Steps to follow
The easiest way of finding a private residence to rent is through a letting agency. The agency may also manage the property on the landlord’s behalf.
Pick an agency which is a member of a voluntary self-regulating trade body as this will ensure the agency has a complaints procedure and money protection arrangements (meaning you won’t lose cash if the agency goes bust). The main trade bodies are: Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA); National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA); Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
If the agency is not a member of a trade body, find out whether it participates in the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) which includes a complaints procedure you can use.
It’s illegal for a letting agency to charge you: to register with the agency; for a list of properties available for renting; a deposit which will be returned to you if it does not find you a suitable property. If they try to do so, report them to your local council's Trading Standards Officer.
A letting agency can charge you an administration fee to cover drawing up the tenancy agreement, checking references, preparing the inventory, renewing your tenancy agreement etc. Not all make such charges so shop around and make sure you’re clear about the charges before you sign a contract.
When you agree to rent a property but before you sign the tenancy agreement, you may be charged a holding deposit which will usually be returned to you when you move in. If it’s not your fault that you can’t move in and the agency refuses to return it, seek advice from Citizens Advice or a solicitor.
You can be charged a security deposit which will be retained if the property is damaged or you don’t pay your rent. The agency must protect it in one of the three Government approved schemes and give you details of the scheme within 14 days of receiving the deposit.
Before signing the tenancy agreement check: its terms are reasonable; the amount of rent you have to pay and whether the rent includes any service charges; and the amount of the security deposit/rent payable in advance; the procedure for getting repairs done; and that a complaints procedure is in place.
If the tenancy has no fixed term, you must give the landlord reasonable written notice If you want to leave. You must give at least four weeks’ notice if you pay rent weekly and at least a month’s notice if you pay monthly.
If you want to let out your property, you can either do so privately (that means finding a tenant, collecting rent, attending to all the legal details and managing the property yourself) or you can palm off responsibility for sorting everything out – for a fee – to a letting agency.
When choosing a letting agency, shop around for the best deal and opt for a member of NALS, who are obliged to work to specified standards of service. Membership of the scheme is open to members of the ARLA; RICS and the NAEA.
If you let your property to a tenant, it will usually be an assured shorthold tenancy (unless you agree otherwise in writing). This means you have a right to: get your property back after 6 months (after you have given 2 months notice); charge a market rent; evict your tenant if s/he is in arrears of more than 8 weeks, or is causing a nuisance to local people, or has damaged the property.
You'll need to get your tenant to sign a tenancy agreement - a solicitor can help you draw up one of these. This will specify the terms of the tenancy and include things like length of the tenancy, rent amount and when payable, rent review arrangements, and who is responsible for paying for what in terms of bills, insurance, repairs etc.
No matter what the tenancy agreement says, landlords are always responsible for repairs to the structure and exterior of the property, heating and hot water installations, basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary installations, the safety of gas and electrical appliances and the fire safety of furniture and furnishings that you provide. Tenants can usually be made to pay for the rent, council tax, and all utility bills.
If the tenant won’t move out when they are supposed to, don’t try to throw them out yourself, apply to the county court to get possession or get advice about the accelerated possession procedure which can avoid the need for a court hearing.
What to watch out for
If you’re looking to rent, agree with the agent what condition the property is in when you start renting it (including the level of cleanliness – it’s an old scam of letting agents to deduct “cleaning costs” from the deposit, no matter how spotless you leave the place). Make sure the inventory (list of the furniture and fittings) is accurate too.
Solicitor’s top tip
Before you rent somewhere, ensure the landlord has permission from his lender to rent out the property otherwise you could be turfed out with minimum notice.
Association of Residential Lettings Agents
National Association of Estate Agents
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
Eviction from a home you are renting
Do I need a lawyer? (personal)
Choices if you cannot afford a lawyer