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Finding a home to rent

This advice applies to Scotland

You’II need to consider a number of things when you’re looking for a home to rent. For example can you rent from a council or housing association or from a private landlord.  

It can be difficult to get the money needed to rent a property. If you’re on a low income you might be able to get help with renting costs.

If you're looking for private rented accommodation, you might want to check if any landlords in your area are part of the national accreditation scheme, Landlord Accreditation Scotland. This is a voluntary scheme that landlords and letting agents join to show that they provide good quality accommodation. Find out which landlords and letting agents are part of the scheme

Help for homeless people  

If you're homeless or worried about losing your home, you can get help from your local council. Read more about what to do if you’re homeless or at risk of homelessness

Local authority housing  

Getting onto the housing register or waiting list  

Local authorities don't have to have a housing register, but in practice, most will keep a register or waiting list of people who have applied to rent accommodation. You usually have to fill in an application form to apply for local authority housing.   

When you apply the local authority will check whether you qualify. Many people from abroad, for example, most asylum seekers and people who have spent significant time living away from the UK - even if they are UK citizens - do not qualify for housing.     

You can find information on eligibility for local authority housing for people who've come from abroad and their families, on the Housing Rights website.

You have a right to request a review if the local authority decides you don't qualify to join its waiting list. 

If you need help with your housing application, get advice, for example, from a Citizens Advice Bureau. 

Deciding who should be offered accommodation  

Local authorities have to publish information explaining how they make decisions about offering accommodation and the system they use to give priority to applicants on their waiting lists. How priorities are decided might vary from one local authority to another, but factors often taken into account will be: 

  • poor health made worse by housing conditions  
  • lack of, or shared use of some facility, for example a bathroom or toilet  
  • the number of bedrooms for the size of your family  
  • length of time you have lived in the area  
  • age (where access to sheltered or supported accommodation is under consideration)  
  • length of time on the waiting list  
  • separation from your family (including a family which is overseas) because of inadequate accommodation  
  • homelessness.   

A local authority is not allowed to treat you unfairly when applying for housing.   

Completing an application to go on the local authority waiting list may be difficult. You may want to get help from an experienced adviser, for example, from a Citizens Advice Bureau.   

If you’re accepted on a local authority waiting list, you might have to wait a long time before you’re offered accommodation. Your local authority should be able to give you a rough idea of how long you will have to wait. You should make sure that you keep the local authority informed of any changes likely to affect your application, for example, changes in the numbers and/or ages of your children. You might also have to renew your application regularly.    

Read more about how councils make decisions about housing on the Shelter Scotland website.  

Choice based lettings  

Some local authorities will advertise empty homes in their area so that people on their waiting list can then 'bid' for the property they're interested in. This is called 'Choice based lettings'. If your local authority uses this type of system for letting accommodation, they should give you information on how, when and where you can bid for accommodation.   

When you’re made an offer, it might be housing owned by the local authority or by a housing association.   

You’ll usually only be able to turn the offer down if it is unsuitable for your needs, for example, if you’re disabled and there is no lift. It is always best to get advice before refusing an offer. There is usually a limit to the number of offers a local authority will make.  

Housing associations  

Housing associations are 'not-for-profit' organisations that provide housing for rent. There are many housing associations providing a range of types of housing. Some provide housing for certain types of people, for example, single parents or disabled people. Others provide general housing in the same way as a local authority.     

Only some housing associations accept direct applications. Most require you to be nominated by the local authority, which means that you will need to apply to go on the local authority waiting list and ask to be nominated. Where a housing association does not insist on this, it might require that you’re nominated by a local agency, for example, an advice agency or the social work department. If a housing association does accept direct applications, the criteria each has for selecting tenants will vary.     

In some areas the housing associations and local authority have joint waiting lists. This means you can register with the local authority, and housing associations, on the same form.   

Read more about housing associations on the Shelter Scotland website

If you’re looking for accommodation from a housing association or other social landlord, you may want to get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at  a Citizens Advice Bureau.   

Letting agencies  

A letting agency may be able to help you find housing owned by a private landlord. If you register with an agency you will be asked the type of property you’re looking for and how much rent you’re willing to pay. You will normally be asked to give details of your job and income, and may also be asked to provide references from your employer, bank, and present or previous landlord.     

An agency must tell you what they know about a property and what they should reasonably be expected to know. They should also tell you what they become aware of when marketing a property, which could affect your decision to rent a property.   

Read more about finding private rented housing on the Shelter Scotland website

Fees and charges  

It is against the law in Scotland for a letting agency to ask for payment for:    

  • putting your name on its list or taking your details
  • providing a list of properties available for renting
  • any costs relating to finding accommodation, setting up or renewing a tenancy.  

 A holding deposit can be requested but it must be repaid to the tenant.   

If you’ve been offered a tenancy and you’re asked to pay a premium or administration fee, you should tell the landlord or agency that you know that demanding either is illegal.   

You should also report what's happened to the department that deals with landlord registration at your local council - find your local council on mygov.scot. However, if you do this, it could mean that the landlord will refuse to rent you the property.   

Adverts for rental properties on websites and in other media must include information about charges you will have to pay, for example the holding deposit.   

You can read more about this on the Advertising Standards Authority's website. If you think that an advert hasn't met their guidelines, you can report this to them.    

A letting agency offers housing  

If you’re offered housing by a letting agency, you should inspect the property before accepting it and ensure you have full details about:    

  • the terms of the tenancy agreement
  • the amount of rent you will have to pay, and whether it includes any services, fuel and water charges
  • how much rent you will have to pay in advance
  • whether you'll have to pay a premium and a tenancy deposit and, if so, how much
  • whether the property has a mortgage. You can lose your home if the property is repossessed due to the landlord's failure to keep up mortgage payments
  • the name and address of the landlord
  • whether the landlord is registered. All private landlords in Scotland should be registered with the local authority.  

Find out more about different types of tenancies.    

Regulation of letting agents in Scotland  

Letting agents in Scotland are required to register in the Scottish Government's Register of Letting Agents. They must also comply with a Letting Agent Code of Practice.

You should check to see if your letting agent is registered. If you don't think a letting agent is complying with the standards in the Code of Practice you can make a complaint. Find out more about letting agent regulation in Scotland.    

Deposits and premiums  

A landlord or letting agent acting on your behalf might ask you to pay a deposit or premium for your accommodation.  

Holding deposits  

In Scotland, a landlord can ask you for a holding deposit but this must be refunded at the start of your tenancy or if you decide not to take the tenancy, otherwise it becomes an illegal premium

The holding deposit must not be more than two months' rent.

Tenancy deposits  

A tenancy deposit is money paid to a landlord (or a letting agent acting on their behalf) as security against, for example, rent arrears, damage to property or removal of furniture.   

 In Scotland, landlords are required to pay tenancy deposits into a Scottish Government approved tenancy deposit scheme. Read more about problems with deposits.

Premiums  

In Scotland, it is illegal for a landlord or letting agent to ask for a payment for granting or renewing a tenancy. These illegal charges are often called 'premiums'.    

If you want to challenge a premium that your landlord is charging you should get advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. 

Rent deposit guarantee schemes  

Some local authorities, housing associations and charities offer loans to pay a deposit of a month’s rent on a private flat. Usually, the money is lent in advance and is then repaid by the tenant. Other schemes guarantee that any outstanding rent will be paid to the landlord if required, but no money is exchanged. Most schemes guarantee to pay for any damage to the accommodation at the end of the tenancy.

Check with your council if there is a scheme in your area. Find your local council on mygov.scot.

You might also be able to get help with paying a deposit from Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs). These are payments from your local council to help with your housing costs. You need to be getting the housing costs element of Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to be able to get a DHP. Read more about DHPs.    

Help with renting costs  

If you need help to pay your rent on any housing that you find, you might be able to apply for Universal Credit. You might also be entitled to other benefits if you’re unemployed or on a low income. 

Find out more about Universal Credit and other help you might be able to get with paying your rent

If you get Housing Benefit or Universal Credit

Some landlords and letting agents might say they won’t let you rent from them if you get Housing Benefit or housing costs payments through Universal Credit.

If you’re turned down for a property because of any benefits you get, try speaking to the landlord or letting agent. You should ask them to:

  • do an affordability check if they haven’t already
  • accept extra references – you could ask more than one of your previous landlords to give you a reference that says your rent was always paid on time
  • let you use a guarantor – this is someone who agrees to pay the rent if you don’t.

Check if you can claim it’s discrimination

If a landlord or letting agent has their own rule of not renting to people who get benefits, this could be discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010. You might see this written on property adverts as 'no DSS', 'no benefits' or 'no Universal Credit'.

Write to your landlord or letting agent asking them to change their mind. You could still be turned down if you can’t afford the property, so make sure you can afford it before you write.

If the landlord or letting agent doesn’t change their mind or they don’t reply within 7 days, talk to an adviser.

Energy Performance Certificates  

A landlord has to provide an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for all new lets of self-contained accommodation. Self-contained accommodation does not cover a:

  • room in someone's home
  • shared house let with more than one tenancy agreement
  • hall of residence
  • hostel
  • residential care home.  

The purpose of the EPC is to show you the energy performance of the property you're thinking about renting. The landlord must provide the EPC free of charge, at the earliest opportunity. This could be when they first give written information about the property, or when a viewing is arranged, but it should be provided before you enter into the rental agreement. An advert to let a property must show the EPC rating.  

An EPC must be produced by an accredited assessor and it is valid for ten years. It can be reused as many times as is necessary within that ten-year period but if a new EPC is produced, this must be used instead of the older version.  

An EPC gives details of the energy efficiency of the property. It is accompanied by a recommendation report that shows how energy efficiency can be improved. However, the landlord does not have to carry out any of the improvements recommended in the report.   

Where there is a Green Deal plan on a property for which payments are still to be made, information about this must be included on the EPC or its recommendations report in Scotland. The new tenant must acknowledge the Green Deal and the repayments in writing.     

Find out more about the Green Deal and problems it might have caused.

If a landlord does not provide an EPC, Trading Standards can issue a notice with a penalty charge of £200 per dwelling.   

Find out more about reporting a problem to Trading Standards.

Read more about EPCs.   

Discrimination when letting property  

People who are letting property must not discriminate against you because of your disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. They are probably acting unlawfully if, because of one of these reasons, they:    

  • refuse to let a property to you or offer you a property for rent on worse terms than other people
  • treat you differently on a housing waiting list
  • treat you differently from other tenants in the way you’re allowed to use benefits or facilities such as a laundry or a garden
  • evict or harass you.  

There are some exceptions to the rules about discrimination in housing, for example, if your landlord lives in the same property as you. However, even if the landlord lives in the same property, they mustn't discriminate against someone because of their race.     

If you think you’re being discriminated against when you’re renting property, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.   

Read more about discrimination in housing.  

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