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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 here 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 UK (including about half a million people in Scotland). 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.

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, some councils may use private landlords to accommodate homeless people.

Finding somewhere to rent

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 £420 per month in Glasgow. 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 in the meantime. 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. Help with rent may be available from the local housing allowance (also known as housing benefit) which we explain below. You can also use the official website to find out how much the local housing allowance is for the area and size of home that you need, but remember that the local housing allowance is less than the average rent for the area and that single people under 35 years old get a lower ‘shared room’ rate. 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.

Using an agent

Accommodation agencies, normally called letting agents, and estate agents work for landlords and are paid by them. They are not allowed to charge for registering possible new tenants, for finding a home or for issuing or renewing a lease.

Letting agents have to follow a Code of Practice. This sets out how agents should conduct their business and the services that landlords and tenants should expect to receive. If you think that your letting agent is not following the code, you can report them to the Housing and Property Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal.

All letting agents must be registered. If a letting agent is not registered, they are not allowed to operate. Whether the agent is registered can be checked online.

Getting help with finding a home

The Shelter website has some useful general tips on finding a home.

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 registered as suitable people to let out a property (only registered landlords can operate legally)
  • help with claiming benefits if you are eligible
  • to tell you which houses in multiple occupation have licences
  • guides to search for local lettings available from private landlords
  • access to a rent bond or guarantee so you don’t have to find a deposit or rent in advance.

To check if the landlord of a particular property is registered, you can enter the address and search here.

Charitable organisations also run schemes in many areas to help people find private rented homes. Some schemes are listed on this website 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 or are on low wages.

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.

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. In Scotland, the deposit can be a maximum of two months’ rent. All deposits must be protected. It is also usual to pay some rent in advance. There are no restrictions on how much a landlord may charge for rent in advance. In some areas it may be one month’s rent, in other areas it may be more or less. To protect your deposit, your landlord must use one of the approved protection schemes: more information about these is here.

If your tenancy is arranged by a letting agent (working for the landlord), they can only ask you for the deposit and the rent in advance mentioned above. They can’t charge you a fee just for making the letting.

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. Your local council may run a scheme: you can also find some schemes on the Crisis website.

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
  • 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
  • paying council tax.

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?

You should be careful not to have too many people in a house or flat. The statutory terms of a tenancy include information about notifying the landlord and asking permission before someone who is not on the tenancy can move in. The Scottish Government’s model tenancy states that the tenant must not allow the home to become ‘overcrowded’ and that the tenant can be evicted if they do. Overcrowding is a discretionary ground for eviction where a landlord has been issued with an Overcrowding Statutory Notice.

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. Under a new tenancy, landlords are only permitted to increase the rent once in any 12-month period (these new tenancies are explained below).

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 then your landlord must provide you with a rent card or rent book.

Getting help to pay your rent: universal credit or 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.

Private Residential Tenancies

From December 2017 all new tenancies are 'Private Residential Tenancies'.

Under a PRT, there are rules about when and how your landlord can end your tenancy. If your landlord wants you to leave the property, they must use one of the 18 grounds for eviction. They must tell you the reason you are being asked to leave and provide evidence.

Depending on how long you have been living in the property and the eviction ground being used, the landlord will either have to give you at least 28 days notice or 84 days notice.

If you want to leave the tenancy, you must give your landlord at least 28 days notice.

There are also rules about rent increases. If your landlord wants to increase your rent they will have to give you three month’s notice. They can only increase the rent once in any 12 month period. If you think that the amount that they want to increase the rent by is unreasonable, you can make an appeal.

If you live in a 'Rent Pressure Zone', there will be a cap on the amount that your rent can be increased by. The areas this applies to will change over time.

There is more information about the new tenancy here and on the Scottish Government’s website.