Letting agents ignore new rules on fees transparency

Back in September we highlighted how the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had introduced new rules requiring letting agents to come clean about their fees: they must now “ensure they prominently include information about non-optional fees in their ads for rental properties”. The deadline for meeting these new requirements was today – but it looks like they’ve been widely ignored.

For example, a visit to one of the offices of Leonard Leese in south London today showed that there was no information about fees on the ads in their windows. Maybe that’s because they don’t charge tenants fees – like all letting agents in Scotland? Sadly not. On their website the information simply says “Details of our fee structure for rental properties will be shown here shortly”. Going into the office to ask, it transpires that they charge tenants at least £300, or one week’s rent if this is higher. But when asked about the new rules, the first agent appeared to know nothing about it, while the second just made some vague claim about the information coming “soon”.

No fees at Davis & Gibbs?

No fees at Davis & Gibbs?

Just down the road, Davis & Gibbs was pretty much the same story. No information on the ads in their window, and no sign of anything on their website. Stepping inside, the dream of a fee-free move was shattered again: £300 minimum fees, plus “some landlords have different arrangements for inventories and check-in, so there might be extra charges for this”. But this lot were more on the ball on the new rules about publishing the information – sort of. “It’s happening as we speak” claims the agent. “It’s just the IT guys don’t know how to do it”. Not impressed – if your IT team can’t add information to a website at two months notice, it’s probably time they got some extra training…?

We don’t think these are the only ones. If you’ve spotted other letting agents who are breaching the new rules, we’d love to hear about them: please post your stories in the comments below. You can also complain directly to the ASA using their online form.

Of course, it’d be simper if letting agents didn’t charge fees for tenants, who already face outlays often in the thousands when moving into a new home. Legislation in Scotland bans fees for tenants – and instead forces letting agents to compete on the fees they charge to landlords, who are completely free to shop around for the best value offer on finding a new tenant. It’s time the same happened here – and that’s what we’re demanding.

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Let Down campaign condemns letting agent discrimination

The shameful revelations about racial discrimination in the private rented sector highlight the gross imbalance that exists between landlords and tenants. The members of our groups have encountered openly racist, sexist and homophobic attitudes from landlords and agents, not to mention the routine discrimination against benefit claimants who are confronted with ‘No DSS’ signs in the windows of supposedly respectable high street letting agents.

Open and covert discrimination is one reason London Renters embarked on the Let Down campaign and continue to call on the government to do more to protect private renters. The housing market is so heavily weighted in favour of landlords. One consequence of this is letting agents are falling over themselves to attract new landlords and happily pandering to prejudices, safe in the knowledge that in this largely unregulated market the few laws that do exist to protect tenants are unlikely to be enforced.

As the Inside Out programme into letting agents makes painfully clear, the scant legislation currently regulating letting agents isn’t working. We need urgent action to stamp out unacceptable discrimination. London Renters call on the government to introduce long overdue licensing of letting agents and landlords so prejudices can be properly exposed and eradicated. We need a national register of landlords so those found illegally discriminating against people can be struck off.

And councils must be properly resourced so they can enforce the law against the shady and discriminatory practices which are a daily reality for people forced to rent in London. As the capital’s private rented sector continues to grow and council budgets are slashed, local authorities find themselves wholly unprepared to deal with the landlords and agents operating outside the law. Central government need to address this issue as a priority.

Brent Housing Action group will be picketing the National Estate Agents at 75 Willesden High Road, Brent at 12.30pm on Tuesday 15 October and marching to A-Z Property Services to publicly condemn letting agent discrimination and call for regulation of letting agents. Please spread the word and join them if you can!

Letting agents forced to come clean about rip-off fees

The Advertising Standards Authority has announced that letting agents have until 1 November to include clear information about their fees when they advertise properties for rent.

While we want to see an end to all letting agents fees for tenants, as is the case in Scotland, this move should at least force letting agents to be more honest about how much they’re charging – and help expose who the worst culprits are.

If you spot letting agents that are in breach of the new requirements after the 1 November deadline, or that are charging especially high fees, we’d love to know. Drop us a line at letdown.action@gmail.com.

Let Down renters in print

Yesterday, groups involved in the Let Down campaign had a letter published in the Evening Standard, coinciding with a motion by London Assembly member Darren Johnson in support of our campaign, and the recommendations of a report by the housing committee which called for action on high rents and real insecurity faced by renters across London and the rest of the country.

Unfortunately our letter was edited down and not all the names of the groups supporting the letter were published. But here’s the letter in full:

As members of a growing coalition of private tenants groups across the capital, we welcome the motion tabled today by London Assembly member Darren Johnson in support of our campaign for a better deal for London renters.

Unfortunately, we have seen little evidence that the Mayor will be following the advice of the London Assembly’s housing and regeneration committee’s recent report, which recommended action to stabilise spiralling rents in the capital and end retaliatory eviction. Better regulation of letting agents, a ban on discrimination against renters receiving housing benefit, and an end to extortionate fees charged to tenants (as already the case in Scotland) are also urgently required.

The private rented sector currently provides the poorest quality and least secure form of housing at the highest cost – including over £2bn a year to the public purse – yet is housing an increasing proportion of London’s population. Real reform is long overdue; the Mayor’s defence of business as usual is not an option.

Jacky Peacock OBE, Advice4Renters
Robert Taylor, Camden Federation of Private Tenants
Heather Kennedy, Digs – Hackney Renters
Christine Haigh, Lambeth Renters
Tom Gann, Southwark Tenants
Michael Chessum, University of London Union
Representatives of Haringey Housing Action Group, Islington Private Tenants and Tower Hamlets Renters

It follows a longer, more detailed letter we sent directly to Boris earlier this month, which you can view here.

To find out more about what the groups involved in the Let Down campaign are up to, check out their websites, or drop us a line at letdown.action@gmail.com.

Hackney renters take to the streets for real life Monopoly

On Saturday members of Hackney renters group Digs and their supporters gathered to challenge local letting agents for pushing up rents and generally making life miserable for local renters.Town Hall group

Gathering outside Hackney town hall, the group were introduced to a slimy letting agent (who you might recognise from our video…) who played host to a Monopoly game show where local renters were pitted against each other in an attempt to find somewhere affordable to live.

First stop of the day was Foxtons which, following criticism for hiring bouncers on our last day of action in April, took a less confrontational approach this time. One-by-one, players in the Monopoly game were knocked out because they were claiming housing benefit, didn’t earn enough to cover the sky-high rent, or couldn’t afford the extortionate fees.Foxtons quiz Roise boa

Next stop was Felicity J Lord, where at least one member of the group had experienced being ripped-off in real life. Participants in the protest played a game of ‘Chance’, highlighting what a lottery the private rental market is.

Chance renewalProf tenants only

The last stop was Homefinders, one of the many local letting agencies which refuse to let to people receiving housing benefit – despite the fact that many families can’t pay their rent without it. From there, the group headed to a nearby park to enjoy ice cream, send solidarity greetings to another housing action in south London, and start planning more action. Watch this space! Eviction solidarity hi res

Let Down Hackney – Sat 6 July

When: Saturday 6 July, 1pm
Meet: Outside Hackney Town Hall, Mare St  London E8 1EA

Join Hackney renters group Digs for a tour of some of Hackney’s most money-grabbing letting agents. This MONOPOLY-themed action will be fun and creative.

Renters hold a 'Housing crisis Monopoly' banner outside Foxtons

We’ll be calling for:

  • An end to fees for tenants, as in Scotland
  • Proper regulation of letting agents
  • No discrimination against tenants on benefits

Everyone’s welcome! We want everyone on our action to feel happy and safe, so if you have any questions or concerns, please come and chat to us or email hello@hackneyrenters.org

Can’t make it? Follow the action and tweet your support with #LetDownRenters

Organised by private renters in Hackney and across east London.

Next action – Saturday 6 July

On Saturday 6 July, Digs (Hackney Renters) and Tower Hamlets Renters will be taking to the streets again to protest high rents and bad behaviour from letting agents. Stay tuned for more info soon, or email hello@hackneyrenters.org.

Want to get involved elsewhere? Check out the other groups involved in the campaign, or drop us a line at letdown.action@gmail.com and we can help out or put you in touch with other renters near you.