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How do I get a rented home from a private landlord?

This page is for new arrivals. If you are a housing adviser, please click for information more relevant to you.

Private landlords are individuals or companies who offer private rented accommodation on the open market, by advertising or using agents. The majority of private landlords in the UK rent out only one home, and most have only been landlords for ten years or less. Few get training or join organisations that offer advice and many use agents to manage their property.

Most new migrants to the UK (more than three-quarters of them) live in privately rented housing, as do nine million people across the country. In this section you can read about how to get a private tenancy and what you should expect if you find one. There is a more detailed section on your legal rights as a private tenant. On this page there is more detailed information on 'right to rent' document checks.

Why choose a private rented house or flat?

Why do most new migrants rent privately?

  • It can be easier to rent privately than to get other forms of housing: there are usually few forms to fill in or tests to pass.
  • It can be more flexible, so suitable for those who may want to move on soon, or bring family to join them later.
  • Buying a home is a complicated business and needs far more capital than private renting.
  • Few new migrants qualify for ‘social’ housing (rented from a council or housing association) when they arrive: this website explains who does in other sections.
  • Private rented housing is open to whoever can pay for it, not just those who qualify because of need or waiting.
  • New arrivals are more likely to be able to get private rented housing through the family or community contacts they may have.

Even if a new arrival is able to get help from the council because they are homeless and eligible for help, many councils now just offer temporary accommodation and then move homeless people into private rented housing.

Finding a tenancy

Before looking for a private rented home, it is important to know what is available in the area and at what price. Rents in the UK are generally high, but there is huge variation between areas. Average rents for a one-bedroom flat, for example, may be £1,500 per month in London and £380 per month in Sunderland in the north east. These reflect the demand for housing in each area: where there is a shortage of housing generally prices are much higher.

In areas of low demand you should have a lot of choice. Landlords and agents may be willing to negotiate the rent, wait while you look at other homes and make a decision, or improve the furniture and facilities on offer. But in areas of high demand there may be a lot of people chasing the same home, so if you find a home you want at a price you can afford you need to move quickly to take it. If you want to move to a high demand area, be prepared: you may not find a home quickly and will need somewhere else to stay meanwhile. In these areas, it is also common for landlords and agents to refuse to rent to people unless they can prove that they have a job.

How do you find a home?

Friends and family may help, but they may only know about a limited area or type of property. Your employer may have accommodation to offer, but living in your employer’s accommodation may affect your rights (see the legal page for advice on this).

Homes are usually advertised in the local paper, on property websites, through accommodation agencies and estate agents (both via local offices and on the internet), and through cards in local shop windows. This should give an impression of rent levels and availability in the area you want. There are websites that tell you about rent levels in different parts of the country: most, like, collect information from estate agents.

Some websites allow individuals to advertise homes for rent and there are very few controls on how this is done. The home may not be as advertised, or not even exist. The person advertising it may not be the owner or allowed to rent it to you. Do not send or offer money until you have seen the home.

If you have a low income you may be able to get help with your rent.

Using an agent

Accommodation agencies, normally called letting agents, and estate agents work for landlords and are paid by them. The only payments a letting agent can charge you for in connection with a new or replacement contract (apart from rent) are:

  • a refundable tenancy deposit which - in England only - is capped at no more than five weeks’ rent
  • a refundable holding deposit (to reserve a property) capped at no more than one week’s rent
  • payments associated with early termination of the tenancy, when requested by the tenant
  • payments in respect of utilities, communication services, TV licence and council tax
  • a default fee for late payment of rent and replacement of a lost key/security device giving access to the housing, where required under a tenancy agreement.

In England, this rule applies to all existing, new or replacement contracts regardless of when your agreement began. In Wales, it only applies to new or replacement contracts that began on or after 1 September 2019.

In England and Wales all letting agents must be part of an officially approved and independent redress scheme, to resolve any complaints you can’t agree on. Your deposit (if you pay one) must also be held in a separate ‘client’ bank account – so that it is protected even if your agent closes his/her business. In England there are only two government approved redress schemes. In Wales all letting agents must have a management licence from Rent Smart Wales where this requirement is enforced as part of the licence conditions. You can find out more about the approved redress schemes and your other rights in the Rent Smart Wales tenant guide. You can find out if your agent has a licence by checking the Rent Smart Wales public register.

Any agent operating legally should tell you which one of these schemes they are in and may display the logo. Do not use an agent that is not in one of these schemes: they are operating illegally and you risk losing any money you pay them.

Getting help with finding a home

A government booklet offers advice on renting in England and your landlord should give you a copy.

The Shelter website has some useful general tips on finding a home and also some top tips for new renters. The government has an advice booklet for new tenants.

The local council for the area where you want to live may offer help with finding a private rented home. You can find the council you need from this site. Councils may offer:

  • advice to help you find a home
  • lists of local landlords who have been checked and ‘accredited’ as reaching a certain standard
  • help with claiming benefits if you are eligible
  • access to the register of local homes in multiple occupation
  • access to a rent bond or guarantee so you don’t have to find a deposit or rent in advance.

Charitable organisations also run schemes in many areas to help people find private rented homes. There is a list of all these schemes in this database provided by Crisis, a charity working with homeless people.

Making sure you are treated fairly

Race discrimination in housing is illegal in the UK. Landlords and agents cannot refuse prospective tenants because of their race, nationality, religion or colour. There are also laws against discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, age and disability. There are few exceptions to these laws, which also cover ‘indirect discrimination’, where although the conditions the landlord or agent specifies do not refer to race, they have the effect of excluding significantly more people from one or some ethnic groups than others. This could include, for example, not accepting identity cards from European countries as proof of identity or refusing to take anyone who has not been resident in the UK for more than five years. You can find more information about discrimination and how you can tackle it here.

If you think you have been the victim of discrimination, get advice. The Equality Advisory and Support Service has a free helpline on 0808 800 0082 which can provide advice. They may be able to help resolve the problem, and, if not, they can suggest where you might find help to take court proceedings.

Starting a tenancy

Most landlords and agents want proof of a new tenant’s identity and their employment and earnings and many will do a credit check, for which they need previous addresses and employers as well, or may need more information for insurance purposes. It is a good idea to have the necessary documents ready:

  • Proof of identity (passport, identity card, immigration status document, driving licence will all do).
  • Proof of employment: your contract or a recent letter from an employer.
  • Proof of earnings: your wage slips from the last three months or details in the contract.
  • Proof of any benefits you are currently receiving if you are not working.

Be careful with documents: do not hand them over to anyone except for simple photocopying (where you can see it taking place). If you can, it helps to have photocopies of the documents that you can offer the landlord or agent once they have seen the originals.

Landlords in England (but not Wales or Scotland) need to check documentation about new tenants’ immigration status, and there is more information on this here.

It is usual in the UK to pay a deposit when starting a tenancy: this is to cover any breakages or damage or unpaid rent. All deposits must be protected using one of the government approved protection schemes. If you use a letting agent there are laws about what fees they can charge for finding, setting up and renewing a tenancy: more information about these is here.

Because it is difficult for some new tenants to find the money to pay rent in advance or a deposit, there are some schemes to help you with this. Most do not offer the tenant money, instead they persuade the landlord to accept a guarantee or bond instead of the rent in advance or deposit. You can find a list of schemes in your area on the Crisis website; your local council may also run schemes.

Be careful with money:

  • never hand over money without getting a receipt that states clearly what it is for (if you pay your rent weekly your landlord must provide you with a rent book)
  • do not pay agencies for showing you a flat: it is illegal for them to charge for this (they can charge for identity checks and some administration)
  • do not pay a deposit without checking how it will be protected.

What is included in the rent?

This will depend on the arrangement you have made with the landlord or agent. If the rent includes furniture and other household equipment, you will need to make sure that you and the landlord agree on a list of what is included at the start of the tenancy: this is called an inventory. You may want to take photographs of these items and keep them, in case there is any dispute at the end of the tenancy about the condition they were in when you started.

Some tenancies include charges for services, some do not, and so you will have to pay them yourself. So you will need to check about:

  • gas and electricity bills
  • telephone and internet service bills
  • charges for cleaning or other services.

If you are responsible for paying some bills you need to know

  • Where the meter is for gas and electricity.
  • What the meter says when you start the tenancy (and confirm with the landlord or agent that they agree with this reading).
  • If the home has pre-paid meters, whether the landlord can confirm that the meter has not been recalibrated to cover arrears incurred by previous occupiers.
  • Who provides these services. You may be able to change providers if they are too expensive but will need to check with the landlord or agent that your tenancy agreement allows this.
  • What the arrangements are for paying and how you get your name on the account as the person responsible.

Sharing a home

Many people share a home with other tenants as a way of keeping down costs (especially if they are under 35 and so get a reduced rate of local housing allowance), or because it is a good way to meet new people, get to know an area, etc. The law on who is responsible for what in these arrangements can be complex. There are also specific rules for landlords where they rent out a property to several people not in the same family (these are called Houses in Multiple Occupation and there is more on them here).

If you are sharing, with friends or with people you don’t yet know, it is important to get agreement about some of the basic arrangements at the beginning:

  • Who is responsible for paying which bills?
  • How are the bills to be shared out (equal shares? Based on the share of the rent or the space?)
  • How will you decide who does what when you need to?
  • How will you resolve any problems?

Your legal rights

The law provides some protection for private rented tenants covering

  • housing conditions and disrepair
  • rights against eviction and harassment
  • rights to information and proper notice.

These are explained here.

Your rent

There are no effective legal controls on what a landlord may charge a new tenant for rent. Once the tenant has signed an agreement the tenant must pay the rent as specified. Most agreements say when and how the landlord can raise the rent, and it is important to check this. If it is not in the agreement, then ask the landlord or agent and get the arrangement in writing.

If your rent includes a variable service charge (one that varies according to your landlord’s costs) then the charge must reflect only the costs your landlord has reasonably incurred, and the services provided must be carried out to a reasonable standard. If you are dissatisfied with the charge or the standard of service you can to appeal to a first-tier tribunal in England or the residential property tribunal in Wales – but you must pay a fee for this.

If the tenancy is for a fixed period then if you want to leave before it ends, you will need to negotiate this with the landlord, because he can insist on the rent being paid to the end as agreed. If you (or the agent) can find another acceptable tenant to take over the tenancy, then the landlord has to agree to that.

If you pay your rent weekly, your landlord must provide you with a rent card or rent book.

Getting help to pay your rent: universal credit and housing benefit

You can get help to pay your rent from universal credit (UC) if you are working age, or housing benefit (HB) if you are pension age, provided you meet the qualifying conditions as a migrant and your income and savings are low enough. You do not have to be out-of-work to get UC/HB, you can receive it if you are working, if your pay is low enough. You claim UC from the DWP, and you claim HB from your local council, in both cases usually online. For more information see how to claim.

If you are a private renter, the local housing allowance figure that applies to you is the maximum amount of help you can get with your rent from UC/HB. The actual amount you receive can be a lower figure for other reasons (e.g. if you have earned income etc).

The appropriate local housing allowance figure that applies to you depends on:

  • the size of property you qualify for (which is worked out on the size of your household, or if you are single, your age);
  • the area you live in (which is worked by the postcode of the property you rent); but
  • if you are claiming HB and your rent includes a charge for meals the local authority may use the figure supplied by the rent officer instead (follow link and see ‘board and attendance’).

If you think a decision about your UC/HB is wrong then you can appeal it – but you must normally do this within one month of being notified of the decision otherwise you may lose your right to some of the arrears.

'Right to Rent' checks by landlords

If you apply for a rented home from a private landlord in England, you will have to show documents to prove your residency or immigration status. This is called having the 'right to rent'. Go to this page to find out how it works. You can also find a detailed guide to the right to rent at Advice Now.