Finding a flat in London can be challenging! These helpful tips for renting in London will give you a starting ground on what to look out for.
When I moved to London, I had never rented! I literary moved overseas and out of home at the same time. I had no idea what to expect when trying to find a place, I was living in a hostel while working full time, with backpackers coming and going for the first 4 months.
This handy moving checklist covers everything from changing over utilities and packing to your first day essential tasks in your new home.
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Know the Types of Tenancy/ Renting Arrangements
If it’s your first time renting in England then it’s important to understand the type of tenancy you have. It will influence the rights you have as a tenant.
Here are some of the types of tenancies you could come across:
- assured shorthold tenancy (AST).
- excluded tenancy (lodging).
- assured tenancy.
- non-assured tenancy.
- regulated tenancy.
- company let.
Whilst the list seems long you will generally be renting an assured shorthold tenancy (AST). I tend to find that room rental to be either be lodging so living with your landlord or the share accommodation share an AST agreement.
Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs)
The most common rules for an AST is that:
- the property you rent is private.
- it is your main acoomodation.
- the landlord doesn’t live with you (that would be lodging).
- and the contract started after 1989.
Excluded Tenancies or Licences (Lodging)
This is for when you live with your landlord so when you share rooms like kitchen, bathroom or living room this is deemed as lodging. With this type of tenancy, you will have less protection for things like eviction.
Read more about tenancy types here.
Credit Score Can Influence How Much Upfront Rent
A common problem for new residents is that you have a minimal credit score or work history which could impact how much rent you need to pay upfront. The same applies if you have a bad credit score history.
Some landlords will request that you provide 3 to 6 months rent in advance to minimise the risk of renting the property to you. This can come as a big shock if you’ve not factored it in your move costs. Overall this is to ensure the landlord has security and you won’t miss payments.
It can be negotiated but it is up to the landlord whether they accept the agreement. Please note that this is not a deposit, it is rent upfront.
Here are my tips on increasing your credit score as a new resident.
Rent in London Negotiable
One of the cons of living in London is that the rent is high and sometimes can be up to 50% of your salary. It’s good to research whether the rental market is in a decline or in high demand to see what your negotiation tactics will be but it’s negotiable. This includes:
- the amount you wish to pay – a good place to start is finding similar flats in the area to get an idea of what they are going for. If you find a similar flat goes for £100 less then see if they would take it like other places are going for x price.
- Adding furniture (beds, wardrobes etc)
- Break clauses
When you submit your offer the landlord will respond whether they accept or reject the offer. Rooms to rent are not usually negotiable but houses and flats are.
Weekly Vs Monthly Pricing
Properties will either have weekly or monthly rental prices. When the price says weekly be aware that there are not 4 weeks in a month.
To figure out what the monthly rent would be, use the weekly cost, times it by 52 weeks and then divide by 12.
£500 x 52 = £26,000 yearly rent
£26,000 / 12 = £2,166.66 monthly rent
Where to Find Rental Properties
Starting your hunt for a property will depend on what you are looking for. Here are some recommendations for your search:
Zoopla or Rightmove are the best places to start looking for a home. You will be able to set a budget and property preferences with the search settings.
Private landlords listing their rental properties on OpenRent. The properties will be managed by the landlord rather than an agency. You might not find the property you are looking for on OpenRent as there isn’t as much stock on the website.
Lets with Pets is a fantastic starting point as you’ll need to find a pet-friendly rental property.
Sign-up to a few agencies in the area you are searching in some of the common ones are Hamptons, Foxtons, Knight Frank and Savills.
To save on cost flatshare may be your most affordable option.
- SpareRoom is one of the go-to websites for finding a flat. It’s free to use but you will have more success with the paid version.
- Check Facebook Groups, Aussies in London, Kiwis in London and many others have weekly flat posts.
- MoveFlat is another flatshare option.
- Gumtree, I tend to stay away from this one as it is easier to get scammed.
- Zoopla and Rightmove will also have rooms listed by agents. You won’t get to choose your roommates if you use an agent to get a flat.
The Underground Isn’t Everything
Yes, you don’t need to live near the underground. As much as it’s a great transport option, areas by bus or national rail are just as great. In South East London, most of the area doesn’t have an underground due to the clay soil but we still get around fine!
There are plenty of great places like Crystal Palace, Alexandar Palace, areas of Greenwich and many others that don’t have underground links that are wonderful to live in.
How to Fend Off the Competition
The rental market in London moves quickly and find a property you like, it’s good to be ready!
Speak to the agent or landlord to see what kind of information they will need beforehand and that way you are prepared with your paperwork. Plus it will be similar documentation for most properties so it’s effort well spent. Consider taking the documentation to you on the viewing.
Holding deposits are another way you can secure a place. They are now capped at one week’s rent and they are not required to protect a holding deposit in a scheme like the other deposit.
Once your agreement is signed this either is returned to you, counted towards your deposit or your initial rent.
Be Careful of Scams
Scams are unfortunately are common when renting in London. You need to keep your wits about you and if something feels off then take a step back. It’s better to investigate than hand over some money to find out someone has run away with it!
I find there are more room renting scams especially on the likes of free listing sites such as Gumtree but they can pop up anywhere!
A couple of tell-tale points it’s a scam:
- Poorly worded and spelling mistakes in the description of the property.
- The same phone number, email address or contact name appear in different adverts.
- The pricing is unusual for the area.
- When they contact you they ask for a deposit before viewing the property.
- The photos look like they may have been copied from the internet.
- No viewings are allowed.
Overall follow the main principle never give anyone money without seeing the property, especially if they ask you to wire it through Western Union!
Make a List of Trustworthy Estate Agents
When you start your search it’s a good idea to make a list of agents you would be happy to rent through. Some things to consider checking:
- Website: Is it professional, branded well? If it’s not scammy then that’s a great start.
- Reviews: Are there lots of complaints? Do the complaints seem realistic and not someone complaining about something relatively minor.
- Are they a part of the PTO: Estate agents can sign up to be a part of different associations like The Property Ombudsman (TPO) or Property Mark which is to show their commitment to professional standards. Most agents will have the schemes they are a part of in the footer of their website or you can search on The Property Ombudsman website to see if they are a member.
- Do they have physical offices? There are some online agents such as Purple Bricks but most agents will have a physical office. Check on Google Maps to see if it is properly branded as this can also come up with scams.
Understand the Deposits and Fees You Need to Pay
In 2019, England brought in new acts to change the fees and deposits renters need to pay for AST tenancy agreement. This is why it’s important to know the type of tenancy you are entering as it will affect the fees you are paying as I mentioned at the start of the article.
If you do find someone charges you incorrectly then they can be reported.
Here are the PERMITTED CHARGES in accordance with the Tenant Fee Act 2019:
- First month’s rent in advance.
- Tenancy Deposit 5 or 6 weeks depending upon the rental amount.
- Holding Deposit maximum one week’s rent.
- Early termination when requested by the tenant a charge not exceeding the financial loss experienced by the landlord.
- Utilities, communication services, TV licence and council tax.
- Default charge for late payment of rent limited to interest charged at 3% above the Bank of England base rate, when rent is more than 14 days late.
- Default charge for replacement of lost key or security device equivalent to cost incurred.
- Changing the tenancy documents after the commencement of the tenancy – this is around £50 with VAT.
The same rules DO NOT apply to a Non-Housing Act Tenancy which is formed when one of the following criteria is in place:
- The annual rent exceeds £100,000 (if only!).
- The property is occupied by an entity (Company let) rather than an individual.
- The property is not used as a main or primary home.
- There is a Resident Landlord.
Understand the Difference Between Being a Leaseholder and Not
There is no difference if you are moving into a room rather than a house if your name is on the lease, you’ll have the same rights.
All tenants are ‘jointly and severally liable’ which means that if one of the other tenants does not pay their portion of the rent then you can be pursued for it by the landlord.
When Viewing Check for Mould, Water Pressure etc
Flats in London can come with problems, this can be for various reasons like the age of the property. I currently live in an 1890 building that was converted into flats and due to the age of the building, I don’t have double glazing on the windows. It gets pretty cold here in the winter due to this.
However, the building is heritage and requires like for like windows. It’s not something we can afford to replace but things like this are something you should keep in mind when viewing properties.
Some of the common issues I come across is:
Mould – common in lower ground and ground flats but also in bathroom areas. Recently our bathroom had mould, no matter how much we cleaned it, it kept coming back. Added some new bathroom paint and it’s been great ever since. Something like this might be on your repair list.
Water Pressure – Ok, so a bit of an odd one! Although surprisingly it is quite common for the pressure to be very weak.
In my first apartment, this was a serious issue. The water pressure failed in one of our apartment bathrooms for over a month without being fixed, I ended up spending a lot of time at the gym to shower. Good for my waistline but overall a frustrating experience.
Check What Break Clauses There Are
A break clause is a provision that can be included in the contract which will allow either party to end the lease early. Unforeseen circumstances could come up and it’s good to understand your break clause in case you need to end the lease in the future.
You can request a specific break clause when negotiating your lease or there will be a standard clause in your contract which will or won’t allow you to break the lease.
Check the specific wording of the clause to see the conditions. For example, a 12-month long contract can have a break clause at the six-month point, allowing the renter or the landlord to end the AST after six months.
It may be possible to change tenants within a tenancy and leave with a Section 47/48 Notice but the landlord is not obligated to allow the change and there will be a cost associated.
As a Renter You Pay Council Tax
One of the bills that surprised me when I moved to London was that I had to pay council tax. The cost will change borough to borough and whether you have single occupancy, student, living with multiple people, property type, etc.
To work out how much council tax will be here.
Wondering how much it may cost you to live in London? Here’s my guide to how much it costs me to live in London.
Conduct a Thorough Inventory
When you move in you should receive an inventory for the room, apartment or house from the landlord or agent. Check that everything is correct and make sure any amendment is documented with photos.
If the landlord or agent doesn’t have an inventory, then create your own by taking photos and documenting the condition and assets. Ideally, the landlord should sign this inventory.
I was caught out on this, I didn’t realise you needed an inventory and when I left my first flat the landlord decided to charge me £50 for a couch I apparently damaged. It was a white couch! who puts a white item in a share house?! and I lived with 4 other people which could have been anyone. Before I left I made sure I had it dry cleaned so was pretty annoyed about losing my £50. In fairness, it wasn’t a lot of money and was a lot of effort to fight to get the money back.
Ask for Everything in Writing
Any conversation you have with the landlord or agent should be followed up or stated in writing, then you can go back on this at a later stage if you need to.
This goes for anything like landlord or agency wanting to inspect the house to handing in your notice. Any changes in agreements like a change of rent should be included in a contract variation.
Find Out Where Your Deposit Will Be Held
Putting down a deposit can be anything from a few hundred to thousand pounds (of course price range dependent) and you should understand where your deposit is being held.
Your deposit should be protected if you rent a flat under Assured Shorthold Tenancy contract (AST) and kept in a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme (TDP). After the tenancy is finished the landlord has 10 days to return the deposit with deductions agreed by both parties.
The money will stay in the deposit protection scheme until the dispute is resolved.
Once the tenancy is established landlord or letting agent need to give you documentation on where your deposit be held as well.
There is now a Zero Deposit Guarantee which means you no longer have to pay a deposit upfront, instead, these deposit guarantees will request 1 weeks’ worth of rent and a yearly admin fee. You will not get your money back using this method so if your rent is £1,000 a month and therefore, you’d lose around £200 + the admin fee. If there are any damages during the tenancy you will still be liable for these.
Understand How Rent Increases Work
We all get annoyed when the train tickets go up every year by RPI, you should expect the same for your rent. You’ll be at your bank account thinking there is another percentage of my salary gone. In most cases, your agent or landlord will increase the rent each year and is subjected to the market, RPI or both.
Guides and Website to Read Before Renting
How to rent guide is put together by the government and it’s a great checklist of everything you should know when renting in England.
This is a really useful document for anyone struggling with understanding the new acts and fees you can be charged.
Citizens Advice – provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities. They will be able to help you understand your contract, issues with break clauses, the condition of the property and much more.
Shelter – housing and homelessness charity that offers advice and support.
Happy future renting!
Hi, I'm Kat, an Australian that moved to London in 2013 to start a new adventure. What a roller-coaster that was! I love helping others move to the UK and people explore the world! I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.
Saturday 14th of November 2020
Hey, Thanks Kat for sharing your experience.