Scotland has sorted out those whimsical, onerous and imaginative letting agents admin fees good and proper. They’ve made them illegal. Agents caught charging fees are transported in chains to Rhyl, beaten about the face with cabbages and obliged to record a sincere, humble and profuse apology broadcast on youtube before repaying all the money and then some.
Yeah, right. There is a law, but letting agents brazenly ignore it, and have done for decades.
When I was sorting my current home (a great flat I might add – I seem to have been lucky for the second time) I raised the whole fees-being-illegal-thing, but you know how it works: no fees paid=no flat.
So: here are some other stories. The tenant who moved into a flat, and was told that she would be charged a £50 admin fee. It’s a three bed flat: that’s £150 in total. An online credit check costs about a fiver, and they didn’t contact her referees.
She asked me what she should do. I suggested that she should mention casually and chattily that the fees were illegal. She was told: ‘It’s a grey area.’ Only in so far as a minority opinion argues that ‘reasonable’ fees may be charged, to cover actual expenses.
Another prospective tenant queried the purpose of that £100 ‘key-money’ (this scam operates under a multitude of different names.) She was told it covered the onerous and time consuming duty of hauling in written references from her nominated referees (perhaps they live on the moon; rocket fuel is costly which might explain the rates.) Can you can guess what happened next? Just as with myself, none of the referees was actually contacted.
My agency justifies these mystery monies: “...as we have to pay to run our office.” Moving left me out of pocket, what with storage, removal vans to hire, and deposits to find. Perhaps I should send them an invoice?
I was also ambushed by sudden news of six weeks in advance for the deposit. I queried this, as tenants/customers are entitled to prior warning of any extraordinary costs, but was told by a snide letting-agent: “…this is just what charge; it’s what we charge. You can always say no.”
What would happen if I had stood my ground, looked the agent in the eye, and in my firmest stentorian tones declaimed: “No! I will not pay your illegal charges! Vive la revolution!” But I was technically homeless, and when people say: be strong and refuse to pay it’s hard even for me and I know my rights. I am aware that a charity did some secret shopping, and discovered that the majority of agencies openly and contemptuously break the law.
There is an obvious course of action: the courts, for a possible case involving fraud, extortion and charging illegal fees, but if I choose that path, I might lose the flat. Oh, this mountainous dilemma. What would you do?
(NB: I’ve been away from blogging. Sorry, but that broken memory stick sideswiped me. I need to get it repaired – all advice welcome.)