Tom McCarthy
Tom McCarthy

By Tom McCarthy

Nightmare letting agent stories

At Shelter we regularly come across letting agent nightmare stories.

We’ve heard of tenants being charged £100 just to view a property. Of non-refundable admin fees of £540, and of renters and landlords being double charged for exactly the same service.

In fact, nearly 11 million people have been charged an unfair fee by a letting agent according to a recent YouGov poll for Shelter – that’s 1 in 4 people in Great Britain. Furthermore, three quarters of renters are dissatisfied with the level of service they receive from their letting agent.

I remember spending an anxious evening with my housemate re-writing our rental contract. It was riddled with errors, typos and loopholes, but at the end of it we were still handed a £150 admin charge by the agent.

I’m not sure quite how letting agents get away with this. But they seem to have created a market where they are king and the tenant is powerless. And I’m astounded at how long this has gone on for.

One of the major problems is there’s very little market information available to us tenants. We’re unable to compare letting agent fees between different companies as they’re rarely made clear up-front. Citizens Advice found that 94% of the agents surveyed charged renters more than just a deposit and rent in advance. Yet less than a third of those letting agencies were willing to provide a full list of potential charges.

And things are just as tough when you come to the end of a contract too. 60% of renters in the UK worry about the fees letting agents charge each time they have to move, and that’s because it’s a lose-lose situation for the tenant. You can stay and swallow the charges thrown your way, or you bite your lip and go through the whole process again – venturing back into the unknown.

Another huge issue is there’s little you can do when things do go wrong if your agent isn’t signed up with ARLA or the Property Ombudsman. Tenants are effectively powerless in this regard, with very little legislation there to protect them. And yet three quarters of renters are desperate for an organisation to exist that can stand up for them.

The result of this all is a market that fails tenants regularly.

It can’t go on like this. With private renting set to grow and grow, we need to improve the lettings industry as soon as possible. It has to work fairly for tenants, landlords and letting agents.

But to understand the true extent of the problem it’s crucial we gain as much evidence as possible of the shocking practices some letting agents get away with.

This is why our new campaign – Letting Away with It – is surveying the general public to find out about their experiences of letting agents.

If you (or someone you know) has a story to tell, go to www.shelter.org.uk/lettingagents today and help our investigation into bad letting agent practice.

Every piece of evidence we gain will help us understand the changes that are needed and the challenges consumers face.

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