I was interested to read that Citizens Advice has launched a campaign to get letting agents regulated. It says ‘private tenants are being badly let down by a system that allows letting agents to operate completely unchecked, routinely ripping off tenants by imposing unjustified and excessive charges and providing a poor or non-existent service.’
More on that in a moment. It struck me that as well as tenants feeling ripped off, I reckon there are lots of homeowners who feel the same way about letting agents. It really does seem to be a crapshoot as to whether you get a decent agency or not. And as with most businesses, even the good companies can have one or two dud staff. Friends of mine rented their house while they went abroad for two years. They are pretty flexible people and asked for non-smokers, no pets and that the study be kept as a study and not turned into a fourth bedroom. The house was let furnished. Just a few months into the let, they received a bill from their letting agent for a double bed. It turns out that this was sent by mistake as the agent had bought it to..you’ve guessed it… turn the study into a fourth bedroom. On a trip home they took the chance to make a pre-arranged visit to their house only to find it smelt of smoke and there was a large parrot in a cage along with evidence that it was not always kept in the cage.
OK so none of this was the end of the world. But why should letting agents be allowed to do what they want? They certainly took my friends’ calls much faster when the let was first being arranged than they ever did once it was set up.
But back to tenants. Citizens Advice is calling on the government to extend recently-announced plans to regulate letting agents, saying these must include a ban on the additional charges tenants often have to pay letting agents on top of their rent, usually for carrying out tasks that are no more than the routine business of letting and managing a property.
The Let Down campaign, is based on evidence from Citizens Advice Bureaux advising on around 6,000 problems with letting agents a year, an online survey completed by 1,300 tenants who visited the Citizens Advice website between August and November 2008 and a survey of 424 letting agents’ terms and conditions. This found that 94% of the letting agents imposed up to seven additional charges on tenants, not counting the tenancy deposit and rent in advance. In some cases these added up to well over £600. Charges included a non-returnable holding deposit, a deposit administration charge, a reference check charge, an administration fee, a check-in inventory charge, a check-out inventory charge and a tenancy renewal fee. The other big money-spinner for letting agents is the tenant credit check. CA reports some tenants being charged £250 every six months for this, which is outrageous. The report also uncovers considerable scope for double charging by agents, with tenants and landlords both being charged for the same service.
As with the experience of my friends, most tenants said the agent was very helpful initially but this changed completely once they had been signed up to the tenancy. One of the biggest problems was getting repairs dealt with. Many tenants reported difficulties getting through to the agent and said when they finally did, they were met with an unprofessional and uncooperative response. The way some agents handled money also led to tenants being left significantly out of pocket, and in some cases the agent simply disappeared.
Call me naive but I was slightly surprised to learn that anyone can set themselves up as a letting agent without any need for professional expertise or experience, any rules or controls over how they hold and manage the steady stream of money they handle between tenants and landlords, or any redress scheme for when things go wrong. Not good enough.
Have your say…. are you a letting agent with a response? Are you a tenant or landlord with good or bad experiences of letting agents or tips on how to choose one (if you have no choice but to use one)? Leave your comments below….
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