Monday, 19 May 2014

This Is Why We Hate Them

Letting agents wonder why we loathe them so vehemently; why we hate them with passion. They ask why anyone would introduce laws to control them. Commiserations then to English readers, who just last week lost the chance for laws similar Scotland, where fees and premiums charged to tenants are outlawed.

Soon come, as my friend used to say. In the meantime, here’s my list of the cheekiest, most corrupt, vile, venal, heinous fees I’ve seen. So far…

1. The admin fee ruse. One mercifully former letting agent charged this. When I queried it, he explained, knowing it was unlawful, that his firm needed to run their office. I explained that I needed to pay for my removal costs. He dropped the fee from £150 to £75.

2. Reference fees. This ruse purportedly covers the onerous task of phoning or emailing previous rentiers, current employers and banks. Except all are pointless and in any case they rarely pursue them. Licence to print money, basically.

3. Holding fees. Supposed to remove the home from the market while tenants are checked, the money deducted when tenants pay deposits. In reality, they are often retained.

4. Cleaning fees. Tenants moving in or out both face this one, which again might be for work not completed. Tenants would do well to request receipts and then check.

5. Check in fees. This pays for the debilitating, strength-sapping chore of handing over keys. Keys are heavy, don’t you know.

6.See also their equivalent in the other direction – the ‘check out fee,’ same scam but with the added threat of deposits withheld if they’re not paid.

7. Inventory fees. My own Landgirl discovered to her cost, this involved outsourced employees who visited the flat, did nothing then billed for their 'work'. Brilliant.

8. The fee. Let’s not be too complicated, one agent thought. Let’s not be fancy, or use obfuscatory terms. Let’s just call the fee ‘the fee.’ Without any explanation whatsoever.

9. The continuous affordability assessment fee. This thing of logical beauty hypothesises that the tenant pays every six months to see if they can afford the home. The letting agent whose firm tried this one described her behaviour as ‘a game.’ Oh I sued them so bad.

10. The fee – it is in effect a fee or premium – when ‘costs’ were demanded by the letting agent who overcharged my friend when he demanded a refund for overpayment caused by their ineptitude. He sued. Successfully. Blimey.

11. Renewal fees. Tough work this. Those poor exhausted letting agents must carry several sheets of paper over to the photocopier, then lift the lid. Modern servitude with hard labour, that’s what it is.

12. This last one never stops giving. The finance fee. Yep. The fee charged by one brazen operative for collecting all their other fees. Which is dastardly and fiendish, but soon to be illegal.

NB these are frequently levied on both parties to transaction – rentiers and tenants, which is banned in other industries such as the travel business.

Be brave – stay strong. It won’t be allowed for much longer. No to transparency. Yes to the ban on charges.


Anonymous said...

my son has mild autisum he was taken for nearly £10,000 pounds by brighton and hoves...LEADING...independent letting agent in brighton and hove lettings agents are all the same they seem to attrack scumbags to work for them.

RenterGirl said...

That doesn't surprise me. No wonder you're angry. That's disgraceful. Any idea of professionalism, social responsibility or even kindness is sacrificed for making as much money as possible. Tell me the full story, please. rentergirl at gmail dot com

Landlord said...

With labour proposals, landlrod pay the referencing fee, means more bogus tenant trying to get homes.

I advertised my property privately to rent on Gumtree, but it was a magnet for bogus tenants. Everything from faked bank statement to giving me someone else's references. It wastes my time and I am loosing rent all the time.

When a tenant has to pay a fee, they are less likely to lie, because they loose the money. When the landlords pays they have nothing to loose.

Landlord 2 said...

I agree some letting agents fees are high. There should be transparency, where landlord are made aware before signing up with the agency.

Letting Agents take commission from landlords and take fees from tenants.

But there is another side, tenants groups don't help landlords, because you want more regulation. For instance, when you re-new a tenancy, you have to re-protect the deposit and the re-issue to deposit paperwork. With some deposit schemes, there are fees involved. Plus dealing with the paperwork, is involved. It is not just about the signing the renewal contract. Letting agencies have to employ staff to deal with the admin.

Shelter want more landlords prosecutions, this is why you need an independent inventory to prove the property was given in good condition.

Some tenants want different furniture, so the inventory has to be re-drawn.

You only focus on landlords. This weekend I had a tenant move and sign the AST contract. 5 minutes after signing the contract, they were telling me to get rid of the mattress, as they have their own mattress. I told them I don't have anywhere, it is something they should have agreed before signing the contract. The mattress is two years old and I insist all my tenants use a mattress protector.

I have no idea what they have done with the current mattress, but I sure they would have dumped in the garden. (I have seen it in the past). The deposit does not protect landlords from such losses, because the tenants stop paying the last rent, so they get their deposit back. There is no incentive to look after the property.

RenterGirl said...

No fees for tenants or rentiers compelled to pay their own business costs works really well in Scotland. Letting agents let through rogue tenants. This blog is for tenants, not rentiers.

Anonymous said...

your g mail has been disallowed rentergirl

Anonymous said...

this site is for people renting and the trials that now go with renting it is not for pissy landlords to sympathy scrounge and whing about bloody mattresses ...GO AWAY

RenterGirl said...

I concur with the above.

my email is not disallowed: rentergirl @ g mail. com

Barney from Newington said...

The situation in Scotland is that the Scottish Government slightly changed the wording of an old law relating to rent control to enforce the banning of letting agent fees.

This has led to a reduction in the income of letting agents of about 4% which is not really that significant.

Whilst reducing income the Scottish Government has been significantly introducing the workload of letting agents with the introduction of a custodial deposit schemes and tenant information packs (30 odd pages of unreadable guff to be issued for every tenancy).

The result of the Scottish Government driving down income and increasing their costs is that letting agents are selling up with well respected Edinburgh letting agents such as Braemore, Alba, Charles White and Steyn Lettings all having recently sold up to the Lomond group.

Every year in Scotland there is a new housing bill (jobs for the boys and girls down at Leith) which increases the workload of agents and therefore I would expect the trend for consolidation to continue so that there are only a few large letting agents left who dominate the Scottish lettings market.

This is good news for controlling governments but bad news for customers be they landlord or tenant.

I don't think that letting agent fees are really that big an issue for most tenants and for those that they are can avoid them by choosing a private landlord from gumtree (who still control 50% of the market). However this group is also likely to reduce due to the interference in the Private Rental Sector by The Scottish government.

RenterGirl said...

Barney - what is your obsession with posting your idiocy on my blog? You were warned.

'I don't think that letting agent fees are really that big an issue for most tenants' Seriously - you do not live on the same planet as other humans. Charges are a major issue. Huge. Massive.

No. What will see of letting agent scumbags (which is an insult to scumbags - see post above) is the rise of online letting portals.

That's enough. No more from you.

space cadet said...

Less private amateur landlords offering bad substandard accommodation - such a loss. More regulation of a dirty corrupt and heartless industry - just terrible. Many letting agents still failing to provide the landlord's name and address to tenants, as required by law, here in Scotland. And landlords bleat on.. You're pathetic.

Barney from Newington said...


Regarding not knowing the name of your landlord in Scotland.

1 It is standard practice for letting agents to put the landlords name on the lease.

2 You can obtain the name of your landlord online through landlord registration.

3 The name of your landlord is also available from the TDS.

space cadet said...

"1 It is standard practice for letting agents to put the landlords name on the lease."

Wrong. It should be - but i've seen plenty of leases from letting agents that just don't have it on there. So shut up Barney, talking like the butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. Until licenses are taken away from agents and / or landlords who evade the law, it won't be good enough.

Anonymous said...

Yes agents fees can be far too high (A certain company in green and yellow, I'm looking at you)

However, agents do fulfil a useful function, i.e. acting as agents for LL's who, for whatever reason, can't manage their own property (maybe they are out of the country for a year on a fantastic job opportunity). It's just that some are unprofessional and take the P on fees. Regulation and licencing probably are the way forward.

Regarding not having your LL's name. If you signed up in the last few years and paid a deposit they LL's name should be on your deposit paper work. If you were never given the paperwork or it doesn't have the LL's name (it has the agent's name) then HAPPY DAYS! potentially the deposit paperwork has not been served correctly. This means a) you could go to court and get upto 3x the deposit back. b)section21 is invalid until the deposit has been correctly protected and any fines paid.

What does this mean? When Fwitsons (any resemblance to actual agents coincidental)agents tell you to sign a new contract at the end of your fixed term (and pay higher rent, and a fee) YOU DON'T HAVE TO. Say NO and. They can't use s21 to evict you or vary the rent without your permission (ok they could use section 13, but that gives you the automatic right to an independent rent review).

Also, talk to your LL. There is little advantage in a new contract for him as he has to pay fee also, often wiping out any increased income.

However, as I said above, agents (in theory) perform a useful function, so they do need to get paid. Ultimately the tenant pays for this as if the LL pays all fees, the monthly rent will be higher.

What's really needed is lower and more transparent fees. I once asked an agent for a list of all fees before I could move in, only to be hit with an additional 250+ of other costs that just popped up.

Now that I'm a LL I try to be as upfront as possible about the fees

Before moving in the tenant pays.

95 per person (on the lease) to agent for referencing. Fee is paid back if agreement doesn't go forward because of me (unless it's because the reference was negative)

85 to me for admin, inventory, check in, check out, deposit protection, complementary mint on pillow etc.

I pay the 175 finders fee to agent

Tenant also pays 1.5x month's rent as deposit and however much rent covers the remainder of the month.

I'd like to think that's fair and reasonable.

RenterGirl said...

No. Tenants paying for YOU to check their reference is a business expense you should pay. There might be a case for absentee rentiers to need management, but little justification for the explosion in overseas ownership, which this enables. In Scotland, rentiers pay the fees. As they should. It works.

Daria said...

No. Tenants paying fees that are part of the cost of renting a house are not fair. It is like going into a store buying a tv and then having the store add on some extra fees before they let actually take it home. I know I have said this before but in Australia you don't pay application fees or credit checking fees as it is not allowed or not the practice. Weirdly, agents and landlords still seem to make money and are still plentiful.

Anonymous said...

I could pay the ref fees. The only issue, which is why I charge it separately, is that it would then be amortised over the rent, approx. £7 a month per person.

This would leave different rents for single or couples.

When I rented, the bit about fees ihated the most was the number of them and the 'oh just one more fee' trick from the agents.

Now I'm the other side of the fence I try to be as transparent and reasonable as possible. The referencing needs to be done (as I know to my cost, not just financial). Ultimately the money comes from the tenant, it's just a question of how it's presented.

None of the above is in any way a defence of high and numerous agent fees.

space cadet said...

So you can legally withhold the rent then. Goodo.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous landlord earlier said:
"95 per person (on the lease) to agent for referencing. Fee is paid back if agreement doesn't go forward because of me (unless it's because the reference was negative)"

Which is illegal. See section 3.68 of the OFT's Guidance on unfair terms in tenancy agreements:

It's funny how landlords, even when they are trying to show how decent and above-board they are, still manage to reveal that they are routinely breaking the law.

RenterGirl said...

Landlords should just pay their own costs including the fees, as they used to before the worst examples started adding everything to their tenants bill.

Emma said...

There was an interesting article in my local paper yesterday about a well-know 'rogue' who had been caught flouting a driving ban. This person has a list of convictions as long as your arm - fraud, assault, and he's spent time in prison after a scam involving taking deposits from tenants where no properties existed. The reason he was in court this time was because he was trying to get a driving ban overturned so that he could work in his new job. Which was in lettings.

You couldn't make it up, could you? Someone who'd struggle to get legitimate employment even stacking supermarket shelves can just start work as a letting agent as soon as they walk out of prison. It's cases like this that just make me so frustrated - the fact that this even happens is exactly why we need some kind of regulation for letting agents and some kind of professional standard for the people who have so much power over housing in this country.