Scotland (where I find myself living for now) has much to offer: stunning scenery, whisky, thriving culture and haggis (seriously – it’s great.) Even better than that, letting-agent charges to tenants have been outlawed since 1984. It’s quite simple: anything other than a deposit or rent in advance (what the relevant act calls ‘a premium’) is verboten. Illegal. Banned.
Except, since the date of the legislation’s enactment, agents have carried on their own sweet way, levying bizarre, random fees with imaginative names. However, if you point out that the charges, no matter what they are called, are illegal, agents sneer, and basically, extort money by insisting that knowledgeable tenants who refuse, are not granted the tenancy.
What to do? Well, here are two stories. My last agent demanded the best name for a charge I’ve ever heard: ‘a continuous affordability assessment fee.’ Not a premium - no siree bob. And they also wanted £30 for a reference for my next home, which, since I had been given notice my former place as the owners were returning from abroad, I thought was slightly…cheeky. I visited the office, and reminded (or informed) them that such fees were illegal. The receptionist denied everything, went to ask for confirmation, and returned smirking: ‘I don’t know who told you that, but that’s what we charge.’ No fee no reference? ‘That’s what we charge.’
Okay - I paid and (vowing restitution) moved out. During the now inevitable deposit tussle, they tried to retain a chunk of my money for damage caused before I had moved in, so I wrote a very stern letter. Demanding a fee without which tenants can’t secure their next home is extortion (a criminal offence) and their representative was either lying or incompetent when insisting on fees. I quoted the legislation, provided links to various legal sites, and gave them seven days to refund my charges, or be taken to court.
They sent me a cheque even faster than I had asked. I thought: myohmy - somebody doesn’t want to get sued. In their craven submission, they changed tack: fees or ‘premiums’ are not as they had previously maintained legal, but ‘a grey area’ (they aren’t) however they would pay up to ‘stay on good terms.’
I would have taken them to the small claims court: it’s easier than most people imagine, something my newest letting agent will soon discover, having just refused to refund charges purported to cover: ‘guided viewing, reference checks, a welcome pack, and notifying utility companies of change of tenant.’ Brilliant. Seriously: very imaginatve.
Utilities? I did that. Welcome pack? A wad of photocopies, but they even messed that up with an inventory I successfully contested (with photo evidence). My favourite is the ‘guided viewing.’ Have you heard of a non-guided viewing? Also, they say this fee would not have restricted my being able to secure the property. So I paid voluntarily? I could have moved in without stumping up? If only they’d said at the time…
I am wondering if the agent is desperately out of her depth, ignorant or just fancies seeing the inside of a court (my next task is completing the forms.) Shelter have been running a campaign to publicise the illegality of these fees. I shall keep you posted.