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Complete guide to student renting in London

Location, safety and value for money are all going to be front of mind when you're looking for student digs in London. Start researching here.

Guest Author
Words by: Esther Shaw

Renting a student house in London? We've got answers to some of the most common questions: 

Where do students rent in London?

If you've already been living in London as a student, most likely in your university Halls of Residence, you'll be getting familiar with the local area and may decide to find your student house around there. 

If this is the case, Zoopla lists more London rental homes than any other property portal, so check out what's available.

Here's an example of four-bedroom homes to rent across the whole of London for £2,000 a month or less. But, of course, you'll need to add your own area and price filters as well as number of bedrooms and other requirements.

If you have specific location – or even street – in mind, you can use Zoopla's map tool and draw out your own search boundaries with your mouse. 

However, it may be that you are new to London and starting your property search from scratch.

In this case, there's a lot to consider. For example, journey times to university as well as into central London, crime levels, local shops, restaurants, gyms, sports centres – and the all-important pubs, bars and clubs.

Here's a starter-for-10.

Camden, in north London (pictured above), is one of the capital’s most vibrant areas. It is home to a buzzing music scene, a busy nightlife, and is very popular with students. There’s a huge market, lots of foodie haunts, some beautiful parks, and a canal.

Woolwich, in south-east London, is well connected to the centre via the underground and Docklands Light Railway. There’s lots of affordable places to eat and drink, including Beresford Square Market.

Bermondsey, located south of the River Thames, attracts a cool, young crowd. It’s got great transport links, and is brimming with foodie delights, such as Borough Market.

Bethnal Green, in east London, is an area of great cultural diversity, just a stone’s throw from the City and Liverpool Street station. It also boasts a great array of bars, restaurants and night spots. 

Brixton,in south-west London, has a buzzing community of markets, independent stores, and loads of affordable bars and restaurants in Brixton village. 

Finsbury Park, north London, has fantastic transport links to the central London, and is centred around a vast leafy park, but also has good bars and restaurants. 

If you're renting alone, with one other housemate, or are just on a tight budget, think about casting your net wider to outer London neighbourhoods, such as Enfield in the north, Croydon in the south, or Kingston in the south-west.

Looking for a new rental home?

Search for a new rental home by location, price, number of bedrooms and more.

How many people should I live with?

While it may be tempting to live with a big group of friends at university, weigh up the pros and cons first.

A big house-share can be very sociable and fun – and rent and bills will be lower if they are split between more people. Houses of more than five people can also benefit from extra protection, as we explain below.

But living with a bigger group is not always all it’s cracked up to be, as there’s more chance of discrepancies over bills, and a greater risk of getting fed up with other people’s mess and noise.

If you prefer a more ordered, less party-filled life, you may prefer to live with just two or three other people.

When does a big house become an HMO?

Under new rules which came into effect in October last year, a House of Multiple Occupation (or HMO) is defined as a property occupied by five or more people from at least two different households. And properties that fall under this title require mandatory licencing.

This means ensuring that proper fire safety measures are in place – including working smoke alarms – and that gas safety checks are carried out annually, and electrics are checked every five years.

Properties must not be overcrowded, and there must be sufficient cooking and bathroom facilities for the number of people living there.

The new rules on HMOs were part of a Government crackdown on rogue landlords renting out sub-standard and overcrowded properties.

What is rental competition like in London? 

London’s rental market can be very competitive, and you may find it moves more quickly than in other parts of the UK.

In fact, in some of the popular student areas, you will often find that several groups of students compete for the same property.

If you are trying to edge ahead of the competition and make sure you are the successful group of tenants, there are some simple steps you can take:

  • Ensure that all housemates have the right paperwork to hand. This includes passport, birth certificate or driving licence, a recent utility bill and bank statement

  • Where possible, make sure you have glowing references from previous landlords

  • Make sure you, as a group, have enough funds in place to pay your deposit and first month’s rent together. Confirm parental guarantors if they are required

  • Give as many positive signs to your letting agent or landlord that you are the type of tenant they want to let their property to. For example, make it clear you are tidy and responsible – and non-smokers. If you have a part-time job, offer references from employers as this can demonstrate reliability and stability.

When should I start looking for student property in London?

As a student looking to move into a rental property in London at the start of the new academic year, you may be keen to start the house-hunt as early as possible.

However, it’s worth noting that in the capital, private houses and flats are often not advertised more than one or two months before they become available.

This means you can usually wait until the summer before starting to look. But, as this is when London’s rental market tends to heat up, you also need to be ready to move fast.

With this in mind, it may be worth clearing your diary completely (and booking a day or two off work if you have a part-time job) to give yourself time to speak to agents and view properties.

If you are moving in with housemates, make sure they do the same – or at least agree that you can make decisions on their behalf.

This could prove vital, as the very best student rental places will get snapped up on the day they get listed.

Should I use a letting agent to find our home?

When it comes to searching for a student let, you can either enlist the services of a letting agent – or do it yourself.

You might save money by going down the 'DIY-route' but, on the other hand, it could be a false economy, as a good agent can add value and mitigate risks.

A letting agent will:

  • Personally show you around potential properties to rent

  • Ensure your deposit is held with one of thetenancy deposit schemes

  • Support you until you move into your new rental home – and beyond, if they manage the property too

  • Check the landlord complies with all the relevant legislation, including tenancy agreements, inventories and gas safety certificates.

Read more at: What are the dangers of not using a letting agent?

What is the difference between a landlord and a letting agent? 

Many people use the terms 'landlord' and 'letting agent' interchangeably but, actually, each plays a different role.

If your rental property is managed by a landlord, you will go direct to the landlord with queries, ranging from reporting repairs to requesting a tenancy renewal.

However, if the landlord is using a letting agent to manage the property, the letting agent will be your first port of call.

What are the advantages of having a landlord?

  • By dealing directly with a landlord, there may fewer hoops to jump through as any decisions will rest with them

  • It could be cheaper than using a letting agent – although letting fees charged to tenants are set to be banned in England from June 1 under the Tenant Fees Bill

  • If you have a good rapport with your landlord, they may respond to problems and repairs more quickly. They may also be less likely to hike up the rent at renewal time.

What are the advantages of having a letting agent?

  • They may well have a fixed office on the high street, meaning you will always know where to find them

  • As there will usually be several members of staff, you should be able to get hold of someone easily in an emergency

  • If things go wrong, problems may get resolved more quickly, as there may be more fixed procedures in place

  • May have a better understanding of laws and letting regulation

  • As a member of a regulated body, such as ARLA Propertymark, they should be professional and abide by a code of conduct.

Read more at:What’s the difference between a landlord and a letting agent?

What kind of contract will I need to sign?

The landlord or letting agent will want everyone living in the property on the tenancy agreement. This will usually be an ‘assured shorthold tenancy’ (AST) – the most common form of tenancy within the private rented sector.

As long as your contract is an AST agreement, the law states that your deposit must be safeguarded in one of the Government-backed tenancy deposit protection schemes.

Your landlord or letting agent is required to give you information about which scheme is being used. This should also be in the tenancy agreement.

Before signing up to a student house-share, it’s worth noting that tenancy arrangements in shared accommodation can vary. You need to check the paperwork carefully so you know what you’re signing up to.

For example:

Joint tenancy: With this arrangement, there is just one tenancy agreement which each student in the property signs. All housemates share the property and its facilities.

While you may agree to live in a particular bedroom, you don’t have exclusive possession of any part. You each pay individual contributions towards the rent.

Sole tenancy: With this arrangement, each student in the property has their own tenancy agreement as each has exclusive possession of one specific room – while sharing facilities such as the kitchen.

One student has sole tenancy and sub-lets rooms: With this arrangement, one student in the property signs the tenancy agreement and has a sole tenancy. They then sub-let rooms separately to other students as sub-tenants or lodgers.

What deposit would I need to pay and will I get it back?

Most landlords require students to pay a deposit as a condition of letting accommodation. This acts as a security against non-payment of rent or damage to the property.

Generally speaking, a deposit is one month’s rent (from June 1, the law will cap deposits at 5 weeks' rent) and is paid at the outset. The first month’s rent is also usually paid in advance.

Since 2007, landlords have been legally required to safeguard the deposits paid by tenants, and must place them in one of the Government-approved tenancy deposit schemes.

Your landlord must tell you where the money is within 14 days – and how you can get it back.

At the end of the 12 months, you have to return the property in the same condition that it was originally let – allowing for ‘wear and tear’. But note that this phrase can be open to interpretation.

The landlord is only allowed to withhold some or all of the deposit to cover unpaid rent, damage to the property or its contents, missing items and cleaning.

If you and your landlord don’t agree how much of the deposit should be returned, the next step is to take your complaint to the alternative dispute resolution service.

This complaints body is available through any of the tenancy deposit schemes. There service is free, and the onus is on the landlord to explain why he or she is withholding your deposit. The resolution service will listen to both sides of the story and look at the evidence to make a decision. This decision will be final.

Read more at: Can my landlord withhold my deposit?

What happens if one of my flatmates doesn't pay their share of rent?

If you have a joint tenancy where all the people who share the property are ‘jointly and severally liable,’ you are liable for the rent both jointly and individually.

This means that if one student doesn’t pay their rent – or disappears halfway through the term – the rest of you can be held responsible for paying that person’s share.

Who is responsible for paying the bills?

If you live in a shared rental property, each student is responsible for paying the gas, electricity, water and broadband bills.

While you may try and wriggle out of paying for a TV licence on the grounds you only watch ‘catch-up’ TV, if you watch any television live – or any programmes on iPlayer – you need to buy a licence. A licence costs £154.50 a year.  Find out more with: Do I need a TV licence?

That said, if your property is occupied only by full-time students, you don’t have to pay council tax – and shouldn’t get a bill. Read more here.

To avoid arguments on the household bills you do have to pay, register with each company in all your names, as this means you are all responsible.

Another option is to set up a joint account. But while this can be an easy and transparent way to manage shared expenses and pay bills, as everything is set up on this one account, there are risks.

For example, a joint account creates a financial link or ‘association’ between you and other account holders – and you will then be ‘co-scored’. 

This means if one of the other account holders has a poor credit record it could potentially damage your credit score. You'll need a good credit score for when it comes to getting a mortgage.

Alternatively, you could assign different bills to different people. With this arrangement, you need to split the bill by the number of people living in the property. You then need to let everyone know who owes what.

It’s also worth noting there are a host of apps and tools designed to help you split household expenses fairly – such as Acasa and Splitthebills.

Be aware though, that while bill-splitting companies may sound appealing, you need to do your homework before signing up. Citizens Advice recently carried out some research and found some firms charge above the market average. Read more here.

Find out more with: Renting: Are joint accounts a good idea?

What happens if one of my flatmates wants to leave before the end of the tenancy?

If you are on a joint tenancy and one flatmate wants to leave before the end of the contract – and the other students want to stay – these are your options:

  • Find a replacement tenant who all the remaining tenants are happy with – and who the landlord approves of

  • Not find a replacement tenant and the outgoing tenant continues to pay their share of the rent

  • Not find a replacement tenant and the remaining tenants agree to make up the shortfall.

If one tenant wants to leave, you will need to speak to your landlord. Your landlord will need to agree what will happen, and should, in theory, end the existing joint tenancy and create a new one.

However, in practice, you may find your landlord simply amends the existing tenancy agreement, by getting everyone to sign and date the variation on the relevant date.

The leaving tenant should also fill in a ‘deed of assignment’ which means they have been taken off the tenancy and are no longer liable for rent or debts relating to the property.

If they fail to do this, they could still be responsible for any unpaid rent or bills – even if they no longer live there.

Will I have to pay rent over the summer when the house is empty?

Generally speaking, student housing contracts last for 12 months.

This means that even if there is a three or four-month period in the summer when the student house is uninhabited, you will still be contracted to pay rent for those months.

Can I sublet my room?

You may be able to sublet part of your accommodation, or take in lodgers, but only if your tenancy agreement allows it – and/or if your landlord gives you permission to do so.

Can I have pets?

You may like the idea of moving Felix or Buster into your student rental property with you. However, you shouldn’t get your hopes up, as many landlords do not permit animals.

In fact, your contract may specifically state that pets are prohibited and you could be at risk of facing penalties for breaching tenancy rules. At worst, you could risk your contract being terminated.

Who can I complain to about my landlord or letting agent?

Your landlord or letting agent is responsible for ensuring your home is fit to live in and for carrying out essential maintenance and repairs. If they are not doing this, you can make a complaint.

If it's a letting agent: the first port of call will be to complain to the letting agent themselves. Always back up phone calls with email so you have a dated communication trail.

If you are not satisfied with the agent's response, or at least 8 weeks has passed without one, find out which property redress scheme the agent has joined (the law says they must be a member of either The Property Ombudsman or Property Redress Scheme) and complain to them.

If you are still not happy and your letting agent is a member of industry body, Propertymark, you can take your complaint to them. Otherwise, there's Trading Standards or taking your own action through the courts.

If it's a landlord: You can ask the council’s environmental health team to inspect your home. The council may order your landlord to carry out repairs or improve conditions.

You could also consider taking your landlord to court. The court can order your landlord to carry out the repair work or pay you compensation.

In either case, it's very important to have records and evidence. So as well as an email trail – you should take photos of the problem and even retain doctor’s notes if your health becomes affected.

Arranging viewings safely

When arranging viewings, it’s sensible to follow a few safety principles.

It’s always a good idea to take someone with you to a viewing. After all, it’s handy to have a second opinion, right?

Let a friend or relative know where you are, what you’re doing and that you’ll give them a quick call when you’re done. You can use certain apps, such as WhatsApp, to share your location for extra peace of mind.

If you’re worried an advertiser isn’t who they say they are, share your concerns with us straight away via our Help Centre .

If you're looking at a room share, ask to meet everyone who lives/will be living at the property. This will help you get to know all of your potential flatmates, and gives you a sense of their characters. 

Remember if you feel at all uncomfortable, you can leave the viewing at any time. Always trust your instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, it’s time to go.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.