Advice for Overseas Tenants

London

image: TJ Morris

April to September is definitely the busiest time for the lettings industry! One thing I have noticed in recent weeks is an  increase in the amount of enquiries we have received from overseas applicants, who are looking to rent in London.

Some people renting from overseas come to London with an employer, and will have the benefit of help and support from their company. However not all will have that luxury, and will have to prove they can afford the rent and find a suitable and safe estate agency for themselves.

Many of these applicants are students looking to live in London whilst studying at university, starting their search for a home close to the start of term time. According to UCAS, in 2010 alone 62,695 overseas students were accepted into British universities. That is a lot of people in need of advice! I hope that this article, a guide to renting in London and the UK, helps those unfamiliar with the process to learn what is required of them in order to find and rent their perfect home.

General Lettings Practice in the UK

Firstly, most lettings agencies require the following from all tenants renting in the UK:

  • One month’s rent upfront
  • A deposit of around 4-8 weeks rent (depending on the agency and if you are working full-time or a student)
  • A deductable holding deposit (around £500) once an offer has been put forward to a landlord

Then, assuming the landlord accepts the offer, there are a few other costs that are common to all tenants renting in the UK, including:

  • Referencing and administration fees
  • Check-in / check-out fee (although we believe this is a shared responsibility of the landlord and tenant, therefore we split this cost half way)
  • Some ‘cheeky’ agents will also charge the tenant for issuing a tenancy agreement

The above procedures are considered to be the ‘norm’ in the current London market. However, if you are from overseas, other things will usually need to be checked before you are approved as a tenant. The main reason for this is that reference checks are carried out on all applicants who choose to rent in the UK – as agencies and landlords need to know that their tenants have suitable means to pay the rent. 

Letting a Property as an Overseas Applicant

For tenants living and working in the UK this is usually straight forward, as the referencing means the applicant is credit checked, with previous renting history in the UK and employment checks also carried out. We can then ensure that they are a suitable tenant who is capable of paying their monthly rent. But what happens if you are new to the UK? If you won’t pass the reference checks, how can you rent a home?

  • You can pay a lump sum of rent upfront
  • You can use a UK guarantor
  • Your company could be your guarantor
  • If you have been in continuous employment with the same company for at least 1 year, you may be able to be employment referenced, and will then be able to pay rent on a monthly basis without having to provide a UK guarantor

If you wish to pay a lump sum of rent upfront, the minimum rent that most agencies  in the UK would accept would be 6 months worth. Should you not be able to pay 6 months upfront, another option most agencies would accept is a guarantor. The most common criteria for a guarantor would be that they are a UK home owner, and are earning around 36 times the monthly rent. The guarantor would be named on the Tenancy Agreement, and would be liable to cover any outstanding rent should you be in arrears. If you are unable to provide a UK guarantor, if you work for a company they could be your guarantor if they agreed. Guarantors will be fully referenced, credit checked, and employment checked.

The Tenancy

In regards to the tenancy, the standard term for a tenancy would be 12 months – although should you pay rent upfront, then the term of the lease would be however many months of rent are paid upfront. This is because a term of tenancy can not be issued for longer than the amount of rent paid in advance.

VISAs

Another point to consider is that of your VISA. If you are moving from out of the EU into the UK, then you will also need a valid VISA to rent, and the term of tenancy can not be longer than the validation dates of the VISA, even if you intend on renewing it.

Finding a Reputable Estate Agency

Legalities aside, most people searching for a new home wish to see it before they sign a contract. However if you are coming from abroad that may not always be possible, and in some cases the first time someone sees their flat is the day their tenancy starts. In order to gain as much information on the property as possible, ensure you ask your lettings agent about the following:

  • Price
  • Size
  • Furnishings
  • Development amenities
  • Local area
  • Tube / transport links
  • Average journey time to place of work / university
  • Floor plan

It is essential that you rent through a reputable agent. Recently we have seen illegal ‘scrapping’ websites targeting overseas tenants moving to the UK, taking their deposits for properties that don’t exist. The illegal sites essentially hijack a UK agent’s website appearance, offering access to properties and rental opportunities. Consumers who have paid deposits into these accounts have been left out-of-pocket; without access to the property they have been promised.

Therefore if you know somebody already living in the UK see if they can view the property for you, to check it exists. If that is not a possibility, always check to see whether the agency is registered with The Property Ombudsman Service (TPOS) and any of the professional bodies (e.g. the National Approved Letting Scheme [NALS]), and check the SAFEagent register, to confirm that the company is  professional and legitimate. Additionally, ask for a tenancy agreement from the company, along with any safety certificates registered to that property.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will answer them promptly. 

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