Earlier this year Shelter wrote about the exorbitant letting fees charged by estate agents. They reported that 1 in 4 renters have said they’ve been charged an unfair fee and 1 in 7 renters are hit with fees of over £500 or more. Polling carried out in March shows 67 per cent of the British public support a ban on letting fees. Looking to move back to the area I grew up, we sold our house at the back end of last year with a view to renting for around a year to 18 months in Whitefield, near family.
After several viewings and aborted attempts to secure a house to rent (landlords and/or the agents backed out once we reminded them about Dexter, our Border Collie, despite being upfront of our need to find somewhere dog friendly) we found somewhere that, superficially, looked suitable and was within our budget.
First order of business, the letting agent wanted a £240 “holding deposit”, which the paperwork stated was a non-refundable £200+VAT ‘good faith’ fee. So, already we felt we were being held to ransom. When it was queried, we were simply asked “do you want the property or not?” Alright, so the £240 goes towards the following fees:
Tenancy agreement £150 (£125+VAT)
Administration and check-in £124 (£104.17+VAT)
References PER PERSON £180 (£90×2, £75+VAT)
Pet clause negotiation £75 (£62.50+VAT)
In addition to these fees, there was the security deposit to be paid and one months rent in advance. As I wrote the cheque, I did wonder if I was buying this house, rather than merely renting it.
In a shameful breach of data protection the letting agent also included an invoice to the landlord who was charged a whopping £362.40 inc VAT for the privilege of allowing his house to be occupied for the next 12 months.
So upfront, the letting agent has received £529 in fees alone from us (excluding deposit and one months rent upfront) and £362.40 from the landlord, almost £900. What, exactly, did they do for this £900? Well, I can tell you that despite charging for “check-in” they did no such thing! In fact, as far as I can tell they merely published a picture and some inaccurate details on their website and sat back waiting for our call.
One charge I did query was the very hefty reference fee (£90 per person) as I know for a fact that the most expensive reference fees are usually around half that. Tenantverify.co.uk offers a credit search and risk assessment service for £15.88! I was informed that there was no wiggle room on this and my offer of providing bank statements or other proof in lieu would not be acceptable.
Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert, introducing a bill aimed at driving out rogue landlords from the private rented sector, said more needed to be done prevent letting agents from charging “exorbitant” fees and to give greater security to tenants renting privately.
Mr Huppert said: “Letting agents can and do charge exorbitant amounts for credit checks to put prospective tenants on a register to extend contracts and many other small changes. The agents are already paid by the landlord and the fees bear no relationship to the cost.”
Introducing his backbench bill, Mr Huppert said it would prevent the charging by estate agents of above-cost fees, review the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007 and the Estate Agents Act 1979 applying to letting agencies to facilitate the establishment by councils of landlord and property accreditation schemes.
It would also establish a housing ombudsman service to tenants in the private rented sector and require the Secretary of State to review the legislation applying to the private rented sector.
The Lib Dem MP said good landlords would stand to benefit from his bill.
He said: “There are many landlords and many letting agencies out there who are decent and honest who do not try to make their living by ripping off their tenants.
Those good people should have nothing to fear from these controls, indeed they will probably benefit as the rogues sharpen up their act or go out of business.
“These high fees, especially when they are hidden and people don’t know they are coming, have a huge effect on people’s lives. Many people rent because they can’t afford yet to buy so don’t have much spare cash.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband has thrown his weight behind Lib Dem proposals the party published in 2010, with the addition of two new further areas of reform including banning letting agents from charging tenants fees just to sign a tenancy agreement. They will instead have to ask landlords for fees.
As for my current position, well we are buying a house back where I used to live and go to school, so I’ll (hopefully) never be in a position in future where I will be ripped off by landlords and estate agents. Millions of others are not so lucky. Bury Council need to do more to stop our renters being ripped off and held to ransom.