Letting agents

An agent is someone who acts for someone else. Some landlords set up limited companies or trade under company names. This can be confusing but unless the landlord really is acting for someone else (eg another landlord) he or she will not count as an agent. This is important because landlords and agents have different legal responsibilities.

Top Tip

It is possible to rent directly from landlords without going through a letting agent. Renting direct can often be cheaper as many landlords charge much lower set up fees or even no fees at all.

Some agents only deal with lettings. This can include advertising the property, taking up references, carrying out credit checks on prospective tenants, and drawing up a tenancy agreement. Once the property has been let the agent will no longer be involved. The landlord will deal with any problems which occur during the tenancy.

Some agents offer a more extensive service and manage properties for landlords. This can include collecting rents, dealing with repair problems, and processing deposit refunds. The extent to which the agent can act on the landlord’s behalf will depend on the nature of the contract between them. This can sometimes cause problems if the landlord is reluctant to spend money on the property and the agent cannot act without his or her permission.

Most agents who operate in the student housing sector in Sheffield usually manage as well as let properties but if you’re not sure, ask before you sign the agreement or hand over any money.

Top Tip

If you pay rent to an agent, you have the right to know your landlord’s name and address. If this information is not contained in your tenancy agreement, write to the agent. Keep a copy of your letter. You should receive a reply within 21 days. Failure to comply is a criminal offence.

Are there are any rules on what agents can charge for?

Agents are not allowed to charge for registering prospective tenants’ details or for supplying lists of available properties. They are allowed to ask for holding deposits and to charge for other services such as:

  • Taking up references and carrying out credit checks
  • Preparing new or renewal tenancy agreements and making changes to tenancy agreements
  • Sending out letters to tenants, such as rent reminder letters.

Top Tip

There are no rules limiting the amount an agent can charge in fees. Some agents are much more expensive than others so shop around for the best deal before you commit to a particular agent, or look for a property which you can rent directly from the landlord.

How do I find out how much the fees will be?

Agents are required to publicise details of their fees on their websites (if they have one) and in their offices. The information must clearly set out the cost of each fee (including VAT) and what each fee covers. If you are thinking about renting a property from an agent, always make sure you have checked this information before you hand over any money. This is important because fees are sometimes not refundable.

Property websites (like Rightmove) are exempt from the requirement to publicise fees. Local councils helping tenants to find private rented properties are also exempt.

If you have a complaint about a letting agent and the agent has failed to satisfactorily resolve your complaint, you can take the matter further by complaining to the relevant redress scheme and/or professional body.

Redress schemes

Most letting agents must now by law be registered with a government-approved redress scheme. 

There are currently three approved schemes:

Ask your letting agent which scheme they belong to or check their website. Some letting agents display details on stickers in their windows. Alternatively, search the redress scheme websites.

Professional bodies and NALS

There are a number of professional organisations to which letting agents can belong. These include the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the National Association of Estates Agents. Many agents are also members of the National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS).

Membership of a professional organisation or NALS usually means the agent has agreed to comply with defined service standards and/or a code of practice so you can complain if the agent breaches the rules. Membership is voluntary but can include agents who are not required to belong to a redress scheme (because they only let properties they own).

Page updated 21st November 2016