If you're thinking of moving to the north east London borough of Waltham Forest, be sure to check what letting fees you'd have to pay with each agent. Our friends at Waltham Forest Renters have published a list of all the area's letting agents and what fees they display online. A two-person household could find themselves paying between £150 and £792 depending on who they pick. The story has been picked up in the local press and by Londonist.
Letting fees are one of the most irritating features of the rental market. They make moving more expensive than it already is, the variation in Waltham Forest Renters' figures suggests that it's simply a money-making scam for the agent, and the landlord - as the agent's customer - should be paying for this anyway.
We think they should be banned, and there was an attempt to ban them in May 2014 when Labour tabled an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill, but it was rejected by the Coalition. The move did, however, push the government into making it a legal requirement for agents to publish their fees in full, and this came into force two weeks ago. Letting agents now face a fine of £5000 if they do not publish a breakdown of their fees.
In a market where there is high demand for homes, and letting fees are low down the list of a tenant's criteria, it is unclear whether this transparency will affect the behaviour of agents and bring the level of fees down. However, it does enable renters to compare letting agents and try and avoid the worst ones - and enable local councils to crack down on those who don't display anything.
This wouldn't be possible without local renters groups gathering the information and publishing it. As far as we know, Waltham Forest Renters are the first local group to publish a fees comparison page - Generation Rent supported them on this and we are working with several other local areas to create something similar. If you'd like to help carry out research in your local area, please contact us.