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What to consider when renting residential property

This information only applies in England and Wales.

Finding and moving into a rental property can be an exciting yet daunting experience. From making sure that you choose the right home for your needs, ensuring that your landlord (or their letting agent) is a good fit and knowing your basic rights and responsibilities, there’s a lot to consider. Read this guide to find out more.

Bear in mind that any Tenancy agreement you enter into will create a contractual relationship between you, as the tenant, and your landlord. This tenant-landlord relationship gives you certain rights as well as certain responsibilities. For more information, read Tenant’s rights and Tenant's and owner's obligations.

Before entering into a rental agreement, consider the following:

  • What kind of residential tenancy do you require? There are different types of residential tenancy agreements, including fixed-term assured shorthold tenancies (giving the tenant the exclusive right to use and occupy a property), periodic tenancies (tenancies that run from month to month, or less commonly from week to week) and lodger agreements (where the owner lives at the property and the lodger is given use of a bedroom and has the right to share the other rooms with the owner).
  • How long do you want the tenancy for? Consider how long you want to rent the property for. Generally, most tenancies are issued for a fixed term of 12 months; however, you may require a shorter or longer rental period. Note that usually (unless there are legal grounds for eviction, such as rent arrears) landlords can only get possession of the property after the first 6 months by following a set procedure which differs in England and Wales.
  • What can you afford? Think about how much rent you can afford to pay, taking into account your outgoings (eg utility bills, living expenses and childcare costs).
  • Do you have your documents ready? Landlords (or letting agents) will want to confirm certain information about you (eg your identity, credit history and employment status).
  • If you are renting a property in England only, do you have the right to rent a property? The right to rent means that you have the legal right to rent property from a landlord in England. You have the right to rent in a number of circumstances, including if you’re a British citizen, have indefinite leave to remain in the UK or have settled or pre-settled status.

Once you have found a property consider the following:

  • How much is the deposit? In England, the maximum level of tenancy deposit you can ask a tenant to pay depends on the total annual rent for the property. If the total annual rent is less than £50,000, the maximum deposit is 5 weeks’ rent. If the annual rent is £50,000 or above, the maximum deposit is 6 weeks’ rent. Deposits taken in England and Wales must be protected in a government-approved tenancy deposit protection scheme.
  • Is the landlord (or letting agent) charging any fees (eg for holding the property, viewing the property or setting up a tenancy agreement)? Since 2019 most fees charged in connection with a tenancy are banned and only certain fees are permitted (eg a refundable holding deposit to reserve the property, a refundable tenancy deposit and rent).
  • Does the rental property have the features you need? Consider what practical features you’re looking for in a property (eg parking, pet-friendliness, a garden or a reliable web connection) - this will help you to narrow down your options and choose the right rental home. Also, consider whether you’d prefer a furnished or unfurnished home and how much storage space you’ll require.
  • Where is the property located? Property location is key when deciding on what property to rent. Before you commit to a property, ensure that its location is convenient for you. For example, consider if it is in a safe area; if it is close to transportation links; if there are shops nearby; and how long it will take you to commute to work. It is a good idea to view the area on different days and at different times.
  • What condition is the property in? Viewing the property gives you a chance to take a close look at the condition of a property. You may wish to watch out for any signs of damp in the walls, ceilings and floors; examine the windows and doors to make sure they’re secure; and run taps and the shower to test the water pressure.
  • Are you getting a good deal? Make sure to do your research before signing a contract, to make sure the property isn’t overpriced. Look at the prices of similar rental properties in the area and compare them with the property you’re interested in. You should also make sure that you know exactly what’s included in the rental payments before you sign a contract (eg determine if the rent includes council tax, utility bills or water charges). Bear in mind that you may be able to get a better deal on utilities and that you can change providers if you are paying your own utility bills. Consider using Citizens Advice’s price comparison tool to compare energy suppliers.

Taking precautions

With the number of rental scams continuously rising (eg fake landlords listing properties that don’t exist or that are already occupied), it is important that prospective tenants take precautions regarding any property they are interested in renting. To avoid this, consider the following:

  • View the property you want to rent. Where possible, you should view the property in person, or ask a person you trust to view the property for you. Alternatively, you may consider asking for a virtual viewing (eg arranging for a viewing over video call or asking for a video recording of the property).
  • Look for landlords who are part of some third party organisation or association. Third-party associations, like the National Landlord Residential Association (NRLA) or The Guild of Residential Landlords, offer some form of redress to tenants whose landlords are their members. Further, member landlords are required to uphold a code of conduct which means that they’ll typically follow the established rules.
  • Engage a letting agent to find a property. All letting agents must be members of a letting agency redress scheme (ie The Property Ombudsman or Property Redress Scheme) to which you can complain about the agent. Further, if a letting agent has signed up to a letting scheme (eg UK Association of Letting Agents, Safeagent or Propertymark) they will need to comply with certain standards and you can complain to the scheme if they don’t.
  • Check Rent Smart Wales. All landlords renting properties in Wales must register with Rent Smart Wales, the licensing authority which processes landlord registrations and grants licences to landlords and their agents.
  • Check the land registry to confirm the identity of the property’s owner. You can use the government’s Land Registry Service to check the name of the property’s owner - note that you'll need to pay a small fee for this information. If the name on the Land Registry doesn’t match the name of the person with whom you have been speaking (and who has held themself out to be the landlord), raise this with the person and think carefully about proceeding.
  • Request receipts for any payments made. A receipt is evidence that you’ve paid somebody for something. Most professional landlords or agents would offer payment receipts themselves - if they don’t, make sure to request one before paying.
  • Assess whether you are being pressured to rent a property. Due to the competitive housing market, tenants may be pitted against each other and, typically, whoever pays a holding deposit first gets the property. Be aware that some may wish to take advantage of this and pressure you to sign a rental contract or pay money into sketchy-looking accounts.

After you have found a property make sure to check the paperwork. 

Read your tenancy agreement carefully, making sure that you understand your rights and responsibilities before signing it. If you are unhappy with the tenancy agreement, the Tenant Fees Act 2019 allows tenants to walk away from unfair terms without forfeiting the holding deposit. Ask a lawyer if you have any concerns about the agreement.

Make sure that you have the correct contact details (eg telephone number and email address) for the landlord or agent. Bear in mind that you are legally entitled to know the name and address of your landlord.

Before you move in (or on your move-in date) agree on an Inventory with your landlord or agent. As an extra safeguard, consider taking photos of the property and any furniture to make things easier if there is a dispute about the deposit at the end of the tenancy. 

Remember to take meter readings when you move in, where possible taking photos showing the meter reading and the date and time, to make sure that you don’t pay for the previous tenant’s bills.

There are certain documents and information your landlord or letting agent must provide you with (eg an Energy Performance Certificate, a current gas safety certificate, certain prescribed information within 30 days of receiving your deposit and, in England only, a copy of the government's How to rent guide). For more information, read Legal obligations of a landlord.

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