Get the balloons out – this week is the first birthday of Shelter Scotland’s Reclaim Your Fees toolkit! The past year has seen over 2,300 tenants downloading our online toolkit to claim back unlawful fees charged to them by letting agents, with over £350,000 worth of claims made.
Back in November, the Scottish Government clarified the law to make it clear that any charge made to tenants in addition to rent and a refundable deposit were illegal. This has been a huge success for tenants who are now protected by law against unfair and damaging charges. We are aware however that some letting agents continue to flout these rules. We’ve been contacted by tenants in the last couple of months who are still being asked, illegally, for fees in relation to setting up their tenancy. We know of letting agents charging tenants £84 for a reference check and another letting agent charging ‘administration fees’, asserting that is legal to do so.
One of the problems is the nature of the letting agent sector. Currently, anyone can just set themselves up as a letting agent, with no requirement for professional experience or expertise. There are schemes and bodies operating that promote best practice from letting agents, but agents are not required to follow them and ultimately there are no penalties in place for those letting agents who practice in an unscrupulous manner.
The ongoing issue of premiums is not the only problem facing the tenants of some letting agents. Ongoing bad practice such as poor customer service, aggressive sales tactics and properties let in a poor condition have all been reported. Complaints to the Property Ombudsman regarding letting agents have seen a 123% rise in the last five years to over 8,000 last year across the whole of the UK.
There is an obvious need for good quality letting agents. There are increasing numbers of ‘reluctant landlords’ who have one property to rent out. These landlords are looking to managing agents to save them time and hassle of directly managing their properties and to ensure they are meeting their legal requirements as landlords. They want the assurance that their money is being dealt with fairly and there is recourse to redress if something goes wrong. But currently landlords are also victims of bad practices of those letting agents acting in an unscrupulous manner. In order to have a good quality and professional letting agent sector we need to regulate.
We are not alone in our ask – across the sector there is a call for better regulation of letting agents. The Property Ombudsman, Association of Residential Letting Agents and Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors have all called for regulation in order to drive out the unscrupulous letting agents from the sector, ensuring those agents playing by the rules are able to operate successfully in a fair market place.
The Reclaim Your Fees campaign will continue to support tenants while the property industry continues to push for what the letting agent sector in Scotland needs in the long term – regulation.
Reclaim Your Fees has been shortlisted for campaign of the year at the SCVO Charity Awards. You can vote for Reclaim Your Fees to win the SCVO People’s Choice Award.