4 Golden Rules when Renting a London Flat

Nick Parkin

Nick Parkin

A reminder from our series of articles about flat scams – there are plenty of fraud schemes out there, but underlying all will be human greed or desperation. Most people who fall for a scam can’t believe that they fell for it afterwards, & are often ashamed to tell people how stupid they were. Sadly we all do it, & the golden rule to keep in mind is that if it seems too good to be true – then it is too good to be true.

We used to have a “free month” offer. It seemed good marketing – in our adverts we would lead with “Free” & offer tenants a free month – if they signed up for a 12 month tenancy & paid the 11 months on time they would get the 12th month free. It seemed a good idea, we win, they win. We don’t do it anymore because it was just too time consuming explaining to people that no, they couldn’t just come for the free month. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

We ran a series on the common scams in detail and will publish some reminders in the next few blogs, but you will protect yourself by just being aware. If you are dealing with a reputable Landlord or Agent they will behave in a fairly predictable way. They may be cautious (Landlords get scammed too!), but look for accountability. Free adverts on Gumtree or Craigslist cost nothing, a free Hotmail eMail account can be set up in seconds. A landlord or agent who rents a flat ought to have a website, an office, an address, somewhere permanent where they can be held accountable. If they live abroad, are away on business, have a death/illness in the family, can’t meet, Run Forest Run.

When looking for a flat to rent follow the 4 Pimlico Flats Golden Rules

Simple Advice:

  1. Be aware, alert, streetwise
  2. If it seems too good to be true – then it is too good to be true.
  3. Scammers have a “signature” that you can recognise
  4. Reputable Landlords and Letting Agents  have a “signature” that you can recognise

Pimlico Flats Denies MP’s London Flats Rent Scandal

The Parliament of the United Kingdom, the 'Mot...

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Because of recent and extensive press comment Pimlico Flats would like to issue a clear denial.

After extensive cheques checks we confirm that we do not currently rent to MPs, Ministers, or members of the Shadow Cabinet.

Further we can say that we have never knowingly rented to MPs, Ministers, or members of the Shadow Cabinet, and it would not be our company policy to do so. We have checks in place including taking employers references, that should preclude such an unfortunate occurrence.

We do admit that our flats might be considered prime targets for politician’s accommodation, being within the Division Bell and 8 mins walk from the Houses of Parliament, however we would like to point out that our flats offer excellent value for money, generally renting for less than £1000 pcm and that this fact alone should be enough to deter most MPs who, whilst attracted to the high standards of finish and furnishing, would generally be looking for flats of much higher expense claiming potential.

Pimlico Flats offer for rent Central London flats of excellent value. We do not provide expensive property for expense claims.

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The London Crime Map November 2008

The London Mayor has launched a tool to help us determine where the best places to live  are. As we boldly declare that Pimlico Flats are one of the safest & most crime free places to live in London this has been of great interest to us, & here is our view of the initial map of crime.

An examination of the whole of London reveals that all boroughs have an average crime level with the exceptions of Islington, & Camden who have an Above average level, & Westminster where crime is High. My initial reaction to this is one of alarm! Sober consideration of the statistics (one standard deviation represents above average, two represents high) makes me note that nowhere is below average, so these statistics are pretty similar everywhere. Having said that, it still contradicts my subjective opinion that Pimlico Flats are in a crime free area – we haven’t had a crime since …….. well, we haven’t had a burgulary for 8 years (I was targetted personally by someone who knew me under the mistaken belief that our business keeps cash on the premises), & there was a well publicised mugging of Michael Howard’s wife when she went shopping (smart mugger – attack someone with armed police protection!) & that probably summarises the crime in Pimlico for this Century! So why does Westminster come out so high?

Well as you drill down the map you see that Pimlico Flats are in an Average Crime Ward, & when drilling down to the Sub-Ward we are in an Average Sub-Ward.  The High crime rates occur in the adjoining Sub-Wards where all the shops are. So the next port of call is to examine the actual statistics – the devil is in the detail, but remember

Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is part of a phrase attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and popularised in the United States by Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The statement refers to the persuasive power of numbers, the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions.

When you look at the actual crimes you will find that Westminster is:

Violence Against the Person – 2nd highest (136)

Rape Zero (0) Lowest out of a total of 40 rapes in London

Other Sexual (9) Highest out of a total of 96 Other Sexual in London

Methinks that Soho’s presence in Westminster may be significant.

Pick Pockets – Westminster 14 the other 31 Boroughs between them – 16. So now we know that pick pockets target tourists.

Well after examining the figures I can only conclude that criminals are geographically savvy creatures, & that Shoplifters don’t waste their time trying to steal from areas without shops, that Pimps only operate in Red Light Districts, that Car Thieves don’t steal bicycles.


Meantime may Pimlico Flat’s crime free existence continue for the rest of the century. Maybe we are lucky, or maybe it’s because we are in a quiet residential backwater, in a Neighbourhood Watch area, & because we employ maintenance, and cleaning personnel who keep our properties under continual observation. ” The harder you practice, the luckier you get.”

Renting Scam 5 – Other Charges

We have warned you to be clear what other charges might apply to a tenancy. Typical examples can include:

  • Administration fee – £300 mainly for the preparation of the rental agreement.
  • Credit check – £150 confirms names, address and bank details
  • Inventory fee – £80 Third Party Inventory Clerks can charge up to 2 weeks rent.
  • Renewal fee – £100 Most ‘assured shorthold’ tenancies are six month contracts.
  • Maintenance £40 – phoning a plumber.
  • Insurance fee – £200
  • Checking out fee – £45
  • Cleaning fee – £150
  • VAT 17.5%

That’s £1200 to rent a flat!

But those are the legal fees the sky is the limit if you fall for a Charges scam.

In a recent case a couple hunting for a home came across a bargain – a flat too good to be true. The alarm bells would be ringing for a reader of the Renting Flats in London Blog, but to the couple there was nothing wrong with the smart first-floor Central London flat &, eager to beat off competition, they put down a deposit. First they signed a short contract which included the following innocent-sounding clause: ‘I, the Landlord herewith confirm having received the amount £900 (one month’s rent) as a deposit for one-bedroom flat with a view to entering into a rental agreement … subject to being provided with satisfactory references. Should the references not be satisfactory, the deposit will be paid back (less a fee for checking the references, depending upon the time spent at a rate of £75 per hour, plus expenses such as phone calls).’

Problems arose, however, when the Landlord  approached a referee, a finance director at their employer, and began asking questions. The director thought that it was inappropriate to be quizzed, and the couple agreed – ‘if this is what he was going to be like as a landlord, I wasn’t interested. I would simply notify him to say we didn’t want the apartment’.

the Landlord told themm it was too late as a reference check was under way. In the end, the landlord refunded £200 of the £900 deposit, claiming the balance was time spent on checking the references.

Another couple of prospective tenants were told that they had failed the reference check because their combined income was not enough to cover the rent, and received only £240 from the £865 deposit. The couple insist their references were ‘spotless’ and their combined income of £2,500 a month was adequate. 

A citizens advice bureau adviser has advised four sets of would-be tenants who have put down deposits of close to £1,000 each for the elusive apartment and all have lost most of their deposit. ‘He could well be making a good living out of doing this if our suspicions are right,’ he says.

But do the would-be tenants who willingly signed up to the agreement have a legal leg to stand on? Unfortunately not – it is not an unlawful contract, but it is a rip-off. A police response is that it was a ‘civil matter’ they should pursue themselves.

· Read the small print. Don’t get pressurised or rushed into signing any agreement. Ignore the assurances of landlords that ‘it’s just a formality’ or ‘that clause doesn’t really matter’.

· Bring your own references from an employer, previous landlord, bank etc. Get other references yourself if necessary in case the landlord or agents try to charge you for obtaining any additional references. Consider negotiating a clause that any deductions for reference checking, for example, don’t exceed £50.

Charges to Rent a Flat

As I write this Pimlico Flats make no charges for preparing the Inventory, preparing the Agreement, Administering the Deposit, taking References. This will probably change in the near future as we currently do a lot of work for tenants free of charge, which are generally subject to a charge, & little appreciated by our prospective tenants. As a tenant you need to be aware of this work, and how much you are going to be charged for it. Fees are typically:

Administration fee – £300
Agents charge from £35 up to £300 some agents claim this covers the cost of viewings. The average fee appears to be around £100, & is mainly for the preparation of the rental agreement.

Credit check – £150
Fees ranging from £35 per head to £150. As an indication of the true cost, Experian’s ‘Tenant Verifier’ service confirms names, address and bank details for a cost of £10. Banks charge around £10.50 (the fee at First Direct) for a reference.

Inventory fee – £80
Agents routinely add an ‘inventory fee’ – even for unfurnished properties. The typical cost is £50, but can go as high as £80. Some agents double-charge, sending the bill both to the tenant and the landlord (this is illegal). Third Party Inventory Clerks can charge up to 2 weeks rent.

Renewal fee – £100
Most ‘assured shorthold’ tenancies are six month contracts. We at Pimlico Flats allow the tenancy to roll over into a Periodic Tenancy which means that the tenant isn’t locked into another fixed term. Many agents charge a fee every six months to renew the contract – usually around £35 but sometimes as high as £100.

Maintenance fee – £40
Not common – but agent can add an extra 10% (£40 on average) for little more than phoning a plumber.

Insurance fee – £200
Some tenants are pressured into taking expensive contents policies and led to believe that these were conditional upon accepting the tenancy.

Checking out fee – £45
A charge made when you hand back the keys, as high as £45. Not common.

Cleaning fee – £150
The one fee that Pimlico Flats may charge – you receive the flat spotless, so we expect it back in the same condition. There is no charge if you have cleaned the flat, & £25 if you arrange cleaning through us in advance, however if we expect you to clean, & you haven’t our costs may be much higher rushing in contract cleaners.

All the above charges are subject to VAT @ 17.5% when charged by an agent.

We emphasis that Pimlico Flats do not make any of the above charges, however they are normal practice when renting a flat.

The key point is that you must ask what the charges are before commiting to a Flat, & most definitely before leaving a deposit for a flat, & that these charges must reflect the actual costs involved. If you find yourself on the wrong end of some Unfair Contract Terms the Office of Fair Trading might be able if the 1977 unfair contract terms act has been breached. However by far & away the best approach is to investigate these fees fully prior to commiting to a rental. Otherwise you may incurr unexpected, but valid costs or worse ………….

If you don’t check in advance you may find that you fall foul of one of the scams described in our next blog.

Renting Scam 4 – Men in Suits

All that Glitters is not Gold.

When you visit an agent try not to be carried away with their stylish office, this is not necessarily a sign of probity. In the previous articles I talked about the importance of accountability, & the signs of a normal transaction – the 3 Ps of Property might be said to be Presence, Premises, Phone. Well – the reverse applies also – beware a triumph of Presentation. By now you may well be thinking – what can possibly be wrong with a reputable firm, an expensive office in a prime location, & a fine company car to chauffer me around the very finest properties? The answer is requires a little thought & understanding of the business model that supports this sales strategy.
An agent’s life is a difficult one, they sit between Landlord & Tenant with nothing to survive on but their wit, blamed by both for the failing of the other, & very often reviled for no reason of their making. You could be forgiven for thinking that an Agent’s role is to sell property to tenants – in fact that is of secondary consideration. In the London market there is a surfeit of both tenants & agents, & the 1st objective of any agent will be to convince landlords that they are best served registering their properties with that particular agency. This means promising a higher rent than anyone else can achieve – generally promising “Company Lets”. The more luxurious the office, car, & suit, the more believable the promise of premium rents.
The same luxurious office, car, & suit works to impress a prospective tenant of the value of the flats that they have on their books, but now the business model is slightly different. The competition is other agents, & the idea is to keep the prospective tenant viewing your flats, to keep their choice to one of your landlords – any one. The ideal way of achieving this is to drive them around from flat to flat & not let them out of the car flat or office until a tenancy agreement has been signed. They don’t care which flat you sign for – but they do care that you sign for one of them!
So what’s the Scam? Well – there is nothing actually illegal, but you do need to beware that you don’t end up paying far more than you need have. Your chauffer come property consultant is on commission, & this means that it is in his/her interest to see you spend as much money as possible. Agents charge Landlords from 10+% for finding a tenant to 17% for a fully managed letting (I’ve included the VAT as it isn’t an output for residential letting) – & a big chunk of that will go to the negotiator, so they will be trying to negotiate a managed letting, & also a longer contract than you might have thought of, locking you into the higher rent that they have sold you on. Don’t kid yourself – that commission is coming straight out of your rent!
It’s not a scam in the sense of fraud, but nevertheless I know of a tenant who ended up spending £3000 to buy himself out of a 24 month contract that he should never have been signed up for by a reputable agent. At Pimlico Flats we offer 6 month contracts & allow the tenant to stay as long as they wish – we know that they will want to stay with us voluntarily, so we don’t need to contract tenants to longer lettings.

So protect yourself against the Men in Suits:

  • Visit properties from more than 1 agent
  • Visit properties not let through an agent
  • Be clear what length of tenancy you want to commit to, & don’t sign for anything longer than you know that you need.

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