This post tries to list the most common tips or advices for any foreign tenants who wish to come to live in London/UK to rent accommodation. There are many pitfalls I have gone through and experienced in the past 2 years myself, these tips are here to help for those who are unfamiliar to avoid falling into traps. Note that renting in UK or London is very difficult and is unlike the rest of the world. The property lobby here in the UK is very strong and they in fact rule the country. Safe to say it is a good, prosperous business to invest into. Nobody else, including the state and the Prime Minister, is that strong to change this in the near future. Also, beware of rental agencies. Most rental agencies are representatives of the landlords, do not trust them! They are there to make sure that everything will serve the landlords' interest and not the tenants' interest. If you rent through an agency, be prepared you will have to pay tenant fees, application fees and administration fees and, on the top of all that, you will have to get someone to act as a 'guarantor' to back you up in case you will become unemployed. If that happens, guarantor will have to pay the monthly rents on your behalf until the tenancy ends. This scheme in my opinion is completely thick-skinned, insensitive and is there to serve the greedy landlords.
*** BEWARE OF THE FOLLOWING TRAPS ***
Do not give up your rights as a tenant.
Landlords do not want you to be aware of your rights. They want you to give up your rights but they hold on to their rights. Note, that in the UK, the law ensures rights to tenants as well. For example, you have the right to be protected from unfair eviction. Look up your full list of rights online on the useful link section.
Always have a signed tenancy agreement which contains your conditions.
If you don't have a signed tenancy agreement, you can be evicted from the property any time, without any prior notice!!! Some landlords will offer you this option, saying not having contract is in both of your interest and make it easier for both of you. IT IS A LIE! Do not believe them. The real reason to this is that landlords do not want comply with local council regulations (landlords must comply with local councils if they want to let their property, some cases they need to get a licence to do that!) or want to avoid paying taxes. Therefore they will avoid negative consequences if things go wrong. However, do not worry if you already are in this situation. Having only a verbal agreement does not mean that it is not legal. Any verbal agreement counts as a legal agreement. Landlords can't take away your basic rights. The problem is that it will be very difficult to prove any verbal agreement in case of any disputes. I suggest you to secretly record any conversation with your landlord (i.e. use smartphone in your pocket, etc.).
Make sure your tenancy agreement is a 'tenancy' and not only a 'licence'.
If you only have a licence and not tenancy, it means you have less rights. Licence gives you less protection from eviction. If you live together with the landlord (i.e. landlord lives in the same flat or house), you most likely have a licence only and you are classified as a 'lodger'. You just have a spare room in the landlord's own property. You will have very few rights. This means among others, for example, that your deposit is not protected, meaning the landlord can deduct anything from your deposit when you leave without any real reason. It happened to me this year in London with a selfish landlord (name is Lyudmila Morar, Bulgarian national).
Make sure your deposit is protected with the DPS or other protection schemes.
After you made sure that you are a tenant, it is your right - unless you are a lodger - that your deposit is become protected. This is NOT OPTIONAL BUT MANDATORY. The deposit must be protected, this is a requirement by the law. I recommend using the state-supported Deposit Protection Scheme. Landlords must send the money to a central account within 14 days of the tenancy started. You will get an email stating that the deposit is stored securely in a 3rd party account.
Do not sign minimum time (6 or 12 months) unless you are sure you will stay for the whole length of the time.
If your life circumstances change (e.g. you are fired from your working place during the probation) and your income stops, you will have to keep on paying the monthly rent just as before. I know you can apply for benefits, but that comes with conditions. You cannot leave the room or property until your rental time is up unless you pay the remaining rents. The landlord can take you to court if you stop paying the rents. Other reason is that the living conditions laid out in the tenancy agreement do not meet reality (i.e. if you are sharing accommodation, one of the tenants are on drugs or noisy during nights). You must prove it to the landlord and demonstrate your case, (i.e. take video or sound recordings) but this is a difficult and tedious path to follow. The greedy landlord only wants their money but do not want to hear about your daily problems. Most agencies give you a contract with a 12-month duration with a 6-month review clause. This means that after 6 months you can leave the rented property if you don't like it. You will need to give 1 month notice.
Check IDs and insist to take photocopies of them.
There are many illegal activities going on, there are criminals in this country as well. If you don't check the ID of the landlord, you might as well rent from someone who is a conman, swindler or not actually the owner of the property. No further explanation is necessary.
Use example tenancy agreement instead of the one they give you.
Usually landlords or agencies give their tenancy agreement to you when you want to move in. They say there should be no problems. Yes, until you sign it. Then the problems come. After you have signed it, they will point it at you! DO NOT ACCEPT IT! You don't have to accept their agreement. Ask solicitor's advice before signing. I recommend using an example agreement, there is one online in the useful links section.
That's it for now. If you have found this article useful and want to add something to it, please let me know.