1. How to find a property to rent
Where you should start searching for a potential property to rent depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for a full property to rent then you can search by area online. On homesandproperty.co.uk/rent you can search from more than 110,000 properties to rent in London from thousands of local lettings agents, set alerts and view properties in street view or map view.
Alternatively, visit local estate agents. Tell them what your specific criteria is, for example, whether you're looking for a furnished or unfurnished property, or if you specifically want a washing machine or a bath, and they can help with property suggestions.
If you are looking for a room in a shared property then you can search websites such as Spareroom.co.uk, Mondaytofriday.com and London Private Rentals. But remember to be careful when you’re searching for shared property, especially online.
"Use common sense,” explains Matt Hutchinson, director of flat and house share website SpareRoom.co.uk. “If the price is too good to be true, it usually is. Never sign or pay for anything before you have viewed the property. Warning lights should be flashing if you receive inconsistent emails where the English degenerates from the quality in the advert and initial email, or if you are asked to pay anything via Western Union or other money transfer service."
When deciding which area to rent in, take into account where you will be travelling to the most. It could be the case that the average price of renting in the area where you work is high, but living further away and paying higher transport costs could be even more expensive. Look at tube maps for inspiration and tell an estate agent where you will be making journeys to the most and see if they have any alternative suggestions for well-suited locations.
2. Estate agents or private landlords?
“There is no requirement for anyone who rents a property to have any kind of qualification in property or be licensed,” warns Patrick Bullick, chairman of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA).
If you’re renting through an estate agent, check if they are registered with NAEA or The Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA). These organisations insist their members perform with good practices and give residents a body to complain to if anything goes wrong.
Private landlords are not regulated but there are benefits for choosing to rent from them. It can often be cheaper renting without an agent as you won’t be paying additional fees. Agents also normally have minimum rental terms of six or 12 months, whereas private landlords can be more flexible.
3. Essential questions to ask estate agents and landlords
Asking the right questions when you are viewing properties can help you to know what to expect when you move in. Angharad Gabriel, a regional director for Savills Lettings, suggests asking who manages the property. This means you’ll find out who you’ll be dealing with during your stay. Will you be just another tenant for an estate agent to look after or will you have a dedicated landlord?
Another important question to ask is whether there are any major works planned in the proximity of the property. In this ever changing city, the last thing you want is to move in and discover you’ll be living near a building site.
And make sure you’re not fooled into thinking a property will look the same when you move in. Ask what belongs to the current tenant and find out if you’ll need to buy any furniture or appliances.
Work out what your budget is and stick to it. You will probably have to commit to a number of monthly outgoings. The biggest initial cost is a deposit, which could be about six weeks worth of rent plus four weeks rent in advance.
Estate agents often charge administration fees for their part in the renting process. These could be one-off payments for things, such as signing a contract, checking your bank references or renewal charges for signing up for an extended rental period.
“Administration fees are often unconnected to anything,” explains Alex Weeks, a former lettings agent. “Beware of random fees and make sure you ask exactly what you will be paying in total.”
Find out if any bills are included in your rent and, if not, budget for utility bills, council tax, TV licence and internet access. It's worth asking the current running costs of the property and check the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for the property to see how energy efficient it is.
5. Tenancy deposit protection
It is a legal requirement that your deposit should be paid into one of the three government approved Tenancy Deposit Protection Schemes. If, at the end of your tenancy, the landlord proposes deductions from your deposit you can dispute any that you think are unfair by raising a deposit dispute via the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (tds.gb.com), which is a free service.
6. Tenancy agreements
Don’t sign a tenancy agreement without reading it. Make sure you know what kind of agreement you are signing as this can make a difference to your liability. If you have a shared tenancy, it is likely that you will be responsible for the actions of your co-tenants for the terms of the tenancy. If this is the case, consider how happy you are to sign in to such an agreement with the people you are going to share with.
Discuss any issues you have regarding the contract with the landlord or estate agent before you sign. And if you’ve made any additional agreements ensure they are added.
Take note of the length of notice period you are required to give when leaving, the length of advanced notice the landlord has to give you and what your rights are when leaving the property. If you leave the tenancy during the fixed term, find out what your ongoing liability will be; you don’t want to be responsible for the person taking over your room.
7. Inventory of household contents
Always ensure you are provided with a recent comprehensive inventory listing all the fixtures and fittings within the property describing their condition and the current state of the house. If you don’t agree with the inventory make sure you dispute it at the beginning and your changes are in writing.
Take pictures of the whole property. You will be thankful that you took the time if, at the end of your tenancy, your landlord starts making unfair reductions from your deposit. Dated photographs are an easy way to settle any disputes quickly when you leave the property.
8. Safety, security and household insurance
Check that all door and window locks are in good working order and get the landlord to fix any broken ones as soon as possible. Also ensure that if you have a burglar alarm, all tenants know how to use it and that it is working correctly.
It is also a good idea to get contents insurance. This will cover the costs of thefts from your home, replacement keys and locks, and locksmith’s fees if you lose or damage your keys.
“Make sure the insurance you buy has a high enough level of cover for the total value of all your belongings,” explains Hannah Jones, home insurance expert at MoneySupermarket.com.
“Underinsuring your items may mean that you don’t receive the total value of a claim, should you need to make one. If you are unsure of the value of your items it is worth considering how much each item might cost to replace if you bought it new today. It may also be better to slightly overestimate the value to ensure you’re not left out of pocket."
“Reading the small print is crucial to understanding whether a policy is the right one for you. Make sure, however, that you are also covered for taking high worth items out the home,“ she says.
9. Landlord and tenant’s responsibilities
All landlords have certain obligations. Depending on the tenancy agreement, these responsibilities may slightly vary but the basic rules are always the same. The responsibilities include not disturbing tenants or accessing the property unannounced without prior consent, carrying out many of the repairs to the property and following correct procedures if a tenant wants to leave.
Check with your landlord if they have rental emergency cover. This service can cover call outs of skilled tradesmen, parts for faulty equipment in your home and pest control.
Tenants also have responsibilities and if you don’t uphold them it could be grounds for eviction. These can include giving your landlord access when required, keeping up to date with rent and bills, taking care of the property, being responsible for your visitors behaviour and not causing a nuisance through antisocial behaviour.
For a full list of landlord and tenant’s responsibilities, visit the rental advice section at england.shelter.org.uk.
10. How to settle rental disputes
To prevent disputes you should make sure you are familiar with your contract and your legal rights and speak to your landlord in the first instance about any problems. Always keep written records of communication with the landlord and estate agents, and follow up any phone calls with emails.
There are a number of organisations that can help give advice if you have any problems with renting, including Citizens Advice (citizensadvice.org.uk) and Shelter (shelter.org.uk).