So you’re ready to rent your first apartment in Central London...
Finding and moving into a new rental property can be an exciting but also daunting experience. From making sure you choose the right area and property - to know how to protect your rights as a tenant, there’s certainly a lot to think about.
If readers are new to renting and don’t quite know where to start, worry not! Dolphin Square is uniquely positioned to offer first-hand advice so that first-time renters can move into their new home clued up and without being taken for a ride.
This extensive new-tenant checklist covers all the requirements for anyone renting their first apartment in Central London. Have peace of mind that all the boring (but crucial) stuff is taken care of, keeping you and your home safe and protected, while allowing you more time and energy to focus on the fun parts.
First-Time Renting: The Pimlico Apartment Checklist
This is what this guide includes:
- Budget for tenancy - make sure you know what you can afford.
- Finding a home - find an area and property that suits your needs.
- Arranging your rental - get all the paperwork in order and know your rights.
- Getting settled - getting set up in your new home and area.
- What if things go wrong - how to complain and protect your deposit.
- The end of your tenancy - what to do when your contract finishes.
- Ready to rent - what next?
So get ready to get wise and dive into finding your first rental apartment.
1. Budget for your tenancy
It’s important when looking for flats to rent in London that you figure out what you can realistically afford. You don’t want to end up in a position where you can’t pay your rent. Take into account personal outgoings for food, transport, social outings, bills including gas and electricity, council tax etc. add a little extra for unforeseen costs and then look at how much you have left each month.
2. Finding a home
2.a) Who’s your landlord?
You can find your ideal home by finding a private landlord directly, through websites or word of mouth - but watch out for scams - if something sounds too good to be true then there’s a high chance it is.
Make sure you get the name of your landlord and an address in England or Wales where the landlord will accept written notices (such as a court summons). Hopefully, you won’t need to use this but it’s crucial to have and landlords are obliged to provide you with this information. You are not lawfully obliged to pay your rent until they do.
While you’re at it, make sure you get their contact info.
If the property is shared or an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation, defined by gov.uk as usually being “a property where three or more unrelated people share facilities such as a kitchen or bathroom”) then the landlord may need to have a specific licence and they’re legally obliged to show you this paperwork.
2.b) Accreditation for peace of mind
Ask whether your landlord or agent has signed a code of practice, which may give you additional assurance about their legitimacy and conduct.
2.c) Letting agents
You can rent through a letting agent, who manages the property on the landlord’s behalf. Still be wary, as not all of them have the tenant’s best interests at heart. You can find reputable agents that have been accredited through a professional body such as ARLA Propertymark, GPP, Safeagent, RICS or UKALA.
An alternative is to go with a property provider, like Dolphin Square, who lets the apartment in a development made expressly for that purpose - with professional management and added customer care. You can find unserviced or serviced apartments and again it’s wise to go for an accredited provider for peace of mind.
2.d) What would you like?
There are all sorts of apartment options in Pimlico. You can rent anything from a good value studio apartment to a flash multiple-floor, luxury penthouse.
Figure out what you ideally want and need, so that you will know when you’ve found it. How many rooms do you need? What amenities do you require? Don’t waste your time looking at apartments that don’t have a bathtub if that’s a dealbreaker for you.
2.e) Know the market
It might sound a little intimidating, but you can learn the basics of the current property market in your area quite simply. When arranging viewings, research nearby rental fees for similar properties. This will set you up to know if you’re being offered a good deal or if the landlord is trying to exploit you, which a lot of landlords get away with in London’s competitive rental market.
Make sure you check for any hidden fees and check that any you do find are actually permitted.
3. Arranging your rental
When you’ve found the apartment you want, it’s time to arrange the rental. Find out what the specific application process is for your property.
3.a) Check your Tenancy Agreement
Make sure you sign a tenancy agreement and make sure you read it first. What’s the notice period for both you and the landlord or agent? If it’s a flatshare are you expected to interview with any other tenants? What’s included?
Your landlord and agents will most likely ask for a reference and will want to confirm proof of identity, immigration status, credit history and employment status or that you have a guarantor.
3.b) How Long is the Contract?
There is usually a fixed period of 6 or 12 months. If you want more security, it may be worth asking whether the landlord is willing to agree to a longer fixed period. Alternatively, you may be offered a weekly or monthly rolling contract. Even with those tenancies, the landlord has to allow you to stay in the property for a minimum of 6 months.
3.c) Know your Rights
As a tenant, you have rights and responsibilities which it’s important to be aware of. For example: your landlord legally has to put your deposit in a government-approved tenancy deposit scheme (TDP) and the deposit can’t top the cap.
Deposits can’t exceed 5 weeks’ worth of rent (where annual rent is less than £50,000) or 6 weeks’ rent (where annual rent is more than £50,000).
Once you’re renting the property: that’s your home. This means that the landlord or letting agent must ask your permission and give at least 24 hours notice before they come round - even if it’s to do repairs. They also need to come round at a reasonable or agreed time.
3.d) Get the Paperwork
The landlord must share copies of the government’s renter’s guide, a gas safety certificate, your deposit paperwork, records of any electrical inspections and the Energy Performance Certificate (a rating scheme to summarise the energy efficiency of buildings in the EU and still, currently at least, the UK).
3.e) Stay Safe
Make sure your home is safe to live in. Landlords must have at least one smoke alarm installed on every storey of their lettings. If you have anything like a wood-burning stove or open fire then carbon monoxide detectors must be provided. Not all landlords are vigilant about health and safety and these measures could save your life.
3.f) Know your Responsibilities
There are some pretty obvious ones, like paying rent on time and paying other bills. You need to look after the property and ask before you do any home improvements. The tenant needs to be considerate of neighbours and antisocial behaviour can lead to you getting chucked out.
You can’t sublet it without finding out if you need to get (and obtaining if so) permission from your landlord.
4. Getting settled
It’s exciting when you’re moving into a new place, you want to make it your own - but there are a few key things you need to do before unpacking your potted plants and home cinema system.
4.a) Meter Readings
It’s smart to make this the very first thing you do - before putting on all the lights or having a long hot shower. Take photos of the meter readings (gas, electric and water if there is one) and ideally include something displaying the time and date (you can have your phone camera set to automatically record this). Report the meter reading to your landlord or letting agent and your energy provider, so there’s no debate about where your usage started.
4.b) Check the inventory
The last thing you want when you move out is to lose your deposit because an inventoried item was missing or broken before you even arrived. It’s a good idea to take photos of everything (before you unpack) and contact your agent or landlord immediately if you spot anything awry. It can become much harder to persuade them to sort out issues once you’re in and guaranteed to be paying rent every month.
4.c) Bills bills bills
The next most important thing to do is to set up direct debits for all your utilities and services so that you have the essentials like electricity, gas, water, council tax and Wifi taken care of. If you’re sharing your new place with other people make sure you’re clear from the start who’s responsible for paying which bill, as you can all be held accountable if something goes wrong.
Some rentals, such as serviced apartments, come with utilities and council tax already included in your rent, saving you the hassle of sorting them out.
Don’t forget you need to pay for a TV licence if you ever watch television live, even if it’s on a laptop, tablet or smartphone. You can register to pay online, by phone or by post. If you’re paying by direct debit, you can choose whether to pay for a full year upfront or make smaller monthly or quarterly payments.
Remember to update your new address on your bank account and IDs -if you don’t update your driver’s licence to say that you have moved you could be fined £1000 by the DVLA. Don’t forget you need to register to vote at your new address.
4.d) What can I bring?
You need to make sure you’re clear on what you can or can’t bring into the property. Are pets allowed? Is smoking? Can you bring your bicycle in? If the property is furnished are you allowed to bring in any of your own furniture?
4.e) Feel secure
Get familiar with all of the locks and mechanisms for opening your windows and doors, including front entrances to the building if you’re in a block. This is good to stop you from getting locked out or in and also helps ensure that your apartment, belongings and self are as safe as possible. Some apartment buildings might have additional security, like CCTV or even onsite staff. Serviced apartments come with 24-hour security of varying levels depending on the provider.
If your apartment has an alarm make sure you take some time to learn how to use it properly, for security and also so that you don’t very quickly become unpopular with your neighbours.
4.f) Learn about your local area
As well as exploring the best places to eat and drink in your new neighbourhood, it’s important to learn the basics - like which day the bins are collected, what items are recycled by your local council and what parking restrictions apply on your street.
Serviced apartments come with housekeeping and at some properties access to onsite parking, so if you choose to rent one of these then fiddly bits like this may already be taken care of.
5. What if things go wrong?
The Homes Act means that landlords have a responsibility to ensure that the property you’re renting is fit for human habitation, which means (amongst other things) that they have to do repairs and maintenance and ensure there are no serious hazards while you’re living there.
Serviced apartments have 24-hour onsite staff and caretakers should anything go wrong.
It’s best to report any problems as soon as they come up so that your landlord, letting agent or property manager can sort it out and so that it doesn’t get worse. If you fail to report the need for repairs and then things get worse this could breach your tenancy agreement and lose you your deposit.
5.b) Get insured
Your landlord has to have insurance for the property, in case of something like a flood or fire, but that won’t cover your stuff.
If you’re having trouble with your letting agent you might feel powerless to do anything about it - but even unaccredited agents have to be a part of a government-approved redress scheme, whom you can complain to.
5.d) Having trouble paying your rent
If you’re having problems affording your rent due to unforeseen circumstances, it’s a good idea to keep your landlord in the loop and let them know that they can trust you.
You can get good advice and help from your local housing authority, Citizens Advice or Shelter and it’s wise to do this as soon as possible. If you are eligible for legal aid, you can also contact Civil Legal Advice for free and confidential advice. Check out these practical steps for managing your rent payments.
6. The end of your tenancy
When your fixed term tenancy ends (i.e. the period you initially signed up for) then there are a few things that could happen. You might decide it’s time for you to move on, which you’re entitled to do without further notice, or perhaps you love it where you are and you want to stay. If so, talk to your landlord or agent and find out if you can. It’s simpler and cheaper for them to keep the same tenant, so chances are they’ll be interested.
6.a) Staying Put
You need to decide if you want to sign up to another fixed-term or if you want to go onto a rolling contract, continuing as before but without a fixed end date (but still with the notice period in your tenancy agreement - usually 1 month). Be warned that some landlords might want to increase your rent at this point depending on the housing market and how you’ve been as a tenant. It might be worth having a conversation with them about this if you are on good terms.
At Dolphin Square, it’s simple to enter into another year’s residential contract and our service team are always happy to help.
6.b) Moving out
Make sure you’re all paid up - tie up all your loose ends before you leave, including paying final rent and bill instalments and cancelling things like the internet.
Leave it tidy - get all of your belongings and any rubbish out of the house and clean it thoroughly. You want to leave the property as you found it in order to get that deposit back (this is where those photos come in handy - both for proof if anything was or wasn’t damaged and so you can remember what you’re aiming for!)
Inspection - try to be present for this so that you can discuss any deposit issues at the time. If you feel like you’re being ripped off (and ideally you have the photos to prove it then contact whichever scheme is protecting your deposit.
Close the door on that chapter and hand back your keys.
Ready to Rent: Choose Dolphin Square
There’s a lot to think about and do when you’re renting a property for the first time and it can be overwhelming, especially in Central London, but you don’t have to be at the mercy of dodgy landlords or cowboy letting agents. Choosing to live in an accredited Dolphin Square apartment will remove the stress, hassle and risk from the whole process, leaving you with more space and time to enjoy your new home.
Whether you want a simple studio or a roomy three-bedroom apartment, our lovely team will help you find your dream home.
With regular housekeeping, a competitive onsite restaurant and brilliant guest amenities, including a fitness centre, a spa plus meeting and events spaces, Dolphin Square provide so much more than a private rental. Customer care is top of our priority list, especially in these unprecedented times.
Located in upscale but affordable Pimlico, right on the River Thames, Dolphin Square has its own array of restaurants, cafes, pubs, wine bars and green space - as well as a short walk or brilliant transport links to the best spots in the city.
Clued up and ready to go
The best way to avoid being overwhelmed or exploited when renting in the minefield that is the London housing market is to make sure you know your stuff. Use what you’ve learnt in this checklist, based on the government’s guidelines, to navigate this potentially tricky process.
Now you have the tools to be sure that you’re getting the best deal, that you know your rights and to make sure you uphold your responsibilities as a tenant.
You can browse the web, the local letting agent or make things simple for yourself without compromising on style and comfort by opting for a Dolphin Square serviced apartment.
Why wait? Get apartment hunting today and find your first rental home.