While there are many advantages to renting, problems do come up, and it’s best to be fully aware of the rights and obligations of both you and your landlord. Here are some of our guidelines to make your days as a tenant as easy as possible; however, we would stress that you should seek professional advice in the event of any problem as circumstances will differ from person to person.
Where private rented places are advertised
There are many different types of housing available to rent privately. You might be looking to rent a self contained flat or house, or just a room. Information about private rented accommodation is often available:
- by word of mouth
- in local newspapers and magazines
- in shop windows and notice boards
- through letting agencies and accommodation agencies
You could also place an advert in a local newspaper, shop window or notice board. The advert should say what you are looking for and how much rent you can afford to pay.
What sort of place are you looking for
Private housing for rent can vary greatly in quality, size, price and services. Think carefully about the sort of place that will suit you before you start looking around. You might want a place that is:
- near your family and friends
- shared with other people
- shared with the landlord
- furnished or unfurnished
- in a particular area
- available for a short or a long time
- on the ground floor
You need to be realistic about what you are prepared to accept. In some areas of the country it is easy to find affordable places to rent but in other areas there may be very little available within your price range.
What to look for when viewing places you are interested in
As a safety precaution, get another person to go with you to view the property and let someone else know where you're going. Check that:
- it is secure and that the heating, lighting and plumbing works
- make sure any furniture is in a good state of repair
- if other people live there, try to meet them to see if you will get on with them
Often private accommodation is available straight away. You might have to be prepared to move in (or start paying the rent) quickly. You might be able to get the landlord to agree to hold the accommodation for a short period.
What each place will cost each week (or month)
You should find out as much as you can about the costs of the accommodation before you agree to move in or sign anything. This includes:
- how much the rent is
- whether the rent includes bills
- how much the council tax is
- how much the bills are (in winter and in summer)
- whether the bills are shared with other people
How much you have to pay in advance
It is usual to have to pay a deposit and rent in advance, before or at the same time as you sign the tenancy agreement. Landlords normally ask for one month's rent in advance and one month's deposit, although it can be more than this, especially if the property is of high value. The deposit is held by the landlord during the tenancy and paid back to you at the end of the tenancy. If you damage the property or don't pay the rent your landlord may be able to keep all or part of the deposit.
If you find a home through a letting agent, you may have to pay agency fees. Some charge tenants and some don't, so it may be worth shopping around.
Some landlords and agencies do not accept personal cheques as deposits or rent in advance. You might have to pay in cash or organise a banker's draft. If you need to use cash get another person to go with you and always get a written receipt. You may also need to have a bank account as some landlords want rent to be paid by standing order.
Whether you can get housing benefit
If you are on benefits or have a low income you may be able to get housing benefit to help you pay the rent. If your income isn't too high you may be able to get housing benefit even if you are working. However, it can sometimes be difficult to find a landlord who lets accommodation to tenants who claim housing benefit.
It is possible to check how much housing benefit you will get before agreeing to move in. You can do this by getting a pre-tenancy determination if your landlord agrees.
Whether you need references
Landlords often ask potential tenants to provide references to prove that you are reliable and will be able to afford the rent. This usually means providing bank details and/or a letter from your employer confirming employment. Sometimes landlords request character references or references from former landlords. If you are taking on a tenancy for the first time, a landlord might accept a reference from a parent or guardian.
You might be asked to provide a guarantor for the rent. This is more common for young people. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you do not.