent a property, the first thing you need to do is decide your budget.

What can you afford?

Before you start looking for a property to rent, you need to work out what you can afford. You should factor in the additional costs associated with renting, so that you don’t commit yourself to an agreement that you can’t afford to keep up with.

Rental property expenses checklist

Additional costs associated with renting you’ll need to cover, include:

  • Deposit
  • Council tax
  • Utility bills
  • TV licence

If you’re struggling to find a property to rent that fits your budget, you could consider a flat share. You can find rooms available to rent (which will be cheaper than renting an entire house or flat), from websites such as SpareRoom and Ideal Flatmate.

Finding a property

Once you have established what you can afford, you can begin looking for a property to rent. 

There are a few ways to go about this search. You can contact local letting agents and let them know what you’re looking for, and they’ll be able to advise you on what’s available.

You can also use online renting websites to see what’s available, and then arrange viewings on specific properties that interest you; popular UK renting websites include RightMove, Zoopla, and OpenRent.

Arranging viewings

Depending on where you’re looking to rent, the property market can move quickly, so if you see a property online or in a letting agency, you should arrange a viewing sooner rather than later.

When you view a prospective property, it’s your opportunity to ask questions and find out everything you can, and if you’re viewing multiple properties, try and see them back to back so it’s easier to compare them and find the right fit for you.

When viewing a property, here are some factors to consider:

  1. Does the space meet your needs?

You first need to decide if the property is suitable for you. For example, does it have enough bedrooms, does the property come furnished, partially furnished or unfurnished? If you’re not keen on the decor, ask whether you’d be able to redecorate (often you won’t be able to, so it’s important to to determine this early on).

  1. Is it in the right location?

Even if the property is beautiful, you need to ensure that the location will work for you. 

You may want to consider:

  • Is the property commutable to your job?
  • Are there transport links around the property?
  • Is it easy to get to family or friends you want to be close to?
  • Are there shops, restaurants, schools and other amenities nearby?
  1. Are there extra expenses associated with the property?

With all rental properties, there will be additional costs on top of the rent, including utilities and council tax. However, when viewing a property, it’s a good opportunity to ask about any additional costs that you may not be expecting.

For example, if the property doesn’t come with any parking, ask about how much a permit would be, or if the property is a flat or on a complex, ask about any maintenance fees.

Tenancy agreement

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Once you’ve found a property you’re interested in, you can start the tenant application process.

Making an offer

When you’ve settled on a property, you need to make an offer to the person managing the property. This could be the landlord or a letting agent.

Once you’ve made your offer, the landlord will decide whether to accept it. 

You can make yourself more attractive to a landlord as a potential tenant by offering a good price, being available to move in as soon as the property is available, and be willing to commit to a longer tenant agreement (there are fees involved with setting up a new tenancy for the landlord, so shorter tenancy lengths are less likely to be accepted in a competitive market).

If your offer is accepted, you’ll move on to discussing a tenancy agreement, go through a series of reference checks.

Reference checks

If you find a property you’re interested in renting and you agree a price with the landlord, before signing a tenancy agreement you’ll need to go through a process of reference checks. 

You’ll need to share your personal details for the check, as well as employer details and your previous landlord. They may also do a credit score check. Be as honest as possible when giving your information. Whoever carries out the checks will likely contact your previous landlord and employer, and if you’ve left out relevant information, it could affect your chances of success.

This is to ensure that you’ll be able to afford to pay the rent on the property, and you have the right to live in the UK.

You will either pass, pass with conditions, or fail. If you pass you can continue to the signing the tenancy agreement, and if you fail you will not be able to go through with the process. If you fail with conditions, this usually involves the landlord asking for a rent guarantor.

Types of tenancy agreements

If you pass the referencing checks, you can move on to signing the tenancy agreement. In most cases, the tenancy agreement will be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST). This is a contractual agreement used for groups or individual renters who will have exclusive use of a property, and where the rent is less than £100,000 per annum. 

With an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, legally, your landlord must protect your deposit. It should be held in a government approved scheme until the end of the tenancy agreement.

There are some instances where you may need a different type of tenancy, for example if you are lodging in the property with the landlord, or the rent exceeds £100,000 per annum. You can find out more about different types of tenancies here.

Things to consider for your tenancy agreement:

  • Are you interested in long term renting? You need to decide how long you want the tenancy to last.
  • Which bills will you be responsible for?
  • Are you planning on renting with pets? You need to check if your landlord allows pets in their property.
  • If you’re a smoker, you’ll need to check if smoking is permitted in the property.

Deposits

When you start the process of signing your tenancy agreement, you will need to pay a deposit and some other fees. However, you have rights as a tenant, and legally there are caps on how much the deposit can be, and what additional fees you can be charged for.

For deposits for tenancy agreements signed after June 2019, there are caps to protect the tenant from paying too much. This cap is calculated according to the total annual rent on the property:

Total annual rentMaximum deposit
Less than £50,000Five weeks’ rent
More than £50,000Six weeks’ rent

Your deposit must be protected for the duration of the tenancy, and then refunded at its end, though this is subject to the state of the property when you vacate it. The landlord has a right to take money from the deposit to cover damages, unpaid rent or missing items.

Additional fees

It’s important to keep track of any fees your landlord or letting agent is charging you, as there are government regulations that protect tenants from excessive fees.

Since June 2019, lots of the fees that potential tenants used to be charged have been banned. For example, fees for drawing up the tenancy agreement, and charges for viewings on properties. 

There are some fees that are still permitted, and these include:

  • A refundable holding deposit (this is to reserve a property after you’ve viewed it and before you’ve signed the tenancy agreement. The charge must be no more than one weeks’ rent, and must be refunded).
  • Default fees for late payment of rent, or replacement of lost keys.
  • Fees for early termination of the tenancy.
  • Charges capped at £50 (or a reasonable fee) for any changes to the tenancy agreement, and this includes renewal.

Sign the tenancy agreement

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Before signing your tenancy agreement form, it’s important to read it carefully and ensure that you understand everything. This is a contractual agreement, so you will be legally bound by it.

The agreement should include the terms of the tenancy, noting the property details, how much and when the rent should be paid, and the responsibilities of the tenant and the landlord.

If you’re renting with other people, you will be ‘jointly and severally liable’. This means that you as an individual could be responsible for the whole of the rent (not just your share), if the other tenants fail to pay the rent.

It’s common for agents and landlords to use a template contract, with standard terms designed to cover most scenarios. You may sign a physical copy of the tenancy agreement, or you may be sent an electronic copy to sign.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s essential to read the contract thoroughly before signing. Once you’ve signed the tenancy agreement, it’s legally binding, and you will have no automatic right to withdraw. If you needed to break the contract early, it could be expensive. If you don’t want to commit to a long tenancy, you can request a break clause in the tenancy agreement. This allows the tenant and landlord the chance to end the contract early. Learn here about 6 tenant rights you need to know. 

Moving in

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Once you’ve signed the tenancy agreement, there are a few key things to look out for before moving into your new rental home.

1. Inventory

At the start of your tenancy, your landlord or letting agent will carry out an inventory check. This is to note everything already in the property before you move in, and its condition. An inventory could be a written report, or a video log. 

Inventory checks are important as they protect you as the tenant, and the landlord as well. At the end of the tenancy, the inventory will be cross-checked, and if there are items missing, or there is substantial damage that falls beyond everyday wear and tear, the landlord may take the cost of repairs and replacements out of your deposit.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure that you check the inventory thoroughly and log anything you feel has been missed with your landlord or letting agent in writing. At the end of the tenancy, when it comes to repaying your deposit, the inventory will be your evidence if your landlord tries to make deductions.

2. Documents

When you move into your new rental property, your landlord or letting agent must provide you with certain documents.

The documents your landlord must provide include:

  • Gas safety certificate 

You should be given a gas safety certificate before moving into the property, and your landlord should provide you with a new copy after every annual gas check. This is for properties with gas installations or appliances.

  • Deposit paperwork 

Your landlord is obligated to keep your deposit safe in a government approved scheme. They need to provide you with details of the scheme, so that you know how to get the money back at the end of the tenancy.

  • Energy performance certificate 

You should also be given an EPC which details the energy performance rating of the property. All properties need to have a rating E or above, unless there is a legitimate reason for exemption.

  • Gov.uk renting guide

Your landlord must also give you a printed copy of the Gov.uk ‘How to rent: the checklist for renting in England’. 

As well as these essentials, you landlord should also give you:

  • A record of all electrical inspections
  • Proof that all smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are functioning

3. Meter readings

When you move into your rental property, remember to take a picture of your meter readings, showing the date and time. This is to make sure that you only pay bills from the time that you moved in.

4. Contact details

It’s important that you know who to contact if something goes wrong in the property, or you have any questions. Your first point of contact could be your landlord or a letting agent. As a tenant, you have the right to their contact details, so make sure you have them when you move in.

You can read more about tenant’s rights here.

Living in your rental property

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Once you’ve signed the tenancy agreement and you’re happy with the inventory report, it’s time to move into your rental property. 

As a tenant, you have both rights and responsibilities. 

You’re expected to follow the terms of the tenancy agreement, and to live in the property in a ‘tenant-like’ manner. This includes:

  • Paying the rent at the agreed time
  • Paying any other other bills
  • Looking after the property
  • Being mindful of the neighbours
  • Not subletting or taking in lodgers (if that is not pre-approved in your tenancy agreement) 

How much is my council tax?

One of the bills you’ll be responsible for as the tenant is council tax. This is a tax that is paid to the council that contributes to maintaining your local area, for example street cleaning and the police force. 

If you’re over eighteen and living in a property in the UK, you’ll most likely need to pay it. The country is separated into different bands, and how much you pay will depend on which band your home is located in, and how much it’s worth. You can find out which band you’re in here.

There are a few exemptions to council tax, for example, people who are not counted as adults, and this includes full time students, people on apprenticeship schemes, and so on. If you need advice on whether you’re eligible for a discount, you can contact your local council.

You can find more information on council tax here.

How to report problems

If you have any problems with the property, you can contact your landlord or the letting agent managing it, and they will handle any repairs. 

The landlord is responsible for most repairs, maintaining the appliances, arranging gas and electrical safety checks, and fitting smoke alarms.

However, if there is a problem with the property, you have a responsibility to report it to them. If you fail to do so and the issue becomes dramatically worse and more expensive to fix, your deposit could be at risk.

Moving out

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At the end of your tenancy, you can decide whether you want to leave the property, or ask your landlord to extend the agreement. 

Ending the tenancy

If you or the landlord decide that you want to end the tenancy when it comes to a finish, both parties will need to give notice.

Landlord

If your landlord wishes to end the tenancy at the end of the fixed period, they need to give you proper notice. The notice period you’re entitled to will vary according to the terms of your tenancy agreement, and why the landlord is requesting you vacate the property.

If you receive a notice from your landlord, wanting you to leave, make sure you read it immediately, as it’s best to act quickly. If you’re facing homeless, you can seek advice from organisations such as Shelter and Citizen’s Advice.

Tenant

If you decide you want to leave the property at the end of the tenancy, you need to give notice to your landlord or letting agent in writing. Your notice period will vary depending on the terms of your tenancy. 

When moving out of a rental property, there are certain things you need to do.

These include:

  1. Making sure all your rent payments are up to date.
  2. Making sure all bills are paid (this could negatively affect your credit score if not properly handled).
  3. Cleaning the property and removing all your belongings.
  4. Returning all sets of keys.
  5. Being present for the final inspection (this is not obligatory, but it can work in your favour if you keep track of the inspection to ensure there is no bias).

Extending your tenancy

If you want to extend the tenancy agreement after the initial fixed period, there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, you should decide whether you want to sign up to another fixed term agreement, or whether you want to live in the rental property on a ‘rolling periodic tenancy’. The latter means that you carry on under the initial tenancy agreement, but with no fixed length of time. You would need to give your landlord notice if you decided to leave.

Secondly, your landlord may decide to increase your rent. They can do this by agreement, or in writing with a new tenancy contract. 

Protection from eviction

There are strict procedures in place when it comes to asking a tenant to vacate a property, and landlords are obligated to meet them, legally.

Landlords must give you the correct notice period, and they can only remove you from their property with a court order. You can read more about the possession action process here.

For further help and advice, Shelter is a housing and homelessness charity that offers free support.

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