What to expect when renting: A complete guide to renting a flat or house in the UK

Renting a flat or house for the first time is a daunting prospect. Not only do you now have bills to pay, there are also do’s and don'ts of renting to get your head around, as well as the multitude of rules and regulations to follow. Whatever your questions about renting, from the deposit to pets and preparation, here is your complete guide to renting a flat or house for the first time. All of the top tips and information that you need, to kick things off smoothly when becoming a first-time tenant.

This renting guide for tenants will include information such as:

  • What to know before renting
  • Documentation required to rent legally
  • About the deposit options for your tenancy
  • How to rent with a pet
  • About potential rent increases and your tenancy rights
  • Top tips for renting

What to do before moving in – a preparation checklist to rent a home

When you are preparing to rent a house or a flat there are a number of things that you need to know before you move in. As the gap between wages and house prices continues to deepen, often renting can become the best available option for a growing number of adults in the UK.

According to an article about renting properties on The Guardian website, “the proportion of households living in the private rented sector has doubled over the last decade” with nearly one in four households in Britain expected “to be renting privately by the end of 2021”.

Although there is no hefty mortgage deposit or stamp duty to worry about when you are renting, there are a number of points that you will want to be aware of before beginning the renting process.


How to rent a home

  1. Documents you will need: You will be asked to show a number of identification documents when you apply to rent a home, so it is a good idea to get the following documentation together:

    • Photo ID, as evidence of your immigration status, such as your passport or birth certificate and driver's licence (if your passport is unavailable), alternatively you may need to show residence documentation. This is called the right to rent check.
    • Proof of earnings, such as payslips from recent months.
    • A credit check
    • References from a previous landlord or your employer. In some cases you may also need to provide the details of someone who can act as a guarantor in case you run into any difficulty in paying the rent.
  2. Furnished or unfurnished: If you opt for an unfurnished property don't forget that you will need to have plenty of money put aside to buy all of your home furnishings when you move in – costs which can quickly stack up for a first-time renter.

  3. The tenancy agreement: To begin a tenancy you will need to agree to rent the property for a specific length of time (a fixed term), which can be between six months and seven years. Give this duration some thought because if you change your mind it is going to cost you financially.

    Before signing your tenancy agreement make sure that you take your time to read it in full. It should include details of the notice period required, length of the tenancy and your responsibilities as a tenant.

  4. Administration charges for new tenants have been abolished by the government, whilst the sum of the deposit that landlords ask for has been capped, so don't agree to pay extra administration charges.

    Read the full details of what landlords and letting agents can and can't charge you here at: Gov.uk – Tenant Fees Act.

  5. Deposit: When you find a property that you want to rent you will need to pay a refundable holding deposit to secure the tenancy. The deposit is not legally allowed to be more than one week's rent. You will also be required to pay a refundable security deposit which cannot be more than five weeks' rent.

    Check that your deposit will be protected under one of the government's approved schemes which will retain or insure your deposit for you. Find out more about government tenancy deposit protection schemes at: Gov.uk – Tenancy deposit protection.

  6. Monthly costs: You won't have a hefty mortgage to pay but you will have to pay for additional utilities and services, such as your broadband and phone line. Council tax and utility bills may be included in the rental fee so check what is covered within your rent before you decide whether you can afford the property.

    If utilities and council tax are not already included in your rent you will have to pay for them each month. Note the meter readings when you move in so that you do not pay for the previous tenant's usage. Most people who rent spend no more than 35% of their income on their monthly rent, so aim to stick within the same boundary.

  7. Vetting a landlord: Look out for landlords or letting agents who belong to accreditation schemes and have a good reputation. Any letting agent should also be a member of a client money protection scheme if you pay them rather than your landlord. Your landlord should provide you with their full contact details in case of emergency.

    Ask who you should contact for any maintenance problems so that you can check that your potential landlord is not subletting the property. Additionally, your landlord should tell you whether the property is mortgaged, this is useful to know because if they fail to pay the mortgage, your home will be in jeopardy.

  8. Inventory: If there is any damage to the property when you end your tenancy you will be liable for the costs and could lose your deposit. Therefore, before you move in to your new flat or house it is important to agree an inventory, sometimes known as a check in report, to document the condition of the property before you become a tenant.

    Don't take this lightly. Document all you see using photos and even video to serve as evidence in the future, if it is ever needed. If the inventory provided by your landlord is not comprehensive, go beyond and ensure that you record everything. This is also the time to mention any fixtures or fittings that you are not happy with.

What happens to your deposit after moving in to your rented property?

Your deposit covers your landlord in the event that the property is damaged or the rent is left unpaid during your tenancy. However, once you move in to your rented house or flat, the government has implemented safeguards to ensure that your deposit remains protected after you hand it over to your landlord or letting agent.

Check that your deposit will be placed into a government approved scheme for your protection. It is your landlord's legal duty to do make sure that this happens. Your landlord or letting agent must place your deposit into a government approved scheme within 30 days of payment and provide you with documentation to verify that this has been done.

There are only three government deposit protection scheme providers:

  • The Deposit Protection Service (DPS)
  • The Tenancy Deposit Scheme
  • My Deposits

Your landlord must share full information about which scheme your deposit is in and how you can get your money back at the end of the tenancy.

When you leave the property, you can reclaim your deposit. However, this is subject to the condition of the property when you leave. If there is damage to the property or you are behind with the rent, you may not get your deposit back.

The difference between insurance and custodial deposit protection schemes

The government approved scheme may be an insurance or custodial scheme.

Insurance schemes

Insurance schemes allow your landlord or letting agent to retain the deposit for the length of your tenancy. If you do not receive your deposit when you end the tenancy or have an amount deducted that you do not agree with, the scheme will intervene on your behalf and acquire the funds for you. Although you may have to involve the courts if your landlord does not co-operate.

Custodial schemes

Under a custodial scheme, your landlord or letting agent place the deposit into the scheme for the period of your tenancy. When you end your tenancy, the scheme will return your deposit to you, providing your landlord agrees. If your landlord does not agree to return the full deposit, the scheme will implement a resolution process for you.

Deposit replacement insurance

As an alternative your landlord or letting agent may accept but cannot insist upon deposit replacement insurance instead of a cash deposit. Deposit replacement insurance involves paying a non-refundable fee to an insurance company.

Why choose deposit replacement insurance?

The deposit replacement insurance will be a non-refundable amount that you pay to the insurance company at the beginning of your tenancy or in monthly instalments. The option to pay in instalments means that you can spread the cost over time, hence the appeal. You will still be responsible for damages or unpaid rent at the end of the tenancy, as you would for any deposit payment options.

In the event that there is any damage or unpaid rent, your landlord can claim the money back through the insurance company. The insurance company will in turn, require you to repay any sums paid out to the landlord. If any sums are unpaid, you could be taken to court.

Deposit replacement insurance is an option for any tenant if they choose. However, your landlord or letting agent cannot insist that you take it out.

How to rent with a pet: If you are already a pet owner or are planning to get a pet when renting, you will be wondering how you rent with a pet? To rent with a pet in the UK you will need to find a pet-friendly property so bear in mind that it may take you longer to find a property than a tenant without a pet.

Look out for a pets allowed note on the letting details. You will find that many landlords are nervous about renting to pet owners. When you do find a pet-friendly landlord, you may have to pay an extra deposit as added security or the landlord may only rent to specific types or breeds of animals.

Try to allay the landlord's fears by describing how well your pet will adjust to the property and share vet records to demonstrate how carefully you look after them, when you first mention that you have a pet. You could also get a reference from your vet or invite your potential landlord to see your pet within your existing home.

If you wish, you could offer to pay for the property to deep cleaned at the end of the tenancy to put the landlord's mind at rest about the appeal of the property for future tenants.
If your landlord does agree to let you rent the property with a pet, add the conditions agreed to your tenancy agreement.

Rent increases and what you can do as a tenant

Your landlord can increase the rent, yet there are strict legal guidelines for what they can and can't do. Firstly, as the sitting tenant, they must seek your agreement in the first instance. Be careful with this one because if you have paid the rent at the new charge, it will count as agreement.

Secondly, most rentals are fixed-term. Rent charges cannot be increased on a fixed-term contract unless there is a clause that says that they can in your contract, called a rent review. Once a year your landlord could enact a Section 13 notice to increase your rent which you have a right to challenge. However, the increase cannot begin until the end of your fixed term and you must receive at least one month's notice.

Thirdly, the rent charge must be set out in the tenancy agreement, so check any contracts carefully.

Learn more about rent increases when you are renting at: Gov.uk – Rent Increases.

Top 7 tips for renting

How do you ensure that your first experience of renting goes smoothly?

  1. Always ensure that your rent is paid on time. Rent overdue by 14 days can legally incur a default fee. Keep up to date with bills to avoid damaging your credit rating which will affect your ability to rent in future.

  2. Check that your landlord adheres to their legal responsibilities to ensure that you are safe in your home. When you begin renting your landlord has a legal duty to provide you with:

    • an annual gas safety certificate
    • An energy performance certificate
    • Working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms
    • Documentation to prove five yearly electrical inspections have been carried out
    • Documentation to evidence that your deposit is held in a government approved scheme.
    • A copy of the government's guide to renting for tenants
  3. Bear in mind that the property is leased to you, you do not own it, so you cannot make any changes to the property without your landlord's permission.

    Over time you may want to do some decorating or DIY, however you cannot do anything to your home without first seeking permission from your landlord, whether it is repairs or new paint on the walls.

    Yet, this does not mean that you should ignore any repairs or maintenance issues.

    Find out where things like the stopcock, meter and fuse box are in case of emergency, as well as how to operate the boiler. If there is anything that needs fixing, let your landlord know so that property remains in good condition.

    If not, you could lose your deposit, because small problems around the home can end up becoming serious issues.

  4. When you finally get your own space, it is tempting to crank the music up and let loose at last. Don't. You will of course, upset the neighbours, which could be reason enough to evict you from your new home.

    From dusk till dawn follow the general rules of etiquette, such as not hoovering early in the morning or late at night, keeping music and loud noises down and avoiding stamping or heavy footfall if you have neighbours below.

  5. When you first look for a property to rent, survey the property carefully to avoid damp, plumbing problems and disrepair. If you encounter a property with: mould, peeling wallpaper, cracks or facilities (such as; toilets, taps or central heating) that do not work properly, avoid them like the plague! These are all major signs of disrepair

  6. Talk to the existing tenants about the landlord, the property, the neighbours and the local area. Check for essentials such as good internet connection, friendly neighbours and plenty of local transport options. It is also useful to visit the property at different times of the day to check for practical issues such as noise levels and parking that could prove a daily annoyance.

  7. Most tenancies progress without any problems, however if you do run into any issues whilst you are renting you can contact an independent letting agent redress scheme if you are dealing with a letting agent, or your local authority if your issue is with your landlord.

Read more about letting agent redress schemes at Shelter.org

Renting can be a brilliant way to finance living in your own home. By following these do’s and don'ts of renting you can ensure that your experience as a tenant is a positive one.

Sources and Useful Links

Government Resource Pages

Gov.uk – Tenant Fees Act

Gov.uk – Deposit Protection

Gov.uk – Private Renting

Letting agent redress schemes

Shelter – Private Renting England: Letting agent redress schemes


The Guardian – Renting in 2021

Last updated by MyJobQuote on 27th August 2019.
Ready to get a price for your home improvement project?
Get started

Over 1 million homeowners and over 50,000 tradespeople
use MyJobQuote nationwide each year