Renting through a private landlord

Q: I want to rent a flat, but I’m not sure whether to go through an agent – what are the pros and cons of approaching a private landlord?

A: Renting a property is not something to take lightly. Unlike buying a property, where you have a solicitor acting for you and protecting your interests, when you’re renting a property, you’re very much on your own, unless you’re using a property search or relocation company.

You can either rent a property through an estate agent or directly through a private landlord using various property websites. Going through an estate agent tends to be the most expensive way of renting a property for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the landlord will be charged a letting fee from the estate agent, this is usually 10% of the annual rent plus VAT so the landlord will often charge a higher rent to compensate for the fee they are being charged. However, if you rent a property directly with no estate agent involved, you can usually secure it for approximately 10% less. Another cost of going through an estate agent is the administration fee they charge you for the cost of drawing up the tenancy agreement – this can vary anywhere from £120 to £450. If you rent directly to a landlord, it’s unlikely you would be charged anywhere near that.

So, while it can be much cheaper renting through a landlord direct, there are risks that come with this; going through a reputable estate agency should ensure that your interests are protected to a certain degree. For example, the letting agent should be a member of a redress scheme, so if you do have any problems, you have a formal channel to pursue. Additionally, they should ensure that the correct documents are in place and that the property complies with regulations such as smoke alarms and so on. They also have a duty of care – one Notting Hill agent was recently struck off a redress scheme and publicly shamed for adding terms to a tenancy agreement which weren’t included within the tenant’s offer. Unless you’re very familiar with tenancy law, minor wording with tenancy agreements can alter the meaning quite significantly.

If you rent from a private landlord, you need to assess whether they’re professional and, to do so, you really need a basic level of tenancy law knowledge. If you are an experienced tenant and know about safeguarding deposits and so on, then go for it. If not, I would be wary or I would suggest you start doing your homework before you do. There are some superb private landlords out there so it’s just a case of knowing how to spot them.

If you have a question you’d like Jo to answer please email or tweet her @joeccles.