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.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Scared To Leave.

The many negative effects of renting are well known and often shared hereabouts. Firstly, there’s the constant insecurity, then the ever present threat of revenge evictions or being given no fault notice, and the possibility of uncontrolled rent increases.

But here’s a new fear: the abject fear of leaving.

Some time ago my friend landed in renting clover. He found a reasonable (ie fairly priced) one-bed home (for some reason, they’re rare around these parts) which is let by a friendly, lovely, supportive professional rentier. The flat is unfurnished, which allows him to select his own furniture and make the place more like a home. He’s been allowed to decorate to his own taste (the owner will paint it when he re-lets it, as used to be the case…) It’s also insulated, warm, well-located and the neighbours are nice.

It sounds perfect. So what’s the problem?

Well, he’s been offered an amazing, life enhancing work opportunity. Not permanent, not much more pay, but it would entail moving for a while. So he’d need to give up his valued, desirable rented home (he can’t sublet – he’s asked.)

This also means that on his return, he’d need to go back ‘out there’, back into the badlands, stumbling through the jungle to find another place to live, that is another home that’s just as nice. Which he knows will be impossible.

Much is claimed for the positive side of renting; the freedom that being a perpetual tenant allows. Life is purportedly flexible, fun loving and free. The sense of liberty is supposed to enable moving on when required; to take advantage of opportunities or up sticks if the home doesn’t suit. If only this was true.

In reality, moving around is costly, with letting agencies actively conspiring to hold onto deposits despite their being registered in a scheme, and then there are references from rentier and letting agent who can’t be bothered, are peeved you’ve moved on, or refuse to provide one without being paid (yep – agencies do this.) There’s also storage, vans etc.

If renting was better controlled, if renting was more certain and standards were high, with the rules transparent and efficiently enforced, renting would then be worthy of celebration for the sense of freedom it allows. But quality of varies so much. Buildings are amazing in some places and mostly hovels are found elsewhere.

Instead, my friend faces a debilitating and uncertain future if decides to relocate. He’ll be battling with demonic letting agents and feral rentiers. He will need to sneak under the wire of discrimination (he’s older and self-employed) all the while knowing that wherever he lives next could be the personal fiefdom of a rentier who governs with an iron rule, runs everything on a shoestring and resents the time involved in the business of renting.

This limits life choices for all tenants. People need certainty. Certainty will only happen if standards in the private renting sector are enacted in law, applied and enforced with funded penalty enforcement for transgressions.

Because right now, there’s no such thing as a dream rented home. It’s just a distant, transient luxury.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Hooray For Labour – Sort Of.

So kind lovely Labour have realised that renting is horrible. As I've been saying hereabouts, renting is often a hideous experience because of the inherent insecurity, lack of stability, aka no control at all.

But the wonderful Labour care about us! Hooray!

So what are their plans?

Well, best of all they will copy the tried and tested Scottish model of no letting agent fees whatsoever at all payable by tenants. Landlords can cough up – it’s their business, they reap the profits, they must cover the expenses. No problem there.

Next – no above inflation rent rises, the notable exception being current buy-to-let mortgages and that’s one heck of an exception. Then rents rises can match inflation – no higher. Where it applies that’s mostly brilliant news.

The downside is that tenants will need to be strong (if not downright tough) when negotiating their initial rental price, because owners will know they are, in the future, limited to no more than inflation matching rises. The unintended consequence could be rising rents, ramped up at the first stage to defeat the ceiling. Hmmm...

Three year tenancies – also better. But not perfect. It’s not enough, really is it? Families need decades, to be able to remain in their home (and please can start to say home and not 'the property'?) for schools, supportive family etc. The business of letting out property is not for those in it for short term gains (no matter how hard they want this to be the case.)

Owners will only be able to evict tenants for transgressions such as lengthy rent arrears and anti-social behaviour. But in these new plans, rentiers can also state they need the property for family use or intend to sell up. Details are scarce, but it's easy to sneak and weave your way out of. It's what rentiers do already. To be effective and protective, this coda must enforced, with actual evidence produced to confirm either is true.

What's more, mortgage providers must idelly be compelled to remove their blanket prohibition on renting to claimants. There is no justification; it's simple prejudice - nothing more.

My other gripe? It's obvious, but this gesture by is quite cynical. Do Labour care about tenants? Not really. They care for our votes, which hardly makes them unique for politicians - 'politicos in obvious vote-candy gesture.' It's what they do.

So here's the thing. Labour have woken up to and aim to cater for the needs of tenants. But we need more. Tenants are not supine, cowed poodles, begging desperately for tiny tit-bits of luke-warm good news.

We were a sleeping giant - a monster newly conscious of our power. Now we know now how important we are and have grasped that in many marginal seats our vote is crucial. We will bestow our favours to those who listen and help us (that is put right the many wrongs we endure.)

And those who do not help, break their promises or ignore us?

Let us down we will bite back - we will bite you hard.