Finding a place to live in London can be a little difficult and complicated, especially if you’re not from Europe or have never been before. But don’t worry! We’re going to break down the essentials for you. Be sure to get in touch with university accommodation offices, message boards, local newspapers, letting agencies, and family and friends that you may have with connections in London. Sometimes, the best housing situation comes to you by word of mouth. Be sure to do plenty of research before committing to a location.
Halls of Residence/University Housing: If you are going to be in London for the summer, you may want to consider living in a university residence hall. The advantages are the lower price point, the centralized location, accessibility of public transportation, and safety. These rooms can be as low as 30 pounds per night. Spots fill up quickly though, so it is best to try to arrange this accommodation at least several months in advance. Bear in mind that universities only accommodate visiting interns or students over the summer. For availability, application deadlines, etc. check out this list of contact information of popular universities in London. Another good place to start looking is the London Student Housing Guide, sponsored by BT. The University of London Housing Services is another good resource. The London Metropolitan University also keeps a list of some of the university halls that are available during the summer. When looking to secure a spot, contacting the university accommodation offices directly is your best bet.
Noticeboards: Around universities, you will find a number of noticeboards where offers of accommodation are posted, either from landlords or from students looking for co-sharers. Some universities also have online noticeboards (see Flatsharing messageboard) where students can advertise to other students. Advertisements from students to other students can be an excellent way to find accommodation.
However, advertisements from landlords can be problematic. Caution: Students should be wary of landlords who try to advertise directly to students without using the accommodation office. There are many noticeboards around the university and not all of them are adequately monitored. If a landlord has posted notices around the university and is, therefore, targeting students, check whether they are registered with the university. If they are not, why aren’t they?
Word of Mouth: Some of the best student housing in London is never advertised but is passed on from one group of students to another by word of mouth. It might be that you can find out about good offers from final year students who are vacating their flats/houses. However, don’t assume that just because you have found out about housing from a friend that it is necessarily going to be better than that found through any other source.
Shared Housing: One way to combat the high costs of living in London is to find roommates to share a house or flat with you. There are plenty of opportunities in London to rent a room from people already living there that can act as your “resident landlord.” This option is cheaper than renting your own place, but you do need to exercise caution and make sure that your living arrangement will be safe and will meet your expectations.
There are many places to start looking for roommates – university message boards, SpareRoom, GumTree, and EasyRoommate to name a few. On these sites you can search through postings asking for roommates, or post yourself, asking for roommates. These sites are all a sort of Craigslist, so exercise the same caution as you would with any Craigslist ad—buyer beware!
When searching, try to narrow your search to housing areas that tend to be less expensive, e.g.: Camden, Bayswater, Brixton, Hammersmith, Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, and Hackney, among others. For available accommodations, also check out the websites of reputable letting agencies. A great, relatively new online resource is Zoopla, which is a comprehensive property website for both sales and rentals in the UK.
Temporary Housing: If you’re in a bind and looking for temporary housing in the city, another option at your disposal are the hostels located around the city. Horror movies aside, many hostels in London tend to be safe, comfortable, and an affordable option for young residents. Hostels tend to cost anywhere between 10-25 pounds per night. Check out GeneratorHostels and Yha.org for potential accommodation.
If you’re not a student, two of the best places to start looking for accommodation are Visit London, the official visitor’s guide to London, and Gumtree. Also look at neighborhood websites – often letting agencies will publish their lists of available places to rent depending upon the neighborhood.
One important thing to remember is to watch out for letting scams. People will try to con you out of your money, especially in London, so if you see an offer that seems “too good to be true” definitely don’t sign up for it blindly. Make sure you visit the place you are renting in advance of paying any money. Here is an article from The New York Times about how to avoid those types of scams: Burned! A London Vacation Rental Scam.
Letting Agents: For those who are not students (and sometimes also for students), the majority of rented accommodation in London is probably advertised through letting agents, and they can give you access to a large number of properties. A good agent can save you time in finding the right property. However, you should be aware that they work on commission and so have a motivation to achieve the maximum rent possible. They can also charge potential tenants for contract fees. They cannot charge you just to show you accommodation though!
Check whether the agents are members of a professional body or not. Three of the most reputable accreditation bodies are ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents), NALS (National Approved Letting Scheme) and the NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents). Agents place advertisements in papers such as the Evening Standard and various local papers.
Newsagent windows: Once you have decided on an area of London that you like, you should use every resource available to find housing in this area. This includes newsagent windows. It’s not glamorous but sometimes good offers can be found in this way.
Other Important Factors in Choosing a Location: There are many factors that should go into your decision when choosing a location. Price, location, proximity to public transport, and proximity to your place of work are among the important factors.
Additionally, there are many legal obligations on the part of the landlord and on the part of the renter that you need to be aware of. Letting laws are very strict and specific in London. Be sure to understand them carefully so that you know your rights as a renter and can avoid being taken advantage of. The London Student Housing Guide provides a comprehensive guide of all of the legalities you need to keep in mind.
Note: While the online resources we have highlighted are aimed at students, their guidelines apply equally to all renters.
Safety: London is known generally for being a safe city. There are a few areas around the city that are less reputable than others, but for the most part, trust your own instincts about property you see. Well-lit areas with security in or around the building are your best bet. Be smart and you’ll be fine! Check out VisitLondon.com for more tips on staying safe in London.