High rents – research conducted by Shelter found that, of landlords who had increased their rents, one in five had done so because their letting agent encouraged them to. By contrast, only 4% of landlords had increased the rent because they were facing increased costs.
Extortionate, bogus fees – letting agents provide a service to landlords, and charge them for doing so. Yet recently letting agents have started charging bogus fees to tenants as well, often in the region of £300-400 per person just for “admin”, “reference checks” or even “renewing a tenancy”. In Scotland, it is illegal for letting agents to charge tenants any fees.
Discrimination – many lettings agents refuse to let to any tenants in receipt of housing benefit. A recent ‘mystery shopping’ exercise by Crisis found that less than 2% of shared rental properties are available to young single people on benefits. We’ve also come across stories of renters being discriminated against by letting agents because of their gender or race, while Trailblazers, a network of young campaigners with disabilities, have highlighted the poor service their members have received from letting agents.
Unregulated – an amendment to a parliamentary bill on 16 April 2013 means that letting agents will now have to sign up to an ombudsman scheme, and the Office of Fair Trading will have the power to ban those who act improperly. However, it’s still possible for anyone to set up a lettings agency, without any qualifications, need to conform to any code of conduct or provide safeguards.
Profiting from insecurity – letting agents make money from people moving, rather than remaining secure in their homes and putting down roots in a community. According to the English Housing Survey, over a third (35%) of private renters have been in their home for less than a year, compared to 3% of home owners and 8% of social renters.
- Action to bring down rents and keep them under control
- Longer secure tenancies
- An end to fees for tenants, as in Scotland
- Proper regulation of letting agents
- No discrimination against housing benefit claimants