Questions to ask when renting a home

Rob Mason
11 min read
Mar 1, 2021
Updated: Feb 8, 2021

Find out how to choose a rental property, including what to look for during a viewing, and what questions to ask the letting agent:

Searching for a place to live can be an exhausting undertaking, but going into property viewings armed with the right questions is essential. You can’t always count on a letting agent to proactively offer all the information you need about your potential new home, so it’s important to have a bit of your own research under your belt. It’s also prudent to know about any warning signs to look out for, and what level of detail you should be able to expect in response to important questions, so you can make an informed decision.

Home viewing tips 

At each rental property viewing, take your time to check the property to make sure there are no problems. If there are any issues with the following, either make it a condition of the contract that they are fixed, or seriously reconsider your desire to rent that property.

Check the exterior of the property

Are the gutters or any pipes leaking? Are the walls or window frames cracked? Is there a garden or outdoor area you'll need to maintain?

Check the fittings 

 Do the taps work, both for hot and cold water? Is the water pressure high enough? Do all the light switches work? Are there enough electric sockets? 

Be wary of mould or pests 

 Are there any signs of pests, including mouse droppings, cracks or holes in the walls? When was the property last treated for pests? Are there signs of mould,particularly in damp areas such as the kitchen or bathroom? Letting agents should not be showing properties with damp or mould problems - and we know this happens more than it should. 

Inspect the appliances 

 Confirm which white goods come with the property, including fridge, washing machine and dishwasher. But also make sure the appliances are clean and in good working order – and ask if the landlord will replace them if not. 

Think about security 

Do windows and doors open easily and close securely? Are there adequate locks on the doors? Do you have adequate escape routes in case of a fire? 

Look for smoke alarms and CO2 detectors 

 Are smoke alarms fitted? And are they connected to the mains, or will you have to replace the batteries? If the property uses gas, is there a CO2 detector installed? All properties must have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their properties. Currently, regulation in England around CO alarms is vague and potentially confusing: CO alarms are only required in rooms with 'solid fuel appliances'(eg a coal fire or wood burning stove). But because carbon monoxide can also come from gas or oil devices - including boilers - this provision should be tightened to protect tenants. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is a blanket rule to have them installed in all properties. We think this should apply to England as well. 

Ask for certification 

 At the viewing, ask to view a copy of the property's certificates. These include the energy performance certificate (EPC) and gas and electrical safety certificates. If the letting agent doesn't have them to hand at the viewing, they should be able to follow up with an email providing them, and provide them before the tenancy starts. The better the rating the EPC gives the property, the lower your utility bills are likely to be. This could save you hundreds of pounds a year. See our guide to energy performance certificates for more information. 

How is the rental property classified? 

If you're moving into shared accommodation, check whether the property should have a ‘house in multiple occupation’ (HMO) licence from the local council. This usually applies to property that is three or more stories and occupied by five or more people who are not in the same family. If it is a licensed HMO, the property should have more safeguards for the tenants, such as fire doors.

Rental property checklist 

Before your tenancy starts, make sure you have: 

  1. A copy of the government’s How to Rent guide (in England) 
  2. A gas safety certificate 
  3. Details of the deposit protection scheme 
  4. The Energy Performance Certificate 
  5. A copy of the tenancy agreement It's also good to have: 
  6. Correct contact details for the landlord or letting agent, including a telephone number in case of an emergency 
  7. Details of who is responsible for bills such as electricity, gas, water and council tax 
  8. An agreed inventory/ list of fixtures and fittings that come with the accommodation (or check-in report) 
  9. Confirmation that smoke alarms are provided and working 
  10. Details of how to report maintenance issues Confirmation that Carbon monoxide detectors are provided and working (if appliances use solid fuel) 
  11. A record of any electrical inspections Details of a code of practice for whoever is managing the property 

How to choose a letting agent 

Currently, it’s much more common for renters to choose the property, not the letting agent. But when Which? went undercover to investigate letting agents (see Which? letting agents investigation), they found a huge variance in the quality of service they provide. Where possible, do your research on letting agents, and find a good one before searching for a property. A good letting agent will: 

  1. Have a copy of the EPC at the viewing, and being able to explain what the rating means 
  2. Be able to advise on the rules surrounding gas and electrical safety checks
  3. Know that a gas safety certificate must be provided at the start of the tenancy 
  4. Know where smoke and CO alarms are and have a record of when they were last tested 
  5. Show any property in its entirety and represent it fairly in advertisements P
  6. Provide detailed information of property management arrangements at viewings, including details of the landlord if it is the landlord, rather than the agent, who will be managing the property. 
  7. Be informative and happy to answer important questions about the property. 

By contrast, there are some clear signs you should avoid an agent. Here are some key clues to properties that are not been rented properly: any with damp and mould, not having smoke alarms, coupled with not being able to see an EPC and/or tenancy agreement when requested and especially an agent that can’t answer basic questions on deposit protection. 

Key questions to ask when viewing a rental property

It's important to know from the start how much it will cost you to live in the property, and what you can expect from the landlord/letting agent while you're living there. Here are some important questions to ask: 

  1. Who will be managing the property and what happens if anything goes wrong? 
  2. You should expect letting agents to be clear on who you would contact to fix any problems, and if it's the landlord, they should be able to give you some details about how the landlord works. 
  3. Do you take a holding deposit? And if so, how does it work? Make sure the letting agent can tell you exactly how much the holding deposit will be, and under what circumstances you would have it refunded. 
  4. Is any other agency advertising this property? Often, there will be more than one agency advertising the property - this is particularly relevant if the letting agent you're dealing with asks for a holding deposit, because if another agency is also advertising the property, paying a holding deposit might not mean the property is off the market. 
  5. Can I see gas and electricity safety documents? These won't necessarily be available at the viewing, but an agent should be able to tell you the rules around gas and electrical safety (that you will have a gas safety certificate no later than the day you move in, and that it's good practice for electrical safety checks to be done every five years) 
  6. Can I see an EPC? A good letting agent will include an EPC on the property advertisement, and take a copy to the viewing. But even if they don't have one to hand during the viewing, they should be able to tell you what the property's rating is and what that might mean for your energy bills. By law, you have to have one no later than move in day. 
  7.  When was the boiler last serviced? Your gas safety certificate should include boiler servicing details. The letting agent might not know exactly when the boiler was last serviced during the viewing, but they should be able to advise correctly on the rules around servicing (have a service done once a year) and give you an idea of how old the boiler is.
  8. Are smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms fitted and checked? Letting agents should know the rules on smoke alarms - in England, this is to have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their properties and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance (eg a coal fire, wood burning stove). Ideally, carbon monoxide alarms should be fitted regardless - as is the case in Scotland. 
  9.  What is the duration of the contract? Usually there will be room to negotiate on this, depending on the landlord's and your preferences. 
  10. Would I be able to see a contract before paying anything? A good letting agent should be able to send you a draft standard contract to look over before you commit. 
  11.  What insurance does the landlord have to cover the property? 
  12. What do I need to insure myself? 

Tenancy fees

A new government bill to ban letting fees across England was introduced in May 2018, banning some fees and capping deposits. Double check with your letting agent that you won't be billed for any letting fees. 


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