Monday, 20 August 2012

The Letting Agent and The Piece of Paper.

It was only a simple piece of paper, but it made me bang my head against the wall. Perfectly ordinary text - casual and everyday, but it made me whine and scream and punch myself in the face as there was no else around to punch.

It’s all Molly’s fault. My friends know I am not keen on letting agents, which is putting it mildly, and that I pass on details of their transgressions to ‘the appropriate authorities.’ Molly is currently house-hunting, and was keen for my opinion regarding a document passed on by her letting agent - basically a menu of charges. Just another piece of paper, then.

But what was written down was outrageous. There were fifteen conditions: one mentions a holding deposit of £150 (supposedly keeping the place off the market for two weeks). Amongst the usual rubbish about a deposit etc. is a £95 ‘check out’ fee (the latest wheeze for cheating new tenants.)

There was also a £30 tenant assessment fee and a short lease premium. Amazingly: they charge £150 for a lease of less than six months. Please remember, this is in Scotland, where all tenant premiums are illegal. That’s right – they can’t lawfully charge for any of this.

But these villains make everything worse by demanding written proof of contents insurance (none of their business frankly, since landlords must have their own insurance and the property is unfurnished.)

What made me scream, lash out and wail is the a mandatory annual rent increase of 3.5% per annum, no matter what. No wonder rents are rising: there is no need for this - none whatsoever. Rents in certain cities are increasing so fast that tenant’s faces wobble with G forces as if riding in rockets headed to space. Rents race onwards and ever upwards because agents demand that they should (and agents earn a percentage of the monthly rent.)

Now, Shelter Scotland are raising awareness of the illegality of these charges, encouraging tenants to reclaim. But Molly didn’t get that far: she calmly questioned the legality of the proposed fees. Her letting agency had compounded their offence by trying to charge both Molly and her partner separately (it’s joint tenancy for a one bed flat, and not exactly Versaille.) The agency agreed to clarify their facts, but rang back saying that entirely by coincidence, they had let the flat to another couple. How odd.

When there is a mass extinction event for letting agents, I truly hope this lot go bust early and with extreme prejudice. They are often conning money from students and first time renters, who know no better and are too scared to use the simple procedure of reclaiming their fees.

When people move home, they are vulnerable. Tenants must leap through flaming hoops to get as far as signing a tenancy agreement and letting agents circle, drooling over the scent of desperation. Vultures, pure and simple. Vultures is what they are.

Who will charge agents with extortion? Letting agents who demand illegal fees in Scotland, or extortionate fees in England (where fees are lawful) could - and must - be jailed.


space cadet said...

Great post. I'm so sorry your friend lost the flat. I have had more dealings with agents of late, and frankly, most of them make me want to scream at the top of my lungs, with contempt and rage. Conversation always goes something like this:

Them: What's your budget?
Me: Yes, such a silly question that. My budget is irrelevant, let's face it. There is what I want to pay, and then there is what you charge.

Them: When are you looking to move?
Me: Anytime now. Unless you can find me a flat that times perfectly with my move-out date. Do you have one?

Them: Where are you looking?
Me: Please, just show me what 1beds you actually have. I'm guessing you don't have 100s to actually pick from do you?

Them: Let me take your details? name? Address?

Them: Nothing at the moment but...

Me: Okay, thought so, bye.

You see, all these questions make no difference to anything do they, let's face it? And if i like to ask the agent anything - about the landlord, about the fees - well, God no, you must be joking, they only ask questions, don't like answering them.

I always make a point of bemoaning the extortionate prices charged nowadays, just to see if the agent will feign sympathy. It unsettles them a little, i enjoy it. I know some of them are nice people, but it's such a dirty career choice isn't it.

Helen said...

Was talking to a colleague about such dreadful charges made by letting agents, and he made a really good point : we are all familiar with increases in charges (e.g. rent) in accordance with increased interest rates, but have you ever heard of decreased charges ( in line with reduced interest rates?

I thought not...

Lou said...

Well I'm in England where tenants are fair game unfortunately. I had an interesting charge sprung on me which was that I had to have something called 'tenants liability insurance' protecting me against claims the landlord may make against MY deposit.

Yes, my own deposit, and I had to prove I'd taken out this insurance. Plus about £200 general fees and over £100 for a 'guarantor' fee, and the intrusiveness of the questions during the vetting process was really quite something.

Felt like I was on trial. Same for the guarantor, asking all sorts of personal details, like it's not awkward enough already asking someone to be your guarantor (when you're a fully grown adult who just doesn't happen to earn very much).

Then there was the issue of absent white goods after I'd been led to believe they'd been included (in a furnished flat). C'est la vie I suppose.

RenterGirl said...

Well, here's some news that might gladden your heart. Somebody (several people) are reading my blog in the houses of Parliament. Now it might be the cleaners, but hopefully it is succession of ministers and MP's realising that letting agents are parasites, don't do anything good for anybody and must (must) be regulated, especially in England and Wales, where they charge random fees. And I would take strong issue with there being no white goods in a rented flat: it's done so thatey don't pay to maintain them. Good luck!

John Mountfield said...

We are a lettings agent, and some do make you scream; however as most are making so little money and there are so many tenants not paying their rent,no wonder some are asking for unusual fees. I suggest you find an agent you will do all of this work for nothing, including your repairs and moans about the bins not being emptied on time.

space cadet said...

So, I finally see a flat that I could bring yourself to live in, for the stupid money that the agents want to charge, (that is actually available now, not next month or the month after) and they won't consider my offer properly until they've done the other viewing tmrw of course (nor will they be honest about it, palming me off instead with stupid excuses). First-come-first-served counts for fuck all. These people are playing judge and jury with my f-g future. Such a morally corrupt and dirty profession. Poor John, i feel sorry for you, not making enough money out of people that need a HOME. Are you struggling to pay the bills on your own little castle? Poor thing.

Dazzla said...

@John Mountfield
You charge the landlord a premium to carry out those services on his or her behalf, not the tenant. The bins are emptied by the local authority and are paid for out of council tax.

I must say that you're not doing your job as an internal marketer very well. I only hop that you're better at the letting agency side of things.

RenterGirl said...

Lou - that is appalling! I keep trying not to write about letting agents, but it's such a scam. Ha - John you were soon outed as a troll by me and Dazzla. I empty my own bins BTW. Who pays me? Nobody. Space Cadet - stay strong - it shouldn't be such a trial, but it is. Good luck.

Lee said...

People who are leaving home for the first time are vulnerable to these sort of charges and techniques. It's not nice at all but because it is your first time you don't really question anything because all you want is to get into your new home quickly and safely, and because of that you happily sign anything that is infront of you.

MattW said...

In respect of application fees, Iwonder if it would be worth (in England & Wales anyway) 'calling the Letting Agent's bluff'. Go flat/house hunting, express interest but then state to the LA that you will not be paying the application fee. State that you could pay the deposit and first month's rent in advance at the earliest opportunity.

LA stands his or her ground on the application fee and then potential tenant walks away. The Landlord would not be too impressed with the LA as his/her property would be void for longer. Besides, the LA has charged the Landlord a 'Tenant Finder fee' and are creaming their 15% from the rental income. Why do they need to charge the tenant as well.

Matt Wardman said...


I think by insisting that 'premiums' not be identified separately, Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Governments are being stupid.

The incidence for the costs of work done (eg the half day or a day admin takes, CC charges, and all the rest) will still fall on the T.

All the money in the end comes from the rent; by making it law that charges not be identified you have no way of knowing whether they are reasonable or not, no way of knowing if a dodgy LA is profiteering (eg is the Credit check costing you £30 or £100?), and no way of selecting an efficient service.

For comparison, who do you think is going to end up paying the £15m each licensing cycle for Sir Robin Wails' Tenant Tax in Newham? Including the £30 he alleges it costs Newham Council to cash each check and download each document from the Land Registry.

But if that is the bed Shelter Scotland and the SNP want to make, then Ts and Ls are going to have to lie in it.

In the post T has sensibly walked away.

That option will no longer be available, but the fees will still be hidden in the rent.

The attempted 3.5% mandatory rent 'rise' makes me laugh; such a clause would have resulted in a rental cut of 3% over the last 3 years after inflation.

Were these people born idiots or did they go on a training course?

What's wrong with a market rent adjusted annually by RPI plus an amount to reflect betterment?

But if S
that is the position RG has been campaigning for

Matt Wardman said...

Apologies for the couple of typos.

Paul Harrison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

Anybody else seen this...
Isn't this good news?

RenterGirl said...

Matt - the point is that the landlord should pay the 'finder' fees as they benefit! Imagine actually charging a fee to shop at a supermarket. A fee which is random, changes every day in every supermarket, and you never know how much it will be.

And yes Paul - the fees in Scotland are now officially deemed illegal (even though they always have been...) Behold, the righteous reclaiming floodgates open, and letting agents repaying perhaps millions.

Paul said...

And it seems the letting agents are attempting a fightback, through their PR people.

RenterGirl said...

That piece is quite old Paul, and yes, they will try and fight back. But the rise of the so-called property portals' will see off the letting agents. I don't wish unemployment on anyone, but they are parasites fighting fot eh right to charge both landlords and tenants for searches, and then a percentage on top. And for what?

Hannah Barnes said...

I am enjoying reading your blog. I also have a property blog focused on today's generation rent. It is an interesting topic. Keep up the good work.

housing student said...

Good to hear this blog is being read in Parliament. Private renting has shot up the political agenda in the last year or so (and about bloody time) but there's a danger that the voice of landlords will be heard much more loudly than the voice of tenants, simply because they are in a position to shout louder. They have at least five membership bodies (Residential Landlord Association, National Landlords Association, Guild of Landlords, Association of Residential Lettings Agents, Countrywide, etc) so they've got resources and muscle. We've basically got Shelter and the National Private Tenants Organisation (NPTO). I'm sure both of those organisations are brilliant but I've no idea what level of lobbying influence or membership they have (I'm talking about England - I don't know much about Scotland).

So to me, it seems we need to do stuff like:

Join the NPTO, or find equivalents

Set up private tenants unions where there aren't any

Sign e-petitions like this one (if it gets 100,000 signatures it has to be debated in Parliament) :

Keep posting sensible comments under articles about renting on national news sites (and we all know which one politicians listen to the most: the Daily Fail)

Send our renting experiences to Shelter, who are collecting them at the moment.

In Scotland, pay the illegal agents' fees, get a receipt and then take them to court (is this right, Renter Girl? I'm in London, and not an expert).

I might be way behind here, or have got some things wrong, but those are my suggestions anyway.

space cadet said...

That e-petition was created in the future?

Great suggestions though. I'm going to look at setting up a tenants' union where I live.

Anonymous said...

This agency culture should go away.
They exploit with all cunning terms and conditions. So bad. Its always a nightmare in London.