The sensible tenant's complete guide to renting

Published by Hannah Nemeth on 13 October 2014.
Last updated on 26 January 2018

The sensible tenant’s complete guide to renting

From timing your move to picking a landlord or agent, Moneywise takes the legwork out of finding your dream rental.

The number of people renting from private landlords is growing. In 2015-16 (the latest figures available from the English Housing Survey), 4.5 million households were renting in the private sector – that’s 2.5 million more tenants than there were back in 2000.

This trend is, in part, due to affordability constraints facing would-be homeowners. This is reflected in the number of people aged 25 to 34 living in the private rented sector jumping from 24% in 2005-06 to 46% in 2015-16.

But renting does have advantages – you don’t have to pay for maintenance work, for example – and government legislation in the pipeline to ban letting fees is already driving down tenants’ fees.

If you are looking to rent, the key is to do your research to find a decent landlord and/or letting agent, and to have a fair idea of what the rent in your area should be.

Here’s our guide to a stress-free tenancy, looking at new ways to find your dream rental.

When should I start viewing?

Tenants often leave it to the last minute to find a property. Almost one in three tenants plans to move into their home less than two weeks after their initial enquiry to the landlord or agent while almost two thirds of renters plan to move less than one month after making their first enquiry, according to November 2017 research by property marketplace The House Shop.

However, if you need to find somewhere to live quickly then you need to be super-organised. Drag your heels, and you could lose out to a better organised tenant.

Make sure paperwork, such as your passport (and visa if necessary), proof of employment and bank statements  – plus the funds for the deposit and first month’s rent – are ready so you can get the ball rolling within hours of finding the right property.

How do I find a good letting agent?

You only have to watch an episode of Channel 5’s Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords to see how nasty things can get on both sides of the housing divide. Top of any tenant’s wish list should be finding a decent landlord and letting agent. And this is down to careful vetting rather than good luck.

Look out for letting agents that are members of a recognised trade body, which offers a client money protection scheme to protect your money if the agent goes bust, as well as an independent complaints procedure. The main schemes are:

  • ARLA Propertymark (Arla.co.uk)
  • The National Approved Letting Scheme (Nalscheme.co.uk)
  • The Property Ombudsman (Tpos.co.uk)
  • Property Redress Scheme (Theprs.co.uk)
  • The UK Association of Letting Agents (Ukala.org.uk).

A whole host of online letting agents have sprung up listing properties to let. Sites such as I Am The Agent, LetBritain, OpenRent, Urban and Upad belong to one or more of the regulatory schemes and are free for tenants. You can hunt for rentals on these sites, which may also advertise on property portals such as Rightmove, Zoopla and Prime Location (something landlords cannot do without an agent).

Sites, such as Ezylet (Ezylet.com), Find a Flat (Findaflat.com), Spare Room (Spareroom.co.uk) and The House Shop (Thehouseshop.com), work as property marketplaces, rather than letting agents. Tenants can join for free, though you can pay extra for ‘early bird’ viewings of new listings. As these platforms are not letting agents, landlords or their agents will deal with all viewings and contracts, so these sites don’t hold tenants’ rent or deposits. While Ezylet, Find a Flat and Spare Room don’t belong directly to any regulatory scheme, The House Shop is a member of the Property Redress Scheme.

For useful information about renting in the UK and local agents, Thetenantsvoice.co.uk offers guides and online forums. You can search for letting agents by postcode, with details of whether they have been approved and vetted by the site or not.

How do I check the landlord? 

There are ways to protect yourself against rogue landlords too – for example, you can ask if the landlord belongs to the National Landlords Association (NLA) or Residential Landlords Association (RLA), which both offer training and advice for landlords. Members of the NLA can show a membership card while RLA members can display a badge on the windows of their rental property.

If you want to be sure the landlord is the legal owner of the property, it only costs £3 to download a copy of the title register on the Land Registry’s website at Gov.uk/searchproperty-information-land-registry.  It will confirm their name and address, and whether they have a mortgage on the property.

You may find your potential landlord rated on review websites such as Asktenants.co.uk and Rentalraters.com, but – rather like Tripadvisor – these can be very subjective.

Some local councils – for example, Newham in east London – run landlord Accreditation schemes and list approved landlords and agents on their websites.

Meanwhile, don’t be embarrassed to have a quiet word with the current tenants if you get the chance.

How much rent should I pay?

According to the English Housing Survey 2015-16, households in England’s private rented sector typically spent 35% of their income on rent – and at Moneywise we think this is a good ballpark figure to stick to.

The good news for tenants is that rents in the UK fell by -0.01% in November 2017 and they have barely risen over the past year, according to the National Rent Review 2017 from Landbay.

The buy-to-let lender says that the average rent nationwide is now £1,196 a month – only £6 more than at the start of 2017. If you exclude London from its findings, average monthly rents are £759.

If you’re looking to rent in London, Landbay reports that while rents have fallen in 26 of the 33 London boroughs during 2017, they are, on average, 2.5 times greater than those across the rest of the UK – at £1,871.

Is the property energy efficient?

It’s worth checking the property’s energy efficiency before you sign up, as you could save hundreds of pounds a year on your energy bills.

From 1 April 2018, new legislation will make it illegal to let out a property with a poor energy efficiency rating. Properties are graded from A to G for energy performance, and private rental properties need to have a minimum rating of E on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) your landlord must provide.

In 2014 (the latest figures available from the English Housing Survey), the average annual cost of energy for an EPC band G property was £2,860 and £2,180 for a band F property. In contrast, the annual cost was £1,710 for an EPC band E property, so a tenant on band E could save £1,150 a year on typical fuel bills compared to a band G property.

Do I need a guarantor?

If you are a student or have difficulty proving that you can afford the rent, you may need a parent or close relative to act as a guarantor. They will agree to pay the rent if you don’t pay it.

Most landlords will expect the guarantor to live in the UK as it’s difficult to check affordability or take legal action if they live abroad.

If you are from overseas and can’t find a guarantor in the UK, one way around the problem is to pay six to 12 months’ rent in advance. Alternatively, you could pay for a UK guarantor service. Housing Hand (Housinghand.co.uk) charges a one-off fee, which varies depending on the amount of rent and whether you are a student or professional. For example, fees for students work out at between 60% and 95% of the monthly rent, subject to a minimum of £295.

Will my deposit be protected?

Before signing the tenancy agreement, make sure it indicates which government-backed scheme the landlord or letting agent will use to protect your deposit. In England and Wales, there are three authorised schemes: the Deposit Protection Service, My Deposits and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme.

Your landlord has 30 days to protect your deposit and to provide you with information about the scheme. At the end of your tenancy, the landlord must return the deposit within 10 days – unless there is a dispute, which the scheme can help mediate.

For more information on this, visit Gov.uk/tenancy-deposit-protection or Gov.scot and Nidirect.gov.uk for schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively.

Given that most tenants will pay £1,000-plus as a deposit, as well as having to cough up the fi rst month’s rent, there have been moves to introduce ‘deposit-free’ schemes – but these have yet to take off in a big way and tenants are still liable for damages or unpaid rent at the end of the tenancy.

DLighted (Dlighted.co.uk), for example, offers landlords and agents deposit replacement insurance, offering £600,000 of protection from property damage and legal costs once prospective tenants have passed referencing checks. It starts from £129 a year for rents up to £2,500 a month and is paid for by the landlord.

If there is a dispute with the tenant at the end of the tenancy, the landlord can claim on insurance, with the tenant ultimately paying if the claim is successful.

Reposit (Getreposit.uk) works in a different way, taking an initial fee equivalent to one week’s rent, but tenants will pay a £120 fee if there is a dispute and Independent Adjudication Services, its third-party dispute resolution service, finds in the landlord’s favour.

Zero Deposit (Zerodeposit.com), which at the time of writing was due to launch, will be available through letting agents and will work in a similar way. But any disputes will be settled through The Dispute Service, which is run by the government-approved Tenancy Deposit Scheme, at no extra cost to the tenant.

These schemes offer a lifeline to tenants who would struggle to find the deposit, but, given that most tenants do get back their deposit, it may be better to pay upfront if you can afford it.

Do I need an inventory?

It’s important to get an inventory to record the property’s condition at the start of the tenancy so that you can prove that any damage was normal wear and tear or was already there when you moved in. Also take plenty of photos to keep with the report.

Some landlords will conduct the check-in jointly with the tenant – Open Rent (Openrent.co.uk) offers a useful DIY template for you both to sign after the check-in and check-out – while others prefer to pay for an inventory professional to carry out the service. This can cost from around £120 to £200, with some landlords asking the tenant to split the bill.

Are the rules different for a lodger?

Not everyone can afford a whole property, so another option is to look for a room in a shared house or to find a room as a lodger.

As well as a messaging service where tenants can arrange viewings with landlords or potential room-mates, popular flatshare site Spareroom.co.uk runs ‘speed flatmating’ events in London and Manchester, where you can meet several potential flatmates in one go. It’s free to place a listing, or you can pay extra (from £10.99 a week) for ‘early bird’ access to listings.

You can also look for a room at Roomhunters.co.uk, which is free or you can pay for a ‘VIP’ ad from £6.90 for a week, or at EasyRoommate.com and TheHouseShop.com.

If you plan to be away at weekends, you can save money by arranging a rental from Monday to Friday – Fivenights.com and MondaytoFriday.com are both free for lodgers.

As a lodger, you won’t need to sign an assured tenancy agreement and your deposit won’t be protected, but it is sensible to draw up a written agreement regarding notice periods and any other restrictions.

Can I boost my credit score?

At the time of writing, the Creditworthiness Assessment Bill was being read by the House of Lords. The Bill says that if tenants pay their rent on time, it should help strengthen their credit histories – as is the case with homeowners making mortgage repayments.

Hopefully, this will come into effect later this year, but if you want to improve your credit score now and are confident that you will not miss a rent payment, then you can sign up to Credit Ladder (Creditladder.co.uk). Pay your rent by a standing order through the app, and Credit Ladder will tell the credit score company, Experian, that you have paid the rent on time, so it can be added to your credit history.

However, it’s worth noting that while many lenders use Experian, financial firms with one of the other agencies may not see your credit history and CreditLadder is not a member of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which means your money will not be protected while it is holding it.

Watch out for rogue landlords

Beware of scammers who break into empty properties and let them out or rent a property and pretend to be the owners.

Never hand over money for a property that is advertised online that you (or a friend or relative acting on your behalf) haven’t viewed.

Never agree to give cash upfront or to wire over money (via Western Union, for example).

Always ask for the landlord’s full name and UK address and consider checking with the Land Registry whether they own the property (see below). You can also ask to see their ID.

Avoid landlords who are prepared to waive the deposit or want to add it on to the rent.

Ask to see the tenancy agreement, details of the deposit scheme and documents such as the gas safety certificate and Energy Performance Certifi cate before you pay.

‘No agent’s fee was a no-brainer for us’


Ed Stennett, 22 and a user interface designer, recently moved from his home town in Winchester, Hampshire, to rent a two-bedroom flat with his friend, Rich Wisby, also 22 and head of post-production for a video postproduction company, in Bow in east London. After looking on property portals such as Rightmove, he spotted an ad from online lettings agent Open Rent.

“The big advantage for us is that we didn’t have to pay big agents’ fees, unlike some of the flats we were looking at. Obviously, as first-time renters, paying rent, a deposit and agents’ fees would have been expensive, so Open Rent was a no-brainer for us.”

“We messaged the landlord and spoke to him on the phone before arranging to view the property, and said there and then that we wanted the property,” he adds.

“We managed to find a flat and move in within a couple of weeks, so it was all pretty slick.”

The tenancy agreement was arranged through Open Rent’s online ‘dashboard’, with the landlord and the two flatmates signing it electronically.

‘It’s whether the flatmates like you’


Naomi Williams, 28, a policy manager from Doncaster, found a room to let through Sparerooms.co.uk. Her landlord in her previous flat in West Hampstead in north-west London gave Naomi and her flatmates just one month’s notice to move out. After looking at 10 properties, she found a room in the apartment block where she was already living – and it was £200 cheaper a month.

Naomi says: “The problem with looking for a room is that it’s not just a question of finding one you like, but you also have to go through being interviewed by the other flatmates and whether they like you. And in a popular area like West Hampstead, there can be a queue of people interested in the same room.” 

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