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23/07/2009Renting accommodation in London
Explorer Publishing offers a helpful guide to renting in the capital, with tips on how to find a home and advice on the legalities.
Residential rents in London are high and tend to be on a slightly upward trend. (They are less susceptible to the more dramatic rises of house prices, however.) How much you have available to spend per month has major implications for which areas and which type of accommodation you will be able to consider. The quality of individual property also plays a part in how much rent is asked. There’s rarely much negotiation involved in rent prices as landlords have little difficulty finding tenants.
Finding a home
When looking for accommodation, some choose to use a letting agent who deals professionally with the renting out of properties. Most high-street estate agents that sell properties also act as letting agents. Letting agents deal mostly with entire flats and houses, so simply looking in their windows or trawling their websites will give you a feel for the kind of property on the rental market in any particular area.
The advantages of using them are that they can take some of the hassle out of the search for accommodation and that their procedures for setting up tenancies are standardised and hopefully efficient.
The downside is that you will probably pay slightly more in rent than you would if you rented directly from a landlord. Some letting agents charge tenants if they successfully find them somewhere or have some kind of paid registration scheme, while others only charge landlords. Letting agents who have signed up to the National Approved Letting Scheme have agreed to maintain certain standards, including having a complaints procedure in place, so these are the best ones to use.
If you are more interested in joining a flat- or house share, you will find these widely advertised on the Internet, on dedicated flatsharing websites such as www.spareroom.co.uk or http://uk.easyroommate.com, or on community and listings websites such as www.gumtree.com.
What’s included in rent
It is slightly unusual to find an unfurnished let in London; rented accommodation generally comes complete with main kitchen appliances such as a fridge and washing machine, plus bedroom and living room furniture. Rent can either be ’inclusive’ or ’exclusive’ of bills. When a place is advertised with bills inclusive, it generally means the rent covers the price of gas, electricity and water. Council tax, a monthly payment to the local authority, may or may not be included so make sure you check. Telephone bills will almost always be the tenant’s responsibility. Houses or apartments which come with a dedicated parking space are not very common and will command a premium in terms of rent. Likewise, it is only the properties at the most expensive end of the market which are likely to have facilities such as air conditioning, door staff or an on-site gym. Major repairs to the property are the landlord’s responsibility, as is the upkeep of gas appliances, which, by law, must be serviced annually. Tenants, for their part, have a duty to keep the property they are renting and its contents in good general order.
Deposits and leases
In the UK it is standard to put down a refundable deposit of at least one month’s rent and pay one month’s rent in advance before you move into a new place. You then continue to pay your rent in advance at monthly intervals. If you are renting a self-contained property on your own or as part of a group you will probably be asked to sign a legally binding agreement called an ’assured shorthold tenancy’.
This kind of tenancy covers a minimum of six months, with the agreement being renewable after this time. Within the initial six months the landlord or tenant must give one month’s notice if they wish you to leave, and two months’ notice once the contract has been extended beyond this time (unless the two parties come to a mutual agreement).
The rent should not go up during the first six months unless the tenancy agreement has a clause allowing for this or you agree to the increase. After this time you may well be subject to rent increases and you have little recourse (other than moving out) if you consider them unfair. The majority of houseshares fall into a category called ’houses in multiple occupation’ and are governed by additional health and safety regulations, which are enforceable by the local council. If you are sharing accommodation with the person who owns it however, you have far fewer rights.
If you have any problems with your landlord, you should consider approaching the Citizens Advice Bureau, a free advice service with local offices. Each local authority also has a tenancy relations officer who can intervene in landlord–tenant disputes. You can contact them via your local authority website or via www.direct.gov.uk. There are a great many laws and regulations which landlords must comply with, especially governing health and safety, discrimination and harassment, so it is always worth seeking advice if you believe you are being treated unfairly.
It is fairly unusual for assistance with accommodation to be provided by employers in London, and such practices tend to be restricted to employers paying for temporary accommodation while new arrivals find their feet. More help with relocation and in-country orientation may well be on offer with more senior roles. However, there is state provision for help with finding affordable housing, either to rent or buy, for those employed in ’key worker’ professions such as the police, the health service and social work – measures which were brought in to stop such workers being priced out of London. For more information about affordable housing schemes as well as emergency housing assistance, see www.shelternet.org.uk.
Reprinted from the London Complete Residents' Guide with the permission of Explorer Publishing.
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