Consumer advice information

Information is available from the Trading Standards Institute to help consumers. Please note the county council is not responsible for this information.

Look before you rent

In the guide

This guidance is for England

If you decide to rent a house, flat or a room in a shared house, you can use the services of a letting agent, who acts on behalf of property landlords. The letting agent's role is to find a suitable tenant for the client's property. They deal with, amongst other things, the tenancy agreement, rental payments, charges and any repairs to the property. Whilst the tenancy agreement is between you and the landlord, the letting agent must treat you fairly and honestly.

A landlord or letting agent must not require you, someone acting on your behalf or as your guarantor to make certain prohibited payments in connection with a tenancy.

Check to see if the letting agent is a member of a professional body that requires its members to comply with a code of practice.

Letting agents are legally required to belong to a letting agent redress scheme and property agents (those that undertake letting agency and property management work) that hold money on behalf of clients must belong to a client money protection scheme.

The law

Even though the tenancy agreement is between you and the landlord, the letting agent is providing you with a service and the Consumer Rights Act 2015 applies. This law sets out what you are entitled to expect from every contract that involves the supply of a service, such as a letting agent's service.

The key rights are:

  • the service must be carried out with reasonable care and skill. A letting agent must carry out the service to the same or similar standard to that which is considered acceptable for letting agents
  • information about a trader or a service is legally binding. Anything said or written down by a letting agent (or someone acting on their behalf) about the letting agency service forms part of the contract if you take the information into consideration before you agree the contract or if you make a decision about the service after the contract is made
  • reasonable price to be paid for a service. You are only required to pay a 'reasonable' price for the service that a letting agent provides unless the price (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract
  • the service must be carried out within a reasonable time. Sometimes the contract will fix the time that a letting agency service must be completed by. If the time has not been fixed then the service must be completed "within a reasonable time"

The key remedies are:

  • right to repeat performance. If you are dissatisfied with the letting agent's service because it has not been carried out with reasonable care and skill, or the letting agent failed to provide the service in line with information they gave you beforehand, then they must perform the service again. This should be carried out within a reasonable time, without significant inconvenience and at no cost to you
  • right to a price reduction. If a repeat performance of the letting agent's service fails to resolve the problem (perhaps it is impossible or it cannot be carried out within a reasonable time or without causing you significant inconvenience) then you are entitled to a price reduction, which can be as much as a full refund

See our guide 'Supply of services: your consumer rights' for more information.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 letting agents are under a duty to publicise fees that relate to letting agency or property management work. A list of the fees must be prominently displayed at each of the letting agent's business premises and on their website, if they have one. The list of fees must include:

  • a clear and understandable description of each fee
  • in the case of a fee that a tenant is liable to pay, an indication of whether the fee relates to each property or to each tenant under a tenancy within a property
  • the amount of each fee (including any taxes). If the fee cannot be worked out in advance, there should be a description of how the fee is calculated

A letting agent is under a duty to inform you that they are a member of a redress scheme and give the name of the scheme. If a property agent holds money on behalf of a client, they must belong to an approved client money protection scheme and give the name of the scheme. They must obtain a certificate to confirm membership of the scheme and display it prominently at each of their premises, publish it on their website, if they have one and provide a free copy to anyone on request.

The requirement to display details of relevant fees and membership of redress and client money protection schemes also extends to third party websites that advertise properties to let.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 also covers unfair terms in all consumer contracts (contracts between a trader and a consumer), including contracts for the provision of letting agency services, whether they are in writing or not. It also covers notices if they are 'consumer notices', which means they set out rights or obligations between you and a trader, or try to deny or restrict a trader's responsibility to you.

Traders must draft and present their contracts and notices to you in a way that is fair and open and respects your legitimate interests. Terms and notices should be transparent; the wording used should be plain (no legal jargon), capable of being understood and legible. They should not be designed to trick or trap you and any terms that are important (because they may put you at a disadvantage) must be prominent.

You are not legally bound by an unfair contract term or a consumer notice and you have the right to challenge it, in court if necessary.

The 'Unfair terms in consumer contracts and notices' guide gives more information.

If you are an 'assured tenant' (which, for most assured tenants, means that you pay rent to a private landlord who does not live in the same building, you moved in between 15 January 1989 and 27 February 1997, and you control who enters the property) the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 protect you against misleading or aggressive practices and give you rights to redress: the right to unwind a contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. These rights are in addition to the rights you already have under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The 'Misleading and aggressive practices: rights to redress' guide gives more information. 

Tenant fees

Under the Tenant Fees Act 2019, a landlord or a letting agent must not require you, or someone acting on your behalf or as your guarantor, to make certain prohibited payments in connection with a tenancy. In addition, they must not require you to make a prohibited payment to a third party in connection with a tenancy, enter into a contract for the provision of a service or a contract of insurance, or make a loan that relates to the tenancy.

The only payments connected with a tenancy that are permitted are:

  • rent
  • a refundable tenancy deposit (capped at five weeks' rent where the total annual rent is less than £50,000 or six weeks' rent where the total annual rent is £50,000 or above)
  • refundable holding deposit of no more than one week's rent
  • a payment in the event of your default, such as the loss of a key or other security device that gives access to the rented property and failure to pay your rent on time
  • payments to change the tenancy (capped at £50 or the reasonable costs of the landlord or letting agent, if they are higher)
  • payments on termination of a tenancy
  • payments relating to council tax, utilities, TV licence and communications services (telephone, internet, cable TV and satellite TV)  

For more information, visit the GOV.UK website.

Key points to consider when deciding to rent

Before you register with a letting agent you should obtain clear information about the charges you will be required to pay if you go ahead (look for the list of fees), the details of the tenancy agreements they operate and the typical rental costs. Find out what the letting agent is responsible for and the circumstances when you may need to contact the landlord directly.

You should use a letting agent that is a member of a professional body (details below) that requires its members to comply with a code of practice.

Check to see which Government-approved redress scheme (details below) the letting agent has joined. These schemes deal with complaints about their members and should provide you with a cheaper and easier way to seek compensation.

Always shop around and do not sign a tenancy agreement until you have read, understood and are satisfied with the terms and conditions.

The letting agent will carry out checks before agreeing to accept you as a tenant. These may include credit history checks, your employment circumstances and proof of identity.

If you make a payment to a landlord to 'hold' the property whilst your references are checked and the paperwork is drawn up, the landlord is not required to protect this payment for you. It is advisable not to pay a holding deposit if you are unsure whether or not you are going to rent that particular property as you may not get it back if you change your mind. If the landlord decides not to rent to you, you are entitled to have the holding deposit returned. Remember that you are entitled to receive clear and accurate information about holding deposits.

If you decide to proceed with a rental the landlord or letting agent must, by law, place the deposit you pay in a tenancy deposit scheme (TDP) within 30 days of you making the payment. You must be told which scheme has been used, how to get your deposit back at the end of the tenancy and what the process is if there is a dispute about any deductions from the deposit. If you comply with your tenancy agreement, such as making the required payments and not causing damage to the property, you are assured of receiving your deposit back. Your deposit must be returned to you within 10 days of the end of the tenancy. If you leave the property before the end of the tenancy period, you may be responsible for the outstanding rent for the remainder of that period, together with the outstanding rent of those who rented with you. If you are in this position contact the Citizens Advice consumer service for advice.

Landlords must provide you with a gas safety certificate, an electrical safety inspection report and an energy performance certificate.

When choosing rented furnished accommodation, check the furnishings and appliances carefully. Make sure that they comply with the laws that are in place to protect you from defective items that can cause injury or death. Often letting agents as well as landlords are liable if goods supplied with the tenancy are not of the standard required by law.

Upholstered furniture must generally have covers that resist ignition from a match flame test, upholstery that resists ignition from a smouldering cigarette test, appropriate filling materials and the required labelling.

Electrical goods and gas appliances must be safe with appropriate instructions where necessary. All goods supplied must be safe and these may include oil heaters, gas catalytic heaters, glazing, lawnmowers, ironing boards, chairs and step ladders.

Please see the 'Product safety in rented accommodation for tenants' guide for more information.

I have a complaint about a letting agent: what can I do?

There are a number of routes that you can take to resolve a complaint against a letting agent.

All letting agents are legally required to join a Government-approved letting agent redress scheme. These schemes provide a free and impartial dispute resolution service for landlords and tenants to use. You should complain to the letting agent in the first instance but if your complaint is not resolved within eight weeks, you can use the scheme that the letting agent is a member of.

The current schemes are operated by The Property Ombudsman Limited and the Property Redress Scheme. Further information on the redress schemes can be found on the GOV.UK website.

If a letting agent is not a member of one of the above schemes, you can report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service so that the matter can be referred for investigation. Enforcement authorities can impose financial penalties of up to £5,000 on letting agents that are not scheme members.

If a landlord or letting agent asks you to pay a prohibited fee, you are entitled to refuse. If you have paid such a fee, you are entitled to recover it. A landlord or letting agent is liable for a financial penalty of up to £5,000 for an initial breach of the legislation; however, if they are in breach again, the financial penalty could be as much as £30,000 or they could be prosecuted. If you want to report a landlord or letting agent for charging a prohibited fee, contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 for referral to trading standards.

Check to see if the letting agent is a member of a professional body that requires members to comply with a code of practice. If you have a complaint against one of their members, the professional body can investigate the matter.

The main professional bodies are:

If you have a complaint against a landlord or a letting agent, such as about the condition of the property you are renting, you can contact the private sector housing service of your local council for advice and assistance.

If you received poor service from the letting agent and you wish to make a claim for money, you are entitled to take your case to court. There are different routes - referred to as 'tracks' - in the County Court. If your claim is for £10,000 or less and the letting agent is based in England or Wales, it can be dealt with as a small claim using the court's 'small claims track'. Taking this route can be a relatively simple and informal way of seeking a remedy. If the value of your claim is above the small claims limit of £10,000 your claim may be allocated to the fast track or multi track. In this case, you should seek the advice of a solicitor as you will probably need representation in court. The 'Thinking of suing in court?'  guide gives more information.

Useful contact

88 Old Street
Tel: 0808 800 4444 (urgent helpline)

Further reading

See Private renting on the GOV.UK website for more information.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: September 2019

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.

For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.

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The county council is not responsible for this information.