A pressure group has hit the headlines after claiming that it had identified more than 20 letting agents in just one London borough who were in breach of newly-introduced legislation.
The group, which goes by the name of Waltham Forest Renters and claims to be ‘an independent group’, says that it found 21 of 56 letting agents who were failing to publish online information detailing their fees.
After conducting a survey about a month ago, Waltham Forest Renters also claim to have uncovered a wide variation in the fees being charged. Whilst the average was £484, the group also says it has discovered prices ranging from around £150 to £792.
Staff at Waltham Forest’s local authority said they did not know whether the group had passed on its findings to Trading Standards but the ‘failing to display’ claims have already caught the attention of the Which? Consumer body.
The Which? website recently featured a blog by Waltham Forest resident Adam French, a consumer rights producer, focussing on the claims.
New legislation was introduced on May 27, 2015, in the form of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This states that all letting agents must prominently display, both on their website and in all of their offices, details about their fees. In addition, they must indicate in which redress scheme they participate and provide information about client money protection.
Letting agents, therefore, must now clearly display details of all fees, penalties or charges that must be paid to the agent by a tenant or a landlord, whether relating to an Assured Shorthold or Assured Tenancy. All of the fees must be displayed inclusive of VAT and Trading Standards have the power to enforce the requirements of the Act.
They must also display information indicating whether they have joined The Property Redress Scheme, The Property Ombudsman or the Ombudsman Services: Property. And they must indicate whether their business has Client Money Protection (CMP). Failing to do so could be seen as a breach of the new legislation.
The legislation does not stipulate, however, that letting agents have to display details about the rents paid to landlords, tenancy deposits or any penalties, charges or fees that the agent receives from landlords under tenancies from other people.
This means that there is no obligation for agents who have recommended a gardener, for example (and pass on fees paid by the landlord without adding on a service fee or taking a cut) to publicise details of this arrangement.
Letting agents who fail to display the required information face fines that can reach £5,000, in addition to putting themselves at risk of the associated negative media attention and publicity.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has issued guidance to help letting agents to comply with the regulations. The advice was compiled with the assistance of the Advertising Standards Authority.
To further assist letting agents in complying with the legislation and to prevent future problems and adverse publicity for the industry, the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) has created templates for property professionals to download.