Renters in Waltham Forest have researched one of the primary bugbears of tenants' lives: letting agent fees. They found a huge variation in the range of fees charged — and also that some agents in the borough are breaking the law by not listing said fees online.
Fees for a two bedroom flat, rented by two people with a guarantor, started at £150 for Eastbank Studios (who only let their own properties) and went up to an eyewatering £792 for Spencers in Walthamstow. Even without a guarantor, two people renting with Spencers would still pay £732. We also did an initial 'what the hell?!' on noting Primeview Estates in Leyton's £120 inventory charge, but on calling discovered they do a video inventory which has apparently slashed deposit disputes to almost zero. They will do a cheaper, written inventory on request. It's a lot of money though — but is it worth it for the peace of mind?
There's absolutely no protection in law for tenants covering what agents can charge, only that fees have to be clearly laid out. And some agents are even failing on that. The Consumer Rights Act (PDF) came into force on 27 May, and requires agents to
publicise prominently in their office and on their website: a full list of their fees; whether or not they are a member of a client money protection scheme; and which redress scheme they have joined.
Twenty one agents in the borough aren't listing their fees online and three still don't say which redress scheme they're a member of, despite the latter being law since 1 October 2014 and non-compliance carrying the risk of a £5,000 fine. The group has passed details of their findings onto the council for further investigation.
Richard Duxbury, spokesperson for Waltham Forest Renters, said:
"Flat hunters in Waltham Forest face paying hundreds of pounds extra if they pick the wrong letting agent. With 21 local agents flouting the law by hiding their fees, it is even harder to make an informed choice. We hope this research will help local renters avoid the worst agents the next time they move, but we need Waltham Forest Council to crack down urgently on those operators who are acting illegally."
Waltham Forest Council commented:
"The Consumer Rights Act 2015, part of which came into effect on 27 May, places a legal obligation on letting agents to display their fees at their office and on their website. We encourage prospective tenants to report any letting agent who fails to display their fees to Trading Standards through the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 as we may be able to carry out enforcement action.
"We are currently looking into the letting agents that were reported by Waltham Forest Renters in light of this change. Prior to 27 May the issue was much more complicated as you had to prove that a consumer had been misled or important information had been withheld which affected their decision."
If you'd like to research the state of your local letting agents then get in touch with Generation Rent, who helped Waltham Forest Renters with this project.
We have asked the other agents mentioned in this article for comment, but at the time of publication have had no response.