Sunday, 11 November 2012

Payback

I moved again recently, and claimed back one set of fees from one absolute arsehole of an agent, who, when encountered in the street, laughingly explained: ‘It’s just a game we letting agents have to play.’

No. That game of yours is making you a fortune by ripping off and duping vulnerable people. It isn’t a game. They should be tried for extortion: one agent imprisoned will soon stop this egregious practice.

So now for the next lot. To summarise, I explained fee they were insisting upon before letting the place was illegal. I quoted the relevant legislation, and referred to the excellent campaign by Shelter (see links below).

They insisted it wasn’t a ‘premium,’ that they had taken legal advice and that I had to pay. I gritted my teeth, paid and almost immediately wrote offering them the chance to pay me back without going to court. They refused, insisting the ‘admin fee’ (expressly forbidden in the legislation) was fair and lawful. So I begin court proceedings. A waste of my time, but more than anything – that of the already over-stretched court system.

I heard nothing, until getting a call one afternoon and my, but they were shirty. No apology. No explanation. Just a terse and frosty (borderline rude, actually) statement: ‘We’re paying you back. Do you want money off the rent or a refund?’ I was in a café and could hardly hear. I reminded them that they would also need to pay back the court fee, which didn’t go down well.

And then they were gone. How utterly graceless. Even after attempting extortion - they had quite brazenly and shamelessly tried to extract money illegally via an implicit threat (pay up or lose the property) but still had the audacity to be annoyed that they had been caught out.

No there are only two possibilities. One: they didn’t know about the legislation (but I had pointed it out, and provided the relevant links etc, and they claimed to have taken legal advice.) They were also obviously old enough to know better. The second possibility is that they genuinely knew nothing about the fact that premiums (charges, reference fees, renewal fees, admin fees etc… etc…) are illegal, which makes them at best untrained and at worst incompetent. I wonder which one it is?

They kept this up to the very last minute, and narrowly avoided court (which I had been looking forward to, because of their rudeness and contempt.) Fortunately for them, they paid up.

But you know what: an apology was richly deserved, and would have meant a lot. Meanwhile our lovely landlady still has to deal with the company who charge her for the privilege of messing everything up, starting with the inventory.

I should be grateful: at least the charges are illegal and in Scotland I can claim them back. In England and Wales, the agents are growing increasingly powerful and shameless. More on that soon. Meanwhile, that agency is, I imagine still charging illegal fees to less informed and unsuspecting tenants. Who will claim them back. And around it goes…


26 comments:

ψ said...

I would really like to know the name of this agent. They sound like one to avoid.

RenterGirl said...

No better or worse than any of the others. Except they outsource everything: checks and even the inventory. Meanwhile, my poor Landgirl sorts out the repairs as their designated contractors charge a fortune. Why use them?

ψ said...

I can't believe every agent is equally rotten - even though there is little incentive currently to be otherwise.

Dot.Hakers said...

I agree with ψ, name and shame them..!

Also, you might help landlords (in my case) that I'd never use these rogue "players".

So please, don't be afraid to put a name to their illegal practice!

RenterGirl said...

Chris Shipp said: I often read your blogs and sometimes pick out bits which are particularly useful but I have to say that some of the blogs and some of the comments lack balance. There are bad agents, there are also some truly terrible tenants as well as landlords with homes from hell. But most are OK and some are really good.

I am an agent and we do get criticism (more often not justified) but we also do a lot of good stuff (have a look at (cheeky SEO bit deleted...- nice try Chris)

I'm not expecting you to publish this but it would be nice if you occasionally mentioned the positive things that go on.

RenterGirl said...

Have edited and reposted the above comment, from a letting agent who feels I 'lack balance.' Really? It's a blog, not a news organisation. My balance comes from the fact that at the moment, a good 80% of search terms find my blog by googling words to the effect 'my letting agent has ripped me off.' I am sure you are a noble charitable citizen Chris, but the fact is I bet you: charge tenants massive fees when you should be charging only landlords, unfriendly to claimants, encourage landlords to raise prices, and have no reason to exist other than to be a layer of cash that tenants must pay. All of which makes me and my readers 'unbalanced.'

RenterGirl said...

Oh - and noting all the 'care' you claim to provide to vulnerable tenants, I expect that with your Edinburgh office, you never charge the fees to tenants that are illegal in Scotland...

Arnie from Newington said...

It is entirely correct that referencing fees should be paid by the tenant as they are responsible for the content of the reference. It is also an efficient way of stopping time wasters from reserving a property that they have no intention of taking or cannot afford.

Unfortunately the 15 year old silly lassies who run policy for the Scottish Government have decided that landlords/letting agents are bad and tenants are some kind of sacred cow.

In my opinion the market will find an alternative way to protect landlords from bad tenants. Perhaps insisting that tenants come ready referenced or lobbying said silly wee lassies for the creation of a tenant registration scheme.


ψ said...

I'm pinning all my hope on the fact that landlords fear bad tenants. This is really the only way that the balance point can be dragged towards the centre; when landlords have to be reputable (beyond regulation) to attract the best tenants.

Matt said...

RG

Being blunt, I'm with Dot - name name's.

Either your story stands up as written or it doesn't.

If it stands up, there's not very much they can do. I think you should name names so that they will do better, as there are plenty of excellent agents out there who deserve to have the bad ones exposed.

If it doesn't stand up, it should be rewritten so that it does.

What are you scared of - that you've exaggerated something and they'll come after you?

Speaking in generalities makes me doubt the reliability of the whole account.

I don't expect balance from an opinion blog, but I think it's reasonable to expect that the overall picture around the particular incident should be recognisable from the world around us.

Matt said...

PS There's an account that *does* name names here:

http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/07/497964.html

Daria said...

In Australia, there are no fees payable to the agent by the tenant. Strangely, letting agents still seem to be able to make money and thrive. I certainly do not agree that it is correct that tenants pay for the credit check. The credit check does not benefit me - it is purely for the landlord's information. I am well informed about my ability to pay or not pay. Hence, they should pay for it.

RenterGirl said...

Hey Matt - you are not the boss of me. It's my blog. I won't be naming the agents (at the moment) but have passed on some details to 'others.' And you know what? Frankly I don't care if you think the 'story doesn't add up.' You're welcome!

Daria - yep. And everyone else: all the agents in Scotland are still charging fees to tenants despite the ilegality.

Arnie: you use 'lassies' as a pejorative term. You a neandertahl, and might be happier reading another blog. No: the cost of running the business falls on those who profit by it, namely landlords.

Anonymous said...

Rentergirl ,god you were grumpy this morning !!!! As you know and from what I have posted on your blog in the past there needs to be a meeting in the middle I argue for tenants dealing directly with landlords and for open fee structure if any, but how about this - T & C's of credit check could be that if the tenant gets a good report and takes up the tennancy then they have the fees refunded seems fair to me .
There are more sinister things out there trying to block us good private landlords that have come to light this week, our website has got up some big players noses .This will only be a minor blip .will give you details soon

Chris Shipman said...

Re: 13 Novemeber post

Evening rentergirl,

Other than the cheeky seo bit - have a look anyway - you might actually like it!

Arnie from Newington said...

RG: It is wrong that you class me as a neanderthal when the legislation that you are using to reclaim your fees is 26 years old and has been forgotton about for 24 year of those years.

I attach below a link that will give you an idea of what the rental market was like in the 80s when tenant rights were all the rage and landlords were reluctant to rent.

http://www.djalexander.co.uk/news-and-press/210/2012/letting-you-into-the-secrets-of-30-years-of-scotlands-rental-market

I would contest that your ideas are not new and will simply return us to the 1980s when the rental market simply did not work.

We now have a much better balanced rental market that benefits the landlord and tenant.

I also reiterate that very few landlords make a profit and most subsidise their tenants lifestyles.

space cadet said...

To quote the article..

"But on balance it is the tenant who has benefited more. In Edinburgh, a two-bedroom flat (the most popular type of rental property) would have cost approximately £650 a month to rent back in 1982; nowadays the rental will be roughly £900"

Huge benefit, that.

"and the in-house facilities are vastly superior to what they were back then."

Er no. Unless you mean that washing machine and television? Pesky tenants and their high-fluting lifestyles.

"tenants feel more secure thanks to legislation aimed at preventing overcrowding (i.e. HMO certificates) and making gas safety checks mandatory."

Ha. You'll be lucky to find the LLs who welcomed an HMO, let alone bothered to get one. After all, they cost a lot of money. And why bother, when they can just rent to families instead, at no extra cost. What's the incentive? The good LLs feel penalised, while the rogue LLs suffer no penalties.
Yes Arnie, I'm quoting.

RenterGirl said...

Oh go away Arnie. The market has changed: for the worse the rental market in the 80s was great for tenants, but bad for landlords who wanted to create the rocketing prices and undermining, insecure nature of tenancies we now endure. And as for Neaderthal - calling someone a 'lassie/girl/woman' as a term of abusive is demeaning and not tolerated on, this, my blog, written by me - a woman. And nobody just 'remembered the law is on the stature books,' but three decades of vile letting agents ignore the law. It was confirmed in The Scottish Parliament last week.

Arnie from Newington said...

RG: It is funny that you class me calling someone a lassie as abusive, demeaning and will not be tolerated after your blog describes your ex-letting agent as an arsehole.

Anyway as requested I will avoid trying to enter into any type of meaningful/fact based debate on your blog and leave you to preach to the converted.

RenterGirl said...

Bye-bye Arnie! And anyone else who thinks using 'woman' as an insult is the same as calling someone an arsehole. Arseholes produce shit. Woman... well, we're great aren't we? And as for letting agents who think they are helping anyone, and not adding a superflous layer of cost and charges to a system that usued to be quite simple, effective and cheaper? You.Are.Deluded.

Shoe said...

Oh please. This referncing business. Why can we not have 2-way fair play and reference landlords and agents also. Here in Ireland more than 1-in-3 landlords (I prefer to call them slumlords) is in arrears on their buy-to-gouge mortgages and the tenancies board is jammed full not only of cases where the deposit has not been returned and repairs left undone, but the latest one is the receiver or county Sherrif turning up and demanding that rent be paid to them instead of the slumlord. Tenants rights are being entirely left out of the equation and like yourselves in the UK, after a very brief small drop, rents are skyrocketing like there is no tomorrow. One of my sisters signed a tenancy for an apartment in a neighbouring town and she is paying 46% higher rent than I am in under one year. The crisis is only starting here, while all the crybabies whinge about their 100 euro a year household tax and being on a variable rate mortgage instead of a tracker! (AND are listened to by government).

Meanwhile, there are former moneylenders in major cities who are not only landlords, BUT ALSO the agency! In fact, when I think about it, I haven't been able to rent a place since 2004 where the agency wasn't either a) also the landlord or b) a close relation - wife, or mother. Its no wonder things are so different in UK/Ireland compared to Europe - there simply is no regulation, and a powerful lobby to scupper any attempt at it.

Chris said...

Why not report the lettings agent to the police?

Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006 deals with fraud by false representation and is broad enough to catch a lot of dubious dealings. If there's a specific offence within the legislation that is supposed to make the taking of fees from tenants unlawful then that can, of course, be used too.

A Freedom of Information Act enquiry to the CPS (or whatever its Scottish equivalent is) might yield some info about how many prosecutions there have been of lettings agents that demand illegal/unlawful payments from tenants.

RenterGirl said...

There have been no prosecutions, so far Chris. This is agents at the last-chance saloon. As for my situation, I did consider making a criminal complaint, using similar reasoning. But once the illegally fess we refunded, I think it would be filed as settled/ or 'no-crime.' I also know that the use of the law on fraud and extortion is being considered, by - shall we say 'influential parties.
The police regard anything like this as a consumer dispute, and are loathe to intervene. Even calling the police during an illegal eviction can mean having lawyers explain to the cops that yes, proper papers are required before turfing tenants out. So arresting an aegnt for a £150 fee might be difficult. But the wheels are in motion... It will take one criminal record, and they'll stop.

Blackdog said...

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http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Estate-Agents-Letting-Agency-Start-Up-CD-ROM-/150939630298?pt=UK_B_I_Business_for_Sale_CV&hash=item2324b3fada

Last one out turn off the lights and set the alarm !

Anonymous said...

Daria " I certainly do not agree that it is correct that tenants pay for the credit check"

Not correct. There are tenants who give agencies fake Ids. How much money will agencies / landlord waste?

Dazzla said...

@Anonymous

And some landlords go bust and leave their tenants homeless. Should we assume all landlords are guilty because a few do this?

As I said before, it's a business expense and a business risk. Some amateur landlords seem to think that their undertaking should be risk free and the costs borne by anyone but themselves.

I've changed my mind. I now agree that all landlords should be regulated and licenced. They've had their chance to prove that liberalisation works and they've failed.