Parliament’s scrutiny of the Tenant Fees Bill has exposed the common misconception that a letting agent works for both the landlord and the tenant. A letting agent is not, as David Cox, CEO of ARLA Propertymark had put it, “effectively the servant of two masters.” Letting agents typically act for only one side (usually, the landlord).
An agent’s role is to serve the interests of the person who appoints them. It is simply not possible to act loyally for two parties whose interests are at odds (e.g. when one side would rather receive higher rent and the other would rather pay less). To suggest otherwise is to contradict English statute and common law, the Property Ombudsman’s guidance, the forthcoming Tenant Fees Bill and even the Bible.
Fergus and Judith Wilson own over 700 properties. They are among Britain’s biggest private landlords, owning entire streets in some parts of Kent. Ever since their decision, in 2014, to evict all tenants on housing benefits – even those who had never been in arrears on their rent – their names have been synonymous with controversy.
Now, the Wilsons have decided to cash in on their estimated £250m property portfolio, to settle down and “take life easy”. They reckon that it’s easier and more profitable for landlords to sell properties without tenants in-situ. So the Wilson’s have started the process of evicting their tenants in preparation for the sale.
Almost all the couples’ properties are two or three bedroom new builds, and many are home to young families. By law, the Wilsons only have to give the tenants two months’ notice of eviction. Some might manage to find new homes in this time. But many landlords are notoriously unwilling to offer tenancies to families on low incomes, meaning the most vulnerable will struggle. The chances of so many people finding suitable new homes are slim. Still less, homes nearby their employers, schools and support networks. Many must fear homelessness, and could be forced to turn to an already stretched council for support.
Over the coming days, we’ll be picking through the parties’ manifestos, and assessing whether the proposed housing policies will help make renting safe, secure and fair. First up: the Liberal Democrats.
Next up is the Green Party’s manifesto. We assess whether the Green’s New Deal for housing helps make renting safe, secure and fair.
Dangerous, broken stairs, or mouldy walls making your family ill? What do you do if the landlord won’t make sure your home is safe? Private renters can contact their council, who have a responsibility to enforce housing safety standards. The council should investigate complaints and if they find a serious hazard, take enforcement action against the landlord, which triggers protection against revenge eviction for the tenant.
But new analysis by Generation Rent shows that just one in every 20 renters who complains to the council about poor conditions gets protection from a revenge eviction. Even when a severe hazard is found, tenants only get protection from eviction in 1 in every 5 cases.
The Government will scrap section 21, ending ‚Äòno fault’ evictions in England that have caused misery and hardship for millions of private renters and eroded our communities. This morning’s announcement also said insecure fixed-term tenancies will go and a new, open-ended tenancy will be created.
After the Government announced they will scrap section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and introduce open-ended tenancies, the End Unfair Evictions campaign coalition took a moment to celebrate. But the reality is that there is still much work to do. This sea change in tenancy law and renter rights will not happen straight away. First there will be a consultation (out ‘shortly’) on what the new open-ended tenancy model will look like, including legitimate possession grounds. Generation Rent will be talking to tenants, landlords and government to get the detail of the new tenancy right.
Once the consultation period closes, the government will have to confirm the design of the new tenancy and prepare a Bill to enact this in legislation. The earliest this legislation could be introduced into Parliament is likely Autumn. Although tenancy reform now has cross-party support, there’s the potential for this Bill to take some time to pass, especially given how much Parliamentary time Brexit needs. If the legislation is passed in 2020, it won’t be implemented immediately.
We’re very grateful to Which?, the consumer rights organisation, for their latest investigation into letting agents. A mystery-shopping exercise, targeting 20 agents around the country, revealed practices that potentially breach the law: from denying would-be tenants the opportunity to review terms and conditions before putting down money, to opaque fees.
This piece of work is particularly useful because it gives tenants an idea of what bad practice to watch out for (and challenge) the next time you’re trying to find a new home. Here’s what they found…
I’m currently looking for a new home. My flat is being sold and my current estate agents aren’t being as supportive as I hoped so I started casting my net wider – looking at properties with other agents.
I’d seen a house I really liked and was chatting through with the estate agent the next steps. That’s when I started to get suspicious: one estate agency said the ban on letting fees was “like Brexit” in that it was being continually pushed back and might not even happen. He told me I shouldn’t wait to sign after 1st June (when the ban comes into force) because the fees ban might not happen and by then I’d have missed out on some really great properties. I left that meeting feeling confused – was he right about the law?
I went to another agency who didn’t seem to know about the Tenant Fees Act at all and gave me the same advice “don’t wait for June 1st, the ban doesn’t exist”. Luckily, I’m not in a rush to move just yet but both agents ran and text me multiple times, pushing me to sign before June.
I was cautious, everyone I know who rents thought the ban was coming in on 1st June, but hearing two professionals deny it made me doubt myself.
So I did my research on the Parliament website and took a look at Generation Rent’s advice and I found out the ban is definitely coming into force on 1st June. It will mean that if you sign a contract after 1st June, your letting agent and landlord will only be able to take payments for:
- Security deposit – capped at 5 weeks rent
- Holding deposit – capped at 1 weeks rent
- Early termination payment
- Change of sharer fee (shouldn’t be more than £50)
- Charge for lost keys or security device
- Charge for interest on late rent payments
I’ve lost my faith in agents now. For someone to outright lie about a law they’re obliged to follow, in order to manipulate me into spending hundreds of fees, made me feel let down – house hunting has now become a chore and something I’m not excited about, purely based on how estate agents have made me feel, rather than based on the properties themselves.
The agents followed up with me, texting me 3 days in a row saying I could pay the fees over the phone as soon as I submitted an application. This also seemed kind of suspect, as usually, I’ve applied to properties then had to wait a few days for confirmation that I’m the selected tenant, at which point fees are paid to do referencing. I do wonder if they said I could pay as soon as I had applied, in order to ensure they get as many tenants into their properties before the ban comes in.
I’m so glad that I did my research – it’s likely that I saved myself £400 by not signing that contract – let alone all the future fees I could have been charged for.
If you’ve had an experience like mine then get in touch with Generation Rent. They are putting together a team of volunteers to mystery shop letting agents and make sure they are giving the right advice to tenants. I know not all letting agents are like this but we need to hold the bad ones to account.
*Samira is a false name to protect the identity of this renter.
You’ve probably heard of Airbnb. But you might not have heard of Flipkey, HomeAway, HomeStay or Hostmaker. The concept stays the same – property owners rent out their house or flat for ‚Äòshort-term lets’, also known as holiday homes. They can be a great solution for covering your rent or mortgage bills for a few weeks whilst you’re away or utilising that spare room in your home.
But the problem is that local communities are finding more and more entire properties becoming permanent holiday homes. It’s eating up the market of houses that families can call home, and pushing up local rents.