From references and deposits to inventories and tenancy agreements, renting a property involves a bit of paperwork at the beginning and end of your rental agreement.
And in between all that, there are yours and your landlord's rights and responsibilities to consider.
We've put together a guide on how renting a property works, so that you know everything that's involved.
Securing a property to rent
Begin by putting down a holding deposit in order to state your intention to rent the property and have it taken off the market. This is capped at one week’s rent and is refundable after 14 days.
Don't forget to check whether there are any other letting agents marketing the same rental home.
The letting agent or landlord will then begin the administrative process of requesting references from you.
Your prospective new landlord will be keen to make sure that you are a suitable tenant and that you have the ability to pay your rent. They may also be interested in whether you have rented a property without any major problems in the past.
The landlord or, if instructed, the letting agent will organise the reference checks and may ask for your permission to conduct the relevant searches.
In the past, they may have asked for an administrative fee from you to conduct these checks but they are no longer allowed to do so.
In fact, all agency fees have now been banned and the only upfront cost you should be asked for at this stage is the holding deposit.
Some or all of the following documents may be requested by the letting agent or landlord:
References from previous landlords - you may be asked to give the details of where you have lived within the last three years
A credit check - this will allow them to see if you have a good history of paying your bills.
Your bank details, including the bank name, account number and sort code
Details of your employment, including your employer, job title, payroll number, salary and previous employer
Proof of your right to rent in the UK
Under the Data Protection Act, you can only be asked for information that is required for the tenancy, and it must be stored securely and checked regularly to make sure it is still needed and is accurate.
In the event that the information highlights any potential of risk to the landlord, you may be asked to provide a guarantor.
A guarantor will be contractually liable, both financially and legally, should you fail to pay the rent during your tenancy or in the event of damage to the property.
The final part in securing the property is putting down the deposit, which you will be asked for once you have signed a contract.
This deposit is capped at five weeks’ rent, unless your rent is more than £50,000 a year, in which case you may be asked for six weeks’ rent.
The deposit is a safety net for the landlord to guard against the cost of replacing or repairing property damaged by you.
Landlords and letting agents in England are required to join one of the Government-backed tenancy deposit protection schemes
You must be given proof that your deposit has been put into one of these schemes within 30 days of you paying it
You will get all or part of your deposit back at the end of the tenancy if you have kept the rental property in good condition
The schemes offer alternative ways of resolving disputes which aim to be faster and cheaper than taking court action
This is one of the most important documents in the renting process and can be key in deciding how much of your deposit is returned at the end of your tenancy.
You should be extremely thorough and give it your full attention, while taking the necessary precautions to protect your interests.
How is the inventory prepared?
The inventory is a simple list detailing every item contained within the property and the condition each listed item is in, as well as the state of the property itself, on the day you move in.
This may be prepared by either the letting agent or the landlord. Either way, you should go round the property with the landlord or agent and agree the state of each item before signing anything.
If necessary, take photographic or video evidence to give you extra protection and avoid any unnecessary disagreement at a later stage.
You will be expected to sign the inventory and initial every page, along with the landlord or letting agent.
When will the inventory be checked again?
It is not uncommon for landlords and letting agents to schedule in regular three-monthly inventory checks at the property in order to assess any damage that may have occurred.
Find out if there are regular checks planned and when they will take place. It is most common, however, for a final inventory check to take place on the day you are scheduled to move out.
The tenancy agreement is a legally-binding contract between you and the landlord.
It specifies certain rights to both you and the landlord, such as your right to live in the home for the agreed term and your landlord's right to receive rent for letting the property.
It is therefore vital that you read, understand and agree with the contract.
Assured Shorthold Tenancies
ASTs are the most common form of tenancy agreement and set out the duties of both you and your landlord.
The most important aspect of the agreement is that the landlord has the right to repossess the property at the end of the agreed term.
Despite its name, the agreement does not have to be short and can continue as long as both parties are happy to do so.
There is no minimum term specified either, although you have the right to remain in the property for at least six months.
However, if the fixed term is for three or more years, a deed must be drawn up and a solicitor employed to do so.
The government recently amended its model tenancy agreement, which is the standard tenancy agreement used in England, to make consent for pets the default position. In practice, this means landlords using this contract cannot issue a blanket ban on tenants with pets.
There are specific requirements linked to an AST that include:
The tenant(s) must be an individual(s)
The property must be the main home of the occupant(s)
The property must be let as separate accommodation
The landlord is obliged to provide the tenant with two months' notice if they want to terminate the agreement, although this notice period has been increased to four months until 1 October, due to the Covid-19 pandemic
The agreement will most likely contain the following information:
Your name, your landlord's name and the address of the property which is being let
The date the tenancy will commence
The duration of the tenancy from the start to the agreed finish of the occupation
The amount of rent payable, how often it should be paid, when it should be paid and when it can be legally increased
What payments are expected, including Council Tax, utilities and service charges
What services your landlord will provide, such as maintenance of common areas
The notice period which you and your landlord need to give each other if the tenancy is to be terminated
Tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities
The responsibilities of both parties are likely to be detailed within your tenancy agreement, although some conditions may vary between properties and landlords.
Preparing to move in
When all the paperwork has been completed, it's time to move in. Check out our top tips for making the moving in process as easy as possible.
When you come to the end of your contract, you have two options to consider:
1. Extend the agreement
Remember, you need to provide two months' notice in writing to your landlord, stating either your intention to vacate the property or to ask permission to stay on beyond your initial agreement.
Landlords like low maintenance tenants, so providing your landlord is happy with you and the condition of the house or flat, you'll most likely be allowed to continue with your occupancy.
2. Move out
If you decide to move out, it's worth putting in a bit of work to get the property up to scratch to maximise the chances of getting your full deposit back.
As long as the condition of the property is the same as when you moved in (barring normal wear and tear), you should have no problem. So here's what you should do:
Give the property a thorough clean, including carpets, windows, walls and furniture
Clear away any rubbish
If it's your responsibility, tidy up the garden
Remove all your personal belongings
Be satisfied you're leaving the property as you found it
Return all the keys to the landlord
Final inventory check
You'll have the opportunity to run through the inventory checklist on the day of departure.
It's important that this job is done as you leave the property, to avoid you being accountable for any damage that occurs after you've left.
If there is any damage, you should agree with the landlord the cost of repairing or replacing such items.
If an agreement cannot be reached as to the damage of particular items, which items have been damaged, or repair costs, then you should make sure you take photographs.
Get your own repair cost estimates and write to the landlord with your findings and work towards a mutually agreeable solution. If you still cannot reach an agreement, you can refer the dispute to the tenancy deposit protection scheme.
If both you and the landlord are satisfied the property has been left in an acceptable state and you have made your final rental payment, there should be no problem getting your deposit back.
Arranging viewings safely
When arranging viewings, it’s sensible to follow a few safety principles.
It’s always a good idea to take someone with you to a viewing. After all, it’s handy to have a second opinion, right?
Let a friend or relative know where you are, what you’re doing and that you’ll give them a quick call when you’re done. You can use certain apps, such as WhatsApp, to share your location for extra peace of mind.
If you’re worried an advertiser isn’t who they say they are, share your concerns with us straight away via our Help Centre.
If you're looking at a room share, ask to meet everyone who lives or will be living at the property. This will help you get to know all of your potential flatmates and gives you a sense of their characters.
Remember if you feel at all uncomfortable, you can leave the viewing at any time. Always trust your instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, it’s time to go.