Lessons on Renting in London — a Short-Term Rental Saga

Lauren Case
Lessons on Renting in London — a Short Term Rental Saga

A story of a three-month “short-let” nightmare.

There were reg flags. Mistakes were made. It was too much drama for a three month lease. Hopefully this cathartic airing of grievances will help at least some readers avoid pulling their hair out by spotting a problematic lease before signing.

My husband and I planned to spend this summer in London and needed a short term rental (or “short-let” as the Brits say). We got advice from friends on good neighborhoods, and started contacting brokers. We reached out to no less than eight real estate agencies in London, and ended up working with one (which shall not be named, but will pop up towards the top of a google search).

The first thing we learned is that agents and brokers (terms used interchangeably) work on a hyper-local level. Most real estate agencies have an office in every neighborhood. So, for example, if you provided an agency five neighborhoods you’d like to live in, you’ll hear from five different agents about properties in their specific territory. We narrowed our search down to one particular neighborhood, and started working with an agent who was perfectly pleasant and found us a property we made an offer on.

First red flag. The landlord for said property tried get us into a bidding war with another potential tenant. We said no thanks. They then offered us another flat that had become available, just at a higher price. This one had a balcony and access to a private garden (think the garden Hugh Grant “whoopsie daisies” himself into in the movie Notting Hill). The extra perks sounded pretty good so we began negotiating price. When the negotiations dragged on because the landlord was on vacation, our agent bragged about how the landlord’s personal assistant “really likes him,” so not to worry, he could get us the flat. As a result, we got a bit lazy looking for other rental options, which we shouldn’t have done.

Second reg flag. Our lease was scheduled to begin on the first of the month. The previous tenant — we were told — was scheduled to move out a few days beforehand. We made a point of questioning whether there was enough time to clean the apartment, and were told no problem.

It was a problem. About three days before the start of our lease, we got a call from our agent saying, bad news, you can’t move in until the third of the month. Not ideal. We rushed to find accommodations for two nights on extremely short notice. We started to feel uneasy at this point, but the landlord blamed it on the tenant — their moving truck wasn’t coming until late in the day, etc. The story never added up, but we brushed it off as we didn’t have another option at that point.

Because of the lightning quick turn around of the flat, there were issues when we moved in — the internet was down, a broken lamp was left in the unit, lights were out, we only had one set of keys, and there was no key to the garden. Most of these issues were resolved pretty quickly, with the exception of the garden key, which we received after six weeks.

Third red flag — the “viewings”. The real fun began about a week into our lease, when the viewings started. We were advised by our broker that there would be viewings, and we said that’s fine. HUGE mistake on our part.

Unless you want to be concerned for your safety, your possessions, and feel as if you are an animal at a zoo, strongly object to viewings. Coming from a city where tenants’ rights are sacred, here’s what we expected when we heard there would be viewings — a few weeks before moving out there would be viewings, they would be cleared with us, there would be few of them. Were we in for a surprise.

We had, on average, five viewings a week starting in the second week of our tenancy. The viewings came at all hours. We were never asked if a viewing worked with our schedule; we were told when they would happen. Our request for coordination of schedules and consolidation of viewings to particular days was flatly rejected for no apparent reason. The only courtesy afforded was 24-hours notice of a viewing. So, in effect, we received daily WhatsApp messages informing us there would be a viewing the next day at any random time. This happened for eight straight weeks.

We had numerous unannounced visits. Our favorite unannounced visit was at 7:30 p.m. one night, when a broker opened the flat with a key, walking right in during dinner. Our second favorite instance was when someone entered the flat unannounced, we were not home, and the “property manager” (the landlord’s personal assistant) was unable to figure out who was in the flat. (We know someone was in the flat, because our things were moved.) Needless to say, we are left with the impression that this is an industry whose players do not necessarily value professionalism.

There were countless brokers who never showed up, showed up extremely late, or just showed up and asked to come see the flat without making an appointment. One broker locked us out of the apartment by using a key we did not have. The circumstances around the viewings made us feel unsafe, and completely disrespected.

Our complaints that the viewings were unreasonable and we were not receiving the quiet enjoyment of the lease we bargained for, fell on the deaf ears. The property manager/personal assistant had an excuse for everything. None of this was ever the result of her poor management of the eight brokers they were working with to both sell and lease the flat. There was always an excuse.

As a result of this attitude and the perceived need to hide information from us, we were continually lied to about what was going on. A classic example comes next. A week before the end of our lease, we were told that “checkout” would be at 10 a.m. on the last day of the lease. The lease terminated at midnight, so this was a little perplexing. When asked where in the lease it said we needed to be out by 10 a.m., the response was that 10 a.m. is “standard checkout time”. Well, not actually standard, because we didn’t know about it. The personal assistant then tried to bully us into leaving 14 hours before the end of our lease. We said no thanks.

Can you guess the reason checkout needed to be at 10 a.m.? Is that actually “standard”? Obviously not. The landlord wanted us out by 10am, so they could flip the apartment for the next tenant, whose lease was to begin . . . the same day our lease ended. Double rent, so great! The reason we moved in two days late makes a little more sense now. Best of luck to you, new tenant.

Our frustrated tale taught us a few, mostly common sense, lessons we hope are helpful:

  1. Rent from professionals. If your landlord has their personal assistant managing the property, it’s probably not worth it to deal with unprofessional way you will be treated.
  2. Related to lesson 1, if the property manager complains they can’t to their job because of their boss or rolls their eyes about the last tenants, the problem is the property manager, not everyone else.
  3. If your landlord pushes the start date of your tenancy back less than a week before the tenancy begins, reconsider whether you really need that apartment. It’s a sure sign of the misery to come.
  4. In general, make sure you have access to everything promised. Very specifically, if there is say, a private garden you were looking forward to enjoying, confirm the landlord actually has keys.
  5. Based on our conversations with brokers, viewings of a unit typically start four to six weeks before the end of a lease. This is a negotiating point. Ask for compensation if the viewings the landlord expects to take place are not satisfactory.
  6. Though it’s a pain, work with more than one broker. Have as many rental options to choose from as possible.

In closing, find professionals to help you through this process. Do not get talked into a flat by a broker. Ask all the questions. If you are coming from the States, be prepared for behavior that falls well below our standards of professionalism in this industry. Wishing you happy letting in London, which is truly a wonderful city, which we enjoyed living in (despite the drama).

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