(This post was originally written by Dr. Reema Rasul on 10 May 2017. It has been shared with her permission, for which I am very thankful).
I spent last few months searching for a place to rent in London. It is an unavoidably painful process but I might be able to tell you a few points which you will otherwise learn with experience. Please note that this guide is mostly for people letting after or during their job and not for short lettings during PLAB exam or course.
There are a few websites you must use when searching for a home:
1. Rightmove. This is amazing and most agents will advertise here. It has a variety of filters and you can even draw a search area or search by tubes and rails that run in a particular area.
2. Zoopla. All these sites mostly have the same adverts so you may not find something new here. Zoopla has more details of the properties but I find its interface a bit user unfriendly.
3. Open Rent. There are no agency fees if you rent through this.
4. Gumtree. I think renting through this site involves a hassle and lacks trust. I would not use it for long term renting.
Before you Begin
Think about the following before you begin the search for properties:
• Which area would you want to move in?
• How long would you want the tenancy for? This can be anywhere between 6 months to 7 years.
• What is the affordable range for you? 30-35% of your take home salary would probably be most people’s choice.
• Find yourself a rent guarantee Most landlords will ask for a UK based guarantor which can be anyone from your friends to relatives who would be willing to take the responsibility of your rent if you fail to pay.
• Prepare your documents.
Generally, these will include bank statements/credit history, immigration status, evidence of employment and references from your previous landlord and your workplace.
There are mainly two ways to rent:
1. Direct from the landlord.
2. Through an agency.
Although the second option is a bit expensive and requires more rigorous checks, it is still wise to opt for that considering its safety. Renting directly from landlords can be tricky but if you do want to go for it then choose a landlord who belongs to an accreditation scheme. Local authorities in a particular area can advise about accreditation schemes in operation there. Some examples of national schemes are National Landlords Association and the Residential Landlords Association. In London, it is London Rental Standard.
Be aware of scams, before you sign the tenancy and pay directly to a landlord, do your homework on their property and themselves!
Agencies also differ in their fees and term of letting. So, find out what you will be charged for their services. By law, every agency should display a fair and clear breakdown of their fees on their websites.
It is very important to ask if they offer client money protection or not. You will be giving them your banking details so make sure there is a protection scheme. This should be clearly discussed with you by law. The agency should be registered with a professional body like ARLA, NAS, RICS or UKLA. Some agencies will display a SAFEagent sign. All of this means that they have a money protection scheme and will safeguard your funds if they are misused. It is also preferable that the agent who you are going to be dealing with be a member of an independent complaint scheme.
Viewing and Putting Forward an Offer
Please always make time to view the property. Images can be very misleading and it is extremely important to see your possible neighborhood. Inspect the furniture, white goods, paint, boiler, Wi-Fi provider in that area, ventilation and door/window locks.
Search for the crime rate and security in the area from the official website.
What Questions Should You Ask?
What will be the minimum tenancy?
This is usually 1 year but you can add a break clause of any period. For example, if you add a break clause of 6 months to a tenancy agreement for 1 year you can end the contract at 6 moths with a notice served a month earlier.
Will my deposit be protected and how much do I pay?
Usually, 6 weeks’ rent is taken as a deposit and it must be protected by a government scheme.
- Ask for any rules/terms about pets, smoking, children and guests. Usually, carpeted property owners are reluctant to let pets in, some would allow after taking a pet deposit of two weeks.
- Bills are usually tenant’s responsibility but check anyways. Sometimes the landlord would pay for heating and water.
- Ask for the approximate running cost of the property. This is the rent in addition to bills and council tax. The agents would usually know this from previous tenant’s experience.
- If you are a single occupant in a property where more people can be accommodated, the council tax will be discounted a great deal. Also for key workers, there is a significant discount. NHS staff is a key worker.
- Ask who would maintain the property if repairs are needed.
- Ask who the landlord is and the property is mortgaged. If it is, then there remains a risk that you have to vacate the property if the mortgage is not paid by the landlord. Also ask if the landlord is the sole owner, or is it a shared property or a subletting?
Signing the Agreement
➢ Make sure you read the agreement carefully. Everything written there and signed by you will be legal. There is a model tenancy agreement published by the government, you can ask that be used.
➢ Agree on an inventory and keep a copy with you. I would prefer you take photos of the items and save them with you.
➢ Check meter readings to make sure you don’t pay any outstanding bills.
➢ Be clear about the contact details of the property manager and the landlord in case of any repairs or questions.
➢ Smoke alarms must be installed by the landlord. Ask to include in the agreement that if the building becomes unfit to live in (fire etc.), you will be excused from the rent.
➢ The landlord must also provide you with a gas safety certificate and electrical goods inspection.
➢ The Energy Performance Certificate must also be provided by the landlord to you.
➢ When you make an offer you can put forward your demands like any repairs, repaint or additional furnishing in the offer, The landlords then decide based on your profile and demands, whether to accept your offer or not. But once they accept it they must legally comply with all demands you stated in the offer. If they fail to do so you can withdraw the offer.
➢ Some agencies will ask for a holding deposit of 200-400 GBP. This is a good will gesture to show the landlord that you are really interested in the property. If for some reason you are not granted the offer your money will be refunded. You may lose the money partially or completely if you withdraw from the offer once it has been agreed upon or you cannot provide an adequate reference.
➢ Once you have moved into the property, the landlord must provide 24-hour notice if they are visiting for any reason. They cannot just walk in. They must also insure the building to protect from damages by fire or other calamities.
Lastly, please don’t forget to visit the government’s website for renting.