How to rent: a complete guide

If it’s time to move out and you don’t know how to rent, read on.

Items packed in boxes ready for renter to move

So, you’re thinking about renting for the first time.

For some, this could be a daunting prospect. You’ve probably heard stories of landlords from hell or mould-ridden rooms not fit for human habitation.

But renting isn’t always like that. Especially if you know what you’re looking for.

From property searching to the final stages, here’s what you need to know. 


I want to rent a property, where do I start?

The first thing to consider is your budget.

If you haven’t previously been paying for your accommodation add up your monthly outgoings and take that from your income.

What you’ve got left could give you a good indication on what you can afford to pay in rent.

Remember, you’ll also have to pay gas and electricity, council tax, water and internet costs on top of that. Unless it’s included in the rental price.

You can look at what you’ll realistically be able to afford each month and ask yourself some questions like, “Do I need a housemate?” Or, “Will I save on living costs if I move out of the town centre?”

Then think about how long you want to rent for. The minimum term tends to be six months. 

Once you’ve answered these questions you can start looking into different kinds of housing. For example: a flat, a room in shared accommodation, or a house.

Websites like Zoopla are a good place to start. Or you can contact a lettings agency and see what they have on offer.


I’ve found a place I want to rent. What now?

You’ve found your ideal place, so you can start making enquiries. 

Contact the lettings agency or landlord that’s advertising the property and book a viewing. 

It’s usually best to view before you rent. That way you’re not in for any nasty shocks when you move in.

Some good questions to ask the agent or landlord are: 

  • How much does it cost to rent?
  • What’s included in the rent?
  • What additional bills are there? How are they split if I’m sharing?
  • How much is the deposit?
  • Is there a deposit protection scheme?
  • How long is the contract?
  • If I want to leave the house, how much notice should I give?
  • Who do I contact in an emergency?
  • Has the landlord got insurance? 
  • Do I need tenant’s insurance?


What should I look for in an area?

This depends on your needs. Are you happy to commute? Or would you rather live closer to your place of work?

You might want a bustling nightlife or maybe you’re after a rural escape.

Security could be a big factor when choosing a place to live too.

And some areas have higher crime rates than others.

You can check crime rates in certain areas on the website.

After you’ve booked your viewing, it’s a good idea to look at the area around the property. 

You’ll get a feel for the neighbourhood, and be able to see if it’s close to everything you need.

For example, shops, public transport, transport routes or a local pub. 

You’ll also get a feel for what the community is like, and whether there might be any noisy neighbours or barking dogs nearby.


What should I look for in a rental property?

Before you put your deposit down you should check a few things first.

If anything in the property burns raw fuel – like coal or wood – there should be a carbon monoxide alarm.

A carbon monoxide alarm anyway isn’t a bad idea, though.

Can you spot signs of damp? Feel the walls and give them a good sniff. If the walls feel crunchy and you smell a damp, musty smell, ask the estate agent about potential damp.

Find out about the water and heating systems. Has the landlord got an adequate Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)? Does everything work as it should?

Ask to see a gas safety certificate.

It’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure all gas appliances are safe and checks need to be carried out every year - the gas safety certificate shows that this has been done. 

Is there somewhere you can switch the gas and water off in an emergency? Are all the electricals in good working order?

Look for any structural damage. If there’s anything bothering you, ask the landlord or estate agent to give you more information.

It’s worth asking when the recycling and refuse collection is too.


Why do I need a reference for renting?

Once you’ve agreed to rent the property, the landlord or agency will likely want to confirm that you are who you say you are.

They’ll also want to make sure you can pay your rent each month.

This is where referencing comes in.

They’ll likely check your:

  • Employer
  • Income
  • Previous addresses
  • Bank account details

You’ll need to provide a driving licence and passport for everyone who wants to live at the property. And proof that you lived at your previous address, like a utility or tax bill.


What if there’s a problem with my reference?

Sometimes there might be issues with referencing.

For example, if you’re a student and you don’t have regular income. Or if you’re renting for the first time.

One way around this is a guarantor.


Who can be a guarantor?

This is someone - such as a parent - who agrees to pay your rent if you can’t. 

A guarantor might also be responsible for the cost of any damage to the property at the end of the rental term too.


What if I don’t have a guarantor?

Help might be available if you don’t have a guarantor. 

One option is a landlord’s agreement. This is where you pay up to a year’s worth of rent upfront.

If you’re not able to do this, some local councils could help cover the cost of a deposit or rental advance.

They might even offer to act as a guarantor and cover rental costs if you can’t make a payment.

To qualify however you might need to prove that your situation is urgent or that you’d otherwise be homeless.

You can find out more on these schemes at Shelter


Why do I need to pay a deposit?

The controversial deposit. 

You’ve probably heard stories about disputes over these, but they can usually be avoided.

They’re used to cover the cost of damage to the property, but importantly, not general wear and tear. That’s your landlord’s responsibility.

When you pay your deposit your landlord must put it into a government-approved deposit protection scheme.

The scheme should ensure that your deposit is paid back to you when you move out, so long as you’ve:

  • Paid all your rent and bills
  • Not damaged the property
  • Met the necessary terms of the rental agreement

Keep an eye out for any other charges from your landlord too.

The Tenant Fees Act 2019 was introduced to protect tenants and prevent landlords from imposing any rental charges.

Here’s the list of some of the things you can be charged for:

  • Rent
  • A tenancy deposit - this should be no more than five weeks’ rent if the yearly rental cost is less than £50,000. Or six weeks’ rent if the yearly rental cost is above £50,000.
  • A holding deposit to reserve your house - should be a weeks’ rent and refundable.
  • A payment capped at £50 for any change to the rental contract. 
  • Ending your tenancy early.
  • Payments for utilities, internet, TV licencing and council tax.
  • A fee for late rent payment or for replacing lost keys or security devices. 

You can find more information on this at GOV.UK.

You shouldn’t be charged for things like house viewing or adding a guarantor. 


What is a tenancy agreement?

This is the contract between you and your landlord.

It sets out certain rights between you both. Like your right to live in the house and their right to take rent payments from you. 

It’s important that you have one of these, as it sets out your statutory rights.

Briefly, it should include details such as:

  • The length of your tenancy
  • The rent
  • Who pays bills like utilities
  • Notice periods and break conditions
  • The deposit

It ight also have a clause covering whether or not you can have pets in the property. 

You can find more information on tenancy agreements at GOV.UK.


Is there anything else I should look out for when renting?

There are a few credentials you should check before renting direct through a landlord or with a letting agency. 

Letting agency 

It’s a legal requirement for a letting agency to be part of an independent redress scheme. 

The scheme provides fair resolutions if there are any disagreements between the tenant and the agency.

There are two schemes available - the Property Ombudsman and the Property Redress Scheme

You should be able to find whether your letting agent is part of a scheme on the Property Ombudsman website. 

Private landlord

The National Residential Landlord’s Association (NRLA) has launched an accreditation scheme so landlords look after their tenants and properties.

Always check whether your potential landlord is a member. You can find out more about the scheme on the NRLA website

You can also check your landlord’s credentials on RentProfile, a scheme launched to prevent rental fraud.


Do I need home insurance if I’m renting?

Unlike car insurance, home insurance tends to be optional.

And if you’re renting, you don’t have to worry about getting cover for the building itself. That’s down to your landlord.

But it might be worth considering tenant's insurance.

Although your landlord should have insurance on the property it won’t cover your own belongings.

So, to ensure your things are protected from fire, flood, damage or theft might need your own policy.