Rent. Prices. Two words best uttered with extreme caution for fear of sending every Londoner within a three-mile radius in to a state of hysteria (‘tube strike’ has a similar effect but you’ll soon discover the horror unleashed by that particular phrase). The average person living in London will have spent almost £70,000 on rent before they’re able to buy their first property – a property that will most likely cost over half a million quid – making London globally recognised as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. Pretty grim, right?
The cost of rent in London might have dropped this year – yay! – but it only fell by an average of 1% – boo – ensuring that rent will continue to take up a massive chunk of your wage for quite a few years yet. In fact in 2016 The Evening Standard reported that Londoners now spend almost two-thirds of their income on rent; that doesn’t leave a lot of spare cash for blowing on avocado and toast.
So how does anyone actually afford to live here? If it seems difficult, it is – but not impossible.
Renting a bedroom in a shared house or flat is standard, and you can probably kiss a sweet goodbye to the prospect of living alone (unless you’re making mega bucks or willing to live in zone 6 – and really, is that even London anymore?*). Depending on which areas you’re looking at a room could cost you anything around £500-800 per month, and you can slap on an extra hundred or two if you’re searching as a couple – love comes at a price in this city, guys.
Silver lining though! With hundreds of new rooms becoming available every week, you really don’t need any longer than 1-2 weeks to find somewhere – rooms go so quickly it’s pointless to even view anything if you’re not able to move in less than a month, anyway. Here are the four biggest things you need to know before you start your search.
Compared to other cities that often demand previous landlord references, credit checks and salary information, London consists largely of private landlords that understand (or take advantage of?) the ‘fluid’ nature of tenancy in the capital. As a result, contracts tend to be more flexible. If you’re renting just a room as opposed to a whole flat there might not even be a ‘minimum stay’, and if there is it’s usually a six-month tenancy before moving on to a rolling one-month contract – that means if you decide to stay in the room after the initial six months you can leave at any time by (you guessed it) giving just one month’s notice. It’s usually very possible to leave your room before the end of the first six months too, generally providing that you find someone else to replace you – but make sure you check how this is going to effect your deposit and how much of it (if any) you can expect to get back by breaking the contract.
Things work slightly differently with agencies: they’re more likely to carry out credit checks and ask for references than private landlords, and most of them will charge you upfront fees for doing pretty much anything – even something as small as adding your name to an existing contract is likely to cost more than £100 (which, unlike your desposit, is non-refundable)
The benefit of renting from a reputable agency though is that you can feel more secure with regard to getting that deposit back, and letting agencies are obligated to carry out certain repairs in and outside your flat on behalf of the landlord – this should be outlined in your contract. Because agencies usually have a physical office too, they’re less of an enigma than a lot of landlords (who you might never even speak throughout your tenancy, never mind meet face-to-face).
Before you sign your contract make sure the landlord and/or the agency has included their responsibilities to you as a tenant – make sure you know of any fees that might occur from repairs or replacement items in the flat and how quickly they have to act if something isn’t working properly. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau offers information here on who to contact and how to deal with agencies that aren’t living up to their responsibilities. Remember, you’re paying a shit load of rent so don’t be afraid to speak up if something isn’t right.
Deposits, deposits, deposits. As if paying our extortionate rents wasn’t hard enough, the Gods of real estate blessed us with an extra month of rent for not actually living anywhere. The amount you’ll pay for a deposit is generally the equivalent of 4-6 weeks rent (although some landlords do thankfully ask for a lot less, and anything more than six weeks is worth negotiating) on top of your first month’s rent: basically if you’re monthly rent will be £600, you’ll be handing over around £1200 before you even move in. That’s a daunting amount of money to give to a stranger, and although lurking around a dark street with a handful of cash might seem like a scene from a low-budget thriller, it’s actually not an entirely unlikely scenario in London’s renting scene. Unfortunately the city is full of somewhat dubious landlords that will take advantage in order to make a few extra bucks, and if you pay a deposit or rent in cash without any proof of having paid that money, you’ll most likely never see it again.
If you use some common sense, you’ll probably be fine: just make sure you absolutely do not give anyone any money before signing a contract. Landlords or tenants desperate to get rid of a room might try to convince you that not paying a deposit straight away will mean you lose the room – but no room is worth potentially losing hundreds of pounds for.
Also, a poorly advertised fact is that landlords are obligated to hold your deposit in a Government-backed tenancy deposit scheme which protects your deposit and makes sure its returned within 10 days of agreeing with your landlord how much you’re due back (your contract should outline anything that will result in a deduction from your deposit, such as damage to the room, which is pretty standard). You can phone any of the numbers below to check whether your deposit is being held in one of these schemes, and if not, contact your local court who will order your landlord to pay you back up to three times the amount of your original deposit.
Deposit Protection Service
Telephone: 0330 303 0030
Telephone: 0333 321 9401
Tenancy Deposit Scheme
Telephone: 0300 037 1000
You can also see here all of the information your landlord must provide you with within 30 days of receiving your deposit.
Flat Hunting and Viewings
Ok, so you want to secure a room before you move to London – no point moving city if you have no place to live right? You might see something that looks great online and you don’t want to miss out, but please, do not ever agree to take a room you haven’t seen for yourself. For one thing, nothing ever looks how it does in the pictures. London renting is competitive and rooms are often made to look a lot better in pictures than they actually are – cue a plethora of dodgy, over-stretched photos – and that grandiose double bedroom that looked so appealing on Spareroom might actually turn out to be a sweaty cupboard above a drycleaners (literally).
If you see an advert you like the look of, the best idea is to contact the landlord or tenant holding the viewings and arrange to see it asap. Then once you’ve viewed a room that ticks all the boxes, by all means, don’t hang around: property in London moves insanely fast, and waiting around even for a couple of days could mean missing out. Let the landlord know straight away whether or not you want to take the room and make sure you sign the contract as soon as possible
*Sorry Zone 6ers, but…y’know