Here is the only student guide to renting in London you’ll ever need
Anxious first-year students, this one is for you
The thought of living in London can be scary. But the thought of actually having to find a place to live in London is objectively scarier. Especially if you’re a fresher.
Luckily, we’ve got all you baby Londoners out there covered.
From general renting tips to everything we wish we had known, here is the only student guide to renting in London you’ll ever need.
Don’t rush to start looking for flats
The university experience in London is different to the rest of the UK. There are cons like the extortionate living costs but there are also pros like this one: in London, flats are almost always available immediately.
This means that, unlike your friends at the University of Wherever, you don’t need to start searching half a year in advance. If you did, you just wouldn’t find anything. Usually, London university students start house hunting in the summer but you could technically start as late as September.
Rightmove and Zoopla are two of the most popular sites for finding flats. There’s also the University of London Housing Services, which lets you find flats based on distance from university.
When you do begin the search though, be aware of the fact that flats fly off the market at an incredibly fast rate. So don’t wait too long to say yes to a place you really like the look of.
Narrow down your search by area
You can save yourself a lot of time if you narrow down your search to specific areas in London. This could be based on factors like price, distance from university, or social life.
There are many useful housing guides to help you do this, including the Official London Housing Guide, the ultimate guide on where in London to live in second year, and this quiz on which area of London you should move to.
Consider your flatmates carefully
Whilst living with your besties might seem like the dream, there are some serious things to consider beforehand: does this person love to blast D&B at ungodly hours of the night? Are you happy to have your flatmate’s partner staying round more than three nights a week for free?
It’s important to know whether you and your future flatmates are compatible because you’ll have to put up with their annoying habits all year, including exam season.
Most importantly, you’ll want to agree on factors like how far you’ll be living from university and what your monthly budgets are. You don’t want housing quarrels to ruin any friendships so think carefully before committing to a group.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a group of friends to rent with
London can be a lonely place. It’s no secret that a substantial amount of students don’t actually end up making life-long friends during their first year of university. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. But it can make the process of renting out for the first time seem five times more terrifying.
Don’t worry. If you want to get a group of other uni students together and go from there, you could join the University of London Flatmate Finder group on Facebook. There are similar groups on social media and, often, students will post on these when they’re looking for flatmates. Other members will also let you know if a room has recently become available.
You can also just start searching for rooms on your own. This isn’t much different from searching in a group. On the various property websites, you just have to adjust your search filter to “room in shared flat” or equivalent.
Do bear in mind that living with complete strangers will require some patience and compromise, but it can be a great opportunity to meet new people too.
Visit the flat in person
There’s no skipping this step. You HAVE to visit the flat in person. So many agencies out there will try to “catfish” you into a flat. It might look amazing on the photos but be an utter dump in real life.
Viewing the flat also gives you an opportunity to check out various things and ask more questions. Does the heating turn on manually? Is there decent water pressure in the shower? Are the windows double glazed and do they lock securely? Does the microwave work and, if so, does it belong to the flat or a current tenant? Honestly, it might be worth making a list.
Oh, and DON’T be that person who sends money to a “landlord” before checking if the flat even exists. If you’re told you can’t view the flat in person right now, that’s a red flag. Even during the pandemic.
Look out for red flags
Red flags are a topic worthy of their own article.
In terms of avoiding scammers, there are a few things to look out for. In addition to not being allowed to view the flat, other red flags include rent that is too good to be true, few or no photos of the flat, bad spelling or grammar in emails, always being put into contact with different or random people, and not being able to find any trace of the landlord or agency online.
Beyond scammers, there are also many sketchy landlords out there just waiting to take advantage of inexperienced students.
The condition of the flat is always a good indicator of who you’re dealing with. Check that there are working fire alarms and look out for mould on the ceilings or mouse traps in rooms. You could also casually ask why the previous tenants are moving out and inquire about the neighbours.
If the landlord is flaky and you can’t seem to get a hold of them, you’re setting yourself up for problems further down the line when something breaks and you need it fixed ASAP.
Essentially, follow your gut. And if your landlady insists on installing cameras all over the house – run.
Check the location
The importance of supermarkets should not be underestimated. You could find a lovely flat but if it’s surrounded by Waitrose shops and the nearest Aldi or Lidl is a 45 minute walk away, is it really worth it?
Seriously though, dragging your groceries through the streets of London every week because you forgot to check whether your new flat is well located is a rookie mistake.
The nearest bus stops, underground stations, pharmacies, and banks are all also good things to keep in mind when searching for your new home.
Make use of the help at your disposal
Sometimes being a student has its benefits.
The University of London Housing Services offer appointments for contract checking to make sure that your landlord isn’t dodgy. Their website also features various guides and brochures on renting and tenancy agreements.
It is common practice for a landlord to ask you for a guarantor – a person who agrees to pay rent for you if you don’t. Luckily, many London universities have Rent Guarantor Schemes, which help international students in particular gain access to a UK-based guarantor.
If you ever find yourself in a more serious situation and need guidance, you can also refer to Citizens Advice. This network of charities offers free, confidential information on various issues including disputes with your landlord.
Know the procedure with deposits
A holding deposit is normal. It’s not a scam. It’s just something you need to pay up-front AFTER you’ve viewed the flat to get that house off the market, far away from the prying eyes of other desperate students.
Don’t pay this sum if you’re not serious about the flat, you probably won’t get the money back. Once the property is no longer being advertised, the holding deposit will either be returned to you, allocated towards your first month’s rent, or put towards a larger security deposit that you’ll need to pay later.
The security deposit can be up to five weeks’ worth of rent. It is usually paid before you move in, at the start of your tenancy. The deposit is money that your landlord can use if you stop paying rent or if you damage the property. However, it is illegal for this money to be kept in the landlord’s personal bank account. It has to be transferred to a deposit protection scheme. This scheme will then ensure that your landlord does not try to steal this money from you later on.
Take pictures before settling in
Speaking of security deposits, one way to make sure your landlord doesn’t try to trick you out of your money later on is by taking pictures of the flat and your room before you settle in.
Photograph everything, especially things like stains on walls and broken furniture so, unlike Shaggy, you can prove that it wasn’t you.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate
If there’s something that seems completely unreasonable in the tenancy agreement, don’t shy away from addressing this with your landlord. If they refuse to budge on it and it seems unfair, just pull out and don’t sign anything. You’ll be dodging a bullet.
Whilst we continue to live with the uncertainty of the pandemic, it’s also worth negotiating a break clause into your tenancy agreement that will allow you to terminate your contract earlier without repercussions.
When budgeting, there are so many more things to consider than just the rent.
First of all, if the flat is advertised by weekly rent, be aware of the fact that the rent per calendar month (pcm) will add up to slightly more than your weekly rent multiplied by four. It’s just one of those many deception techniques used in advertising.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, unlike student halls, it is quite unusual to be able to rent a space for nine months. In London, tenancy agreements usually last a year (52 weeks).
As well as being able to pay rent for 12 months, you also need to be able to pay the hefty sum of the deposit up-front.
And, of course, there are the monthly bills to consider, which range from £30-£50 per person on average.
Make Google your best friend
There will probably be many more weird obstacles you’ll encounter during your search for a new flat. For all your obscure rent-related questions, Google probably has the answer.
Once again, don’t be afraid to make use of the tools at your disposal to help you through this treacherous journey of student house-hunting.
Accept that your flat is probably not going to be perfect
If you’ve read everything there is on the subject and you’ve gone to hundreds of viewings, it’s time to settle on a flat.
Whilst it’s easy to get stressed out about finding the perfect place to live, it’s not worth it. Not to mention the perfect flat in London on a student budget probably doesn’t exist.
It’s okay if your new flat is not the Canary Wharf penthouse that you’ve always dreamt of. Once you’ve settled in, you’ll be falling in love with your humble abode before you even know it.
Related articles recommended by this writer:
• These students moved into a flat where the landlord spied on them using security cameras
• The ultimate guide on where in London to live in second year
• University of London advises struggling students in halls to ‘take a nap’