Rental paperwork debunked




Found the perfect home to rent? Now get to grips with the plethora of paperwork about to come your way.

We might have arrived in the digital age, but tenants of new properties still find themselves up to their knees in paperwork. Here’s what to expect.

(One thing. We’ve used the term ‘lettings agent’ but it could equally say ‘landlord’ depending on which party is handling your rental.)

The initial application form

First things first. This form will ask for some basic personal details, contacts for referees (more on this later) and your authorisation for credit checks to be carried out against your name.  

The holding deposit

The lettings agent may now ask you for a holding deposit of typically around one week’s rent. This will effectively pay for the property to be taken off the market while checks get underway.

If you don’t sign the tenancy agreement after this point, the lettings agent is within its rights to withhold some, or even all, of the holding deposit depending on the costs it has incurred. But if it’s the agent that walks away, the whole amount should be refunded to you.

If you proceed with the rental, the holding deposit will be deducted from your first month’s rent.

Proof of who you are and where you live

You’ll need to present some original photo ID such as a passport, birth certificate or driving licence. To prove your address, you’ll need to supply a utility bill, bank statement or letter from your employer. All documents must be less than three months old.

Your Right to Rent

Since February 2016, the law requires all landlords (or lettings agents on their behalf) to check tenants have a legal right to live and rent in the UK.

Every tenant will need to provide an original document that proves their immigration status, such as a UK passport or a biometric residence permit with unlimited leave. The agent will then take copies.

The tenancy agreement

The most common type of tenancy agreement in England and Wales is the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), which usually carries a term of between six and 12 months. Wording of ASTs can vary, but pay particular attention to the following:

  • The deposit required
  • Amount of monthly rent
  • Date the rent is due
  • Break clauses (the earliest point you can give notice)
  • Notice period to end the tenancy
  • Landlord and tenant responsibilities – most notably bills such as council tax and water
  • Whether you are the sole tenant (if you’re renting with others) and the implications if you are

Once you’ve finalised the agreement, sign and print it out. Mark the key parts with a highlighter pen for ease of future reference.

Top tip! Cost of rent expressed in weeks? To get an accurate monthly cost, multiply this figure by 52, then divide by 12

Credit checks

You’ve probably already given a form to the lettings agent authorising a credit check. If not, now’s the time you’ll be asked for it.

Your credit check will be carried out using an independent agency such as Experian or Equifax. It’s like a CV of how you’ve handled your past finances and will flag up any late payments and outstanding or unpaid debts.

If you fail the credit check, you may need to get yourself a guarantor.

And, as the role of a guarantor is to pay the rent in the event you can’t, they will need to be credit checked too.


Your landlord will seek references from your current employer (and potentially, a previous landlord) as reassurance you are a trustworthy individual who can afford the rent, will pay on time and look after the property.


On Move Day – or before – the lettings agent will draw up an inventory.

This is a long list of everything that comes with the property, ranging from the boiler and the bath, to beds and rugs. The condition of all items and fixtures and fittings will also be noted in the inventory.

You’ll need to sign the inventory to say you agree, so check it carefully. Make sure that all defects are listed and take your own photos. This will help resolve any disputes should they arise at the end of the tenancy.


Most lettings agents now require a deposit of between four and six weeks’ rent. This is paid alongside your first rental payment, so it can feel like a major hit on your bank account.

By law, the lettings agent must hold your deposit in a government-backed Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS). This is an independent third party which offers protection should any disputes arise at the end of the tenancy.

You’ll be given the paperwork for the relevant TDS which will clearly state the amount of cash being held. At the of the tenancy – if there’s no dispute – your deposit should be returned to you within 10 days.

Standing order

You’ll need to instruct your bank or building society to set up a standing order for the cost of your monthly rent.

Be sure your payment will land by the date stated in the tenancy agreement, factoring in weekends and Bank Holidays. For example, if the rent is due on the 5th of the month, you may want to set up the standing order for the 2nd to be on the safe side. Check with your bank.

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