Much is made of self-regulation but a recent report on the private letting agencies in Wales highlights concern at the ability of the letting agency industry to regulate itself and comply with the law.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that consolidates existing consumer protection law and provides for a number of new consumer rights and remedies. The Act became law on 1st October 2015, replacing three major pieces of consumer legislation – the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Supply of Goods and Services Act.
Under the new law, as with the Sale of Goods Act, under the Consumer Rights Act, all products must be of ‘satisfactory quality’, ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘as described’ including digital content. The latter means that goods and services must match any description ‘as described’ that is given to you or displayed online or in their offices.
The Shelter survey http://sheltercymru.org.uk/letting-go/ which involved some 85 letting agencies in Wales discovered inconsistencies in the amounts private sector tenants are charged and widespread disregard of the new laws under the consumer rights Act 2015. One of the key issues identified relates to displaying on websites and office premises details of fees and charges that are applicable to their service. Over half that were surveyed provided different details over the telephone than those provided on their website or displayed in offices according to the Shelter Cymru report.
There research also found widespread variations in the fees charged, ranging from £39.99 to £480. These of course being charged in addition to a month’s rent up front, and a sum equal to or exceeding that as a deposit. The high percentage (over 50%) of those that were flouting the law confirms our concerns that the sector is poorly regulated.
Welsh Tenants have therefore supported the call to abolish letting fees and replacing them with a fairer more robust system. The report is accompanied by an online petition https://www.assembly.wales/en/gethome/e- calling on the Welsh Assembly to outlaw the charges as they have done so in Scotland, and agree a better, clearer, fairer way of covering costs of providing the service.
Letting agents should provide prospective tenants with clear information about how much they will charge you before you agree to take up a tenancy. By law, agencies have to display charges on their website and in their offices. Local councils via Trading Standards have the power to fine agencies that don’t do this. As with other laws, such as the Equality Act 2010 letting agencies appear to disregard this critical legislation.
Letting Agency’s are allowed to charge administration fees to cover legitimate costs for preparing or renewing a tenancy agreement, checking references, undertaking credit or guarantor checks and drawing up guarantor agreements. But they are required to do so fairly and in a non-discriminatory manor.
They are also able to take a non-returnable holding deposit after you’ve agreed to rent the property but before you’ve signed the tenancy agreement. Depending on your agency’s terms and conditions, you might be able to get this back if, for example, the agency increases the rent or rejects your references without giving a reason.
Many will also ask for a returnable security deposit to protect them or their landlord clients against damage to the property or get rent arrears. This should be deposited with in a an approved Deposit Protection Scheme. However they cannot charge you for registering with them or for providing you with a list of properties.
We support the call to ban letting fees. If you believe in fairness and a more equitable balance of rights and obligations, then please sign the ShelterCymru petition here:
A full copy of the report and further details about the #Lettingo campaign can be found here: http://sheltercymru.org.uk/letting-go/
If you are interesting in volunteering to ensure private tenants have a voice please contact Sharon at Sharon@welshtenants.org.uk or ring 01685 723922