Renting Apartments – What to Expect in the UK

When suddenly, we’re moving. Actually, that’s not quite right – we had thought about it and I had researched a bit back in 2013. It just hasn’t come to anything until now.

So we’re moving and I’ll take you back through the process as I’ve come to learn it, starting from the hunt for potential accommodations. Like a lot of things that I’m learning the first time these days I’m going to Citizen’s Advice to see what they know that I don’t (arguably, it’s a lot, given the topic). The link will take you to the 101 of finding a place to live and their suggestions on the matter.

Now for me, things are tricky when it comes to housing. Because of I am in legal limbo with my Visa status and so long as the Home Office has my passport, I’m more or less in the same boat as any other person without ID – meaning without a means to prove I’m legit, I’m basically going to be treated like  someone who is stateless.

That said, and this I have to make abundantly clear to those who believe otherwise (hence caps): A PERSON WITH LIMITED LEAVE TO REMAIN IS NOT ENTITLED TO HOUSING BENEFITS.

Why does this matter? Because it’s a common argument that foreigners are taking council housing. As you can see from the link I provided, those that would even start to fall into the category to do so are very limited at that (i.e. refugees/asylum seekers since they aren’t allowed to work but still need a place to stay and as the government has not allowed them any other means to support themselves – though, increasingly this group is being forced into inadequate housing and people with indefinite leave to remain – which is to say that they’re now settled in the UK and probably have been for here some time now). Point being, one either has to show they are habitual residents of the nation or are exempt.

Now, one could in theory argue that, as my husband is a UK citizen and is an European Economic Area member by extension, I could go under the EEA Family Member category which grants more freedoms generally speaking than the UK-system. The problem with this is it’s really splitting grey hairs and more and more often they are attempting to stop people from using it… why? Probably has something to do with the fact that they hate migrants right now and any excuse is good enough to deny one of us the privileges of those deemed “more deserving.” I don’t trust them not to try to yank the rug out from under me or, worse, call foul somehow. So we’re doing this the normal way.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, housing – for sale as well as for rent – has seen a massive jump in costs. I’m focusing on renting for the time being (sorry for those looking to buy) and that means accepting the fact that all places on the market are now £100 or more expensive per month than they were a 6 months ago.

In the UK, property management agencies are self-governed; it is largely due to this that there are no actual limits to date on how much they can charge in fees. In my region, I have seen application fees anywhere between £100-£200 PER PERSON, and that’s just to apply – you don’t get that money back if they reject you.

Most places these days require two people in full-time employment on the lease; be that in the form of two people in said level of employment living in the apartment/flat (as they like to call them), or one person living at the place and having a Guarantor. On a personal level, it irritates me, because there are people who do not have access to such support (and most do not have the money laying around to pay in bulk a half or even a full year’s worth of rent in one go) and are thereby ring-fenced out of housing.

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting things in writing – ditto for reading the fine print on the contract. Going through a reputable source is important, though it isn’t mandatory; there are pros and cons to both sides, but a company that’s associated with one of their governing bodies, is required to meet their standards which includes having a set procedure for handling complaints should any arise. You don’t get that going through a private letting, though on the upside, most of the time you don’t have application fees when the landlord chooses to self-manage the whole shebang.

Very commonly in renting accommodation in the UK, a tenant will be required to pay the first month of rent in advance alone with a damage deposit which is usually the same amount as the rent or rent-and-a-half.

Unless you’re sharing a house (i.e. renting a bedroom), you are also typically expected to pay some/all of the utilities AS WELL AS Council Tax. If some benevolent property owner does not do this, they will normally state as much on their advertisement, though it can never hurt to check.

Council Tax is usually split up into monthly payments to make it less painful to dish out. There are several “bands” of Council Tax and the value of the band depends largely by the region, Band A being the lowest band and Band H being the most expensive. For my area, that equates to anywhere between £900-£3,500 per year.

When looking at available units to rent, one has to remember in the UK tends to break down their rents in two ways: it will either be listed by the weekly amount, or by the monthly amount. One needs to be aware of this when hunting for a place to live as they may need to alternate between the two between websites.

Another irritation that I’ve been experiencing is when people simply do not call you back. I’ve spoken to a few letting agencies so far and tried to arrange for a viewing on a couple of properties – one agency nailed something down within the first day… the second one never got back to me. At all.

When viewing a place and noticing the distinct lack of things like a fridge or oven, it’s always worthwhile to ask the owner if “Whitegoods” are included or if you will need to supply your own. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t, and just how the UK rolls, it seems.

My husband and I went to our first viewing today; all in all, the place seems to be a viable candidate for us and I will be contacting the letting agency in the morning to square away details. The place in question uses a pay-as-you-go scheme, if you will, called Economy 7 and the flat in question has a special heater that takes advantage of the system by charging itself at night when it is cheapest and then dissipating that heat slowly throughout the day. It’s also a small place, so that will help.

As nothing is ever set in stone, I will be following this up with more posts on a later date regarding the progress.

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