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Picking a tenant

This information only applies in England and Wales.

Getting the right tenants (also known as a ‘contract holder’ in Wales) and establishing a professional relationship with them is a fundamental part of building a successful buy-to-let business. For the avoidance of doubt, references to ‘tenants’ also apply to ‘contract holders’ unless otherwise specified. Read this guide to find out more about finding the perfect tenant.

Last reviewed 11 November 2022.

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When a prospective tenant is interested in the property, you will need to check whether they will be a ‘good’ tenant who will respect the property and pay the rent. This is the case regardless of whether you are using a letting agent to advertise the property or are marketing the property yourself.

Remember that even good tenants can turn bad due to their personal circumstances - they may lose their job, be involved in the breakdown of a relationship or become ill.

Initial practical vetting steps you should take when considering a potential tenant include obtaining:

  • a credit report, this will give an indication of whether the applicant is a responsible person financially
  • references, these can be supplied by the applicant’s bank, a former landlord and their employer. You need to know if the applicant is good at paying the bills on time and whether they have ever been evicted from a property

Consider using a letting agency to save you the time and labour of finding a suitable tenant. Ask for recommendations from fellow landlords and make sure you consider the additional costs associated with using letting agencies.

In England, landlords are also required to check the immigration status of prospective tenants. You should make a copy of a tenant’s original documents that permit them to live in the UK and keep this copy while they’re your tenant and for a year after. For more information, read Right to rent.

If you are unsure whether a tenant can pay the rent, consider asking for a guarantor. A guarantor is a person who agrees to pay the rent on the tenant’s behalf if they do not. Guarantors are often used by students, people renting for the first time and those who have moved to the UK from abroad.  

Anyone can act as a guarantor (provided they have a good credit history and income/savings above a certain amount), but they are often parents, close relatives or even guarantor companies. 

You should vet a guarantor, by carrying out a credit check or asking for proof of their income, savings or other financial details.

When you are considering potential tenants, remember that it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants on the basis of their protected characteristics. The Equality Act 2010 sets out the following protected characteristics in relation to housing matters: 

  • gender

  • sexuality

  • race

  • disability

  • gender reassignment

  • religion

  • pregnancy or maternity

Examples of unlawful discrimantion include:

  • refusing to rent property out to someone because of their race of sexuality

  • imposing different rental terms on prospective tenants based on a disability

  • treating a prospective tenant differently because of their religion

  • only carrying out right to rent immigration checks based on a prospective tenant’s ethnicity

For more information on discrimination in the rental market, see Shelter England or Citizens Advice Wales.

If you have any questions about vetting prospective tenants, Ask a lawyer.

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Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest