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Renting in the UK

If you are relocating to Great Britain or Northern Ireland, you need to find accommodation soon. Renting in the UK is the most convenient option for expats, especially short-term residents. Our guide provides you with an overview of the legal framework for tenants, from letting agents to giving notice.
“My home is my castle”? Know your rights and responsibilities when you look for rental housing in the UK!
  • If you are unfamiliar with the rental market in the UK and would like some guidance, it may be a good idea to go through a letting agent — just make sure that they are officially recognized.
  • There are two different types of tenancies in the UK: those with a defined end date, and those that you just renew month on month.
  • Just before you move in, make sure you make an inventory of everything in the house and the condition of the items — this keeps you covered when asking for your deposit back.

The market for renting in the UK is growing. While “my home is my castle” used to be the British house-buyer’s motto, more and more Brits are renting their home today. The prices for buying a house in the UK have once again begun to normalize, but they continue to rise sharply in the most attractive areas, especially London. Young professionals often face less job security and strict conditions for mortgage loans from banks in the UK. For expatriates keen on renting in the UK, this means more competition on the property market.

Council Housing: Are You High on the Priority List?

Local authorities across Britain provide public or social housing advertised in council offices or on their website. While you can apply for council housing even if you don’t live in the area, waiting lists are often long. Preference is given — for obvious reasons — to candidates in need, like low-income tenants, families living in cramped quarters, or the disabled.

As a new resident from overseas, you’ll probably find your new home on the private market.

Ask the Experts: Letting Agents

On the private market, landlords can advertise a property for renting in the UK directly, or they employ a “letting agent”, i.e. a real estate agency. If you are looking for property listed by letting agents, there are some things to consider.

Theoretically, everyone can call themselves a “letting agent”. Check if the agency belongs to a professional association, e.g. the National Association of Estate Agents or the Association of Residential Letting Agents.

A reputable letting agent won’t demand extortionate fees. You should expect to pay a commission, as well as additional fees for credit reference checks, for concluding the tenancy agreement, or a property inventory check. If they start charging fees left and right, this should be cause for concern.

The Tenancy Agreement: Your Safety Blanket

Once you have found a home for renting in the UK, it’s time to sign the tenancy agreement. Study it carefully, even the small print. While agreements for renting in the UK can be made orally, do get a written contract. Otherwise, disputes with your landlord might be impossible to settle.

A tenancy agreement should contain the following information:

  • names and contact details of all parties involved
  • the address
  • rental fees
  • how / when they should be paid
  • when / how often the rent can be reviewed
  • security deposit (four to eight weeks’ rent)
  • deposit protection scheme
  • conditions for getting the deposit back
  • start date (and maybe end date)
  • break clause (if applicable)
  • extra fees (service charges, utilities)
  • who is responsible for repairs
  • if you are allowed to sub-let

Learn the Law: Types of Tenancy

The most common legal form for renting in the UK is the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (in England and Wales), the “Short Assured Tenancy” (in Scotland), or the “Protected Shorthold Tenancy” (in Northern Ireland). This definition mainly plays a role when it comes to evictions.

Your rental accommodation is an AST if

  • it’s a private property
  • it’s your main accommodation
  • it’s not for business purposes
  • the landlord doesn’t live there
  • the rent is more than 250 GBP and less than 100,000 GBP per year.

In addition to its legal status, an agreement can be periodic (you pay the rent weekly or monthly, without a pre-defined end date) or fixed-term. A fixed-term agreement covers a limited period for renting in the UK, e.g. two years. Afterwards, the agreement can be extended, renewed, or transformed into a periodic contract. 

If you enter into a joint tenancy for renting in the UK, you should know your flatmates well. A joint tenancy agreement is one where you all sign the same contract for the landlord. Then you can be held liable if the others don’t pay their share. You might be forced to pay the entire amount and get the money back from them, or the landlord can have you evicted for arrears. 

Responsibilities and Repairs: Make a List

Your main responsibility is to pay the rent on time, as well as all charges mentioned in the contract. You must repair any damage you cause and take good care of the property. However, there are some aspects to clarify before signing the agreement.

  • Make a detailed inventory of the property you are planning on renting in the UK. List all fixtures, fittings, furniture, etc., and the state that rooms and contents are in.
  • Know which repairs and safety checks your landlord is responsible for. They have to maintain the building’s structure, exterior, and common areas. Moreover, they look after sanitary installations, pipes and drains, heating and hot water, electrical wiring and gas. They must provide the latest Gas Safety check when you move in. The landlord should also ensure their property complies with fire safety regulations.
  • If you want to try your hand at DIY, check if it’s allowed in the agreement. Otherwise, you may be responsible for causing additional damage. Also make sure to notify the landlord whenever anything needs repairing.
  • Even if the tenancy agreement doesn’t forbid keeping pets in the UK, always ask the landlord first — preferably in writing. In this case, your pet cannot become a reason for eviction.

It’s Time to Go: Ending the Agreement

Damage and neglect, as well as rent arrears, are common causes for eviction. Anti-social behavior among people renting in the UK, or noise nuisance, is another. However, even if you are a model tenant, your landlord may end the agreement for renting in the UK — e.g. because they want to move in themselves.

In a fixed-term agreement, the landlord must give two weeks’ to two months’ written notice. If it’s an AST, the notice period is always two months. This also applies in the opposite case: if you want to move out yourself.

Follow the appropriate procedure for giving notice. If you have a fixed-term contract for renting in the UK, make sure it has a break clause, or you could be forced to pay rent for the entire term.

For further information on renting in the UK, contact a letting agent, a lawyer, or the Citizens Advice Bureau.


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