The stigma of renting is fading as the sector becomes more professional and less reliant on the buy-to-let brigade," says Andrew Palmer of property consultant DTZ.
People are getting married and starting families much later in life, so the average first-time buyer age is creeping up — from 27 in the Eighties to 36 now.
Plus there are more single households, economic migrants, divorcees and students (groups that tend to rent rather than buy), which is boosting the number of renters. Housing associations now operate in this market, too — and attempt to keep rental costs down.
Almost 50 per cent of private renters are aged under 34, and about 55 per cent of the total 3.1 million renters are either singles or childless couples. Families and middle-aged downsizers are getting in on the rental act, too.
In cities such as Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Amsterdam, up to 60 per cent of households rent privately — a far higher proportion than in London, where the figure is less than 20 per cent.
Booming rentals have reinvigorated the buy-to-let market. There are now 463 buy-to-let mortgages available, compared with 312 six months ago and 299 in May 2010 (remarkably, at the peak of the market there were more than 3,600 deals).
Rental returns (yields) now average 5.47 per cent across London, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, reaching nearly eight per cent in hotspots such as Forest Hill.
Other areas where tenant demand is surging include Kensal Rise, Angel, Chiswick, Vauxhall, Greenwich, London Bridge and Shepherd's Bush (all popular with young professionals who want quick transport links).
Competition for lets has led to tenants trying to secure longer rental periods, up to three years, a bonus for landlords seeking to "avoid voids". Properties that are untenanted for even several weeks can wipe out a landlord's profit.
But rising rents are forcing more couples into flat-shares with other people. "They are losing the intimacy of a love nest because sharing has become a financial necessity," according to Jonathan Moore of website easyroommate.co.uk. The average cost of a room available to a couple in London is £622 a month, or 38 per cent cheaper than renting the whole property.
Figures from estate agent Winkworth show that in general rents are lower in south London, outer north London and parts of east London.
While the cost of a one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill ranges from £1,200 to £2,600 a month, in Crystal Palace, it is £625 to £825; in Tottenham or Wembley, £650 to £800; in Walthamstow, £600 to £700; in Stratford, £700 to £800.
Three-bedroom houses in Islington range from £2,000 to £4,500 a month; in Kensington and Chelsea, the price range is £3,600 to £8,500 a month.
Wealthy investors searching for an unusual central London portfolio may be tempted by a terrace of seven modern new-build town houses at Crabtree Place, Fitzrovia, being sold by developer Artesian and on the market for £20.96 million. Call Jackson-Stops & Staff on 020 7664 6644 for details.