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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine March/April 2001
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Renting in the U.K.

A Guide to the Ins and the Outs

Aside from a confusing array of legalities, the most bewildering aspect of renting in the U.K.—where buying an apartment or house rather than renting is the norm—is choosing the area in which to live. To the uninitiated, U.K. rental prices makes little sense. Fashions and fads have a huge influence on prices, and if you use them to your advantage you can find a bargain with relative ease. In many areas of London you can pay around $800 per month for a 1-bedroom apartment similar to one a mile away which costs $3,000. Few could distinguish between Holland Park and neighboring Shepherds Bush except for rental prices.

To rent directly from a landlord, consult the classified sections of local newspapers and specialist advertising papers, notably Loot. But be careful about going it alone. While housing legislation has tightened considerably in recent years, it can be an uphill struggle to defend your rights and few would want to try to remedy them through the civil courts.

Wherever possible, it’s advisable to go through a letting agent. Not only do agents ensure that all the legal requirements are met, they can also provide you with invaluable advice about areas and prices. Under British law agents can only charge you a finder’s fee for a specific property and not for their general services. Fees are usually relatively modest, around $200. It takes at least two to three weeks for the formalities to be completed.

Once the agent receives your references a deposit is payable, usually the equivalent of a month’s rent. You will also have to pay the first month’s rent in advance before moving in. Most agents will ask you to sign an assured short-term tenancy. After six months, the notice period is usually two months on either side.

When you take over a tenancy or lease you’ll be “checked in” to the property by an inventory clerk who will ask you to sign an agreement confirming the condition of the property and its contents. Check this very carefully: you are liable for any damage you cause. If you have any doubt about responsibility for repairs, contact the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau for free impartial advice.

Tenants are also responsible for “council tax,” payable to the local authority, for services such as refuse collection. Council tax rates differ widely, even within a city, and can add anything up to $200 per month to your living expenses.

Even if you have the best of landlords, there’s always the risk that you’ll run into troublesome neighbors. The police have surprisingly few powers, and if you have a real problem you’ll be referred to the Environmental Health Depart-ment of your local council. Under British law, everyone has the right to live peacefully, at least between 11:30 p.m. and 8 a.m.

For More Info

Check out the online edition of national advertising papers such as www.loot.com for more information.

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