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Problems with a letting agent in London? – “report it to help sort it”

Posted 13/09/18

Trading Standards services in London are working together to help tackle problems with letting agents who aren’t complying with the law and are leading nationally on this issue.

In June this year, a website survey of letting agents in the capital revealed an extremely high level of non-compliance with the requirement to display fees and other information.

A survey of 137 letting agent websites carried out by London Trading Standards (LTS) in May 2018 revealed that many letting agents in London are not being transparent about their fees and how they will protect tenants’ money. LTS found:

  • 53% were not displaying a Client Money Protection (CMP) statement
  • 37% were not displaying landlord fees
  • 31% were not displaying tenant fees

This showed that 3 years after providing this information became a legal requirement, a number of agents are not still stepping up to the mark and raising standards, but continue to flout the law.

In one case, Trading Standards in Islington took ground breaking action against a letting agent who used a rental licence, which attempts to take away tenants’ rights.

Despite housing and private sector renting being the number one issue for London residents, there is a low level of reporting of problems with letting agents. London Trading Standards is advising those who experience or know of a letting agent acting unfairly to report it to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506, who will pass it on to the relevant Trading Standards Service.

Anyone looking for a place to rent can help themselves by using any of the following:

  • ‘Pat’s Flat’ poster produced by the Consumer Empowerment Alliance - illustrates what to look for when renting a flat
  • ‘How To Rent’ guide, recently updated by the Ministry of Housing - an invaluable resource to help stop tenants from being ripped-off
  • Mayor of London Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker – a tool unique to London which lists enforcement action taken by London Boroughs against landlords and letting agents, helping people to avoid using them.

Housing Minister Heather Wheeler MP said: “Working with trading standards teams in London and across the country, we are stopping rogue landlords and agents in their tracks.”

“The new measures in our Tenant Fees Bill will save renters around £240 million a year by banning unfair letting fees and capping tenancy deposits.”

“On top of this, new regulations will keep renters’ money safe by only allowing letting agents that join a Government-approved client money protection scheme handle their money.”

Martin Harland, Chair of LTS’ Lettings Group said: “Rental costs in the capital are high and for too long a significant number of letting agents and landlords have been getting away with rip-offs. To help us get the big picture and start tackling the rogues, we need to know who is causing problems in the London market. So please ‘report it to help sort it’ by contacting the Citizen Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506”

James Murray, Deputy Mayor for Housing & Residential Development said:

“There are 2.4million renters in London, and it’s vital their rights are upheld and that they are protected from the few rogue landlords and agents who operate in London.

“In order to truly improve the private rented sector we need much more wide-ranging reform. In the meantime, the Mayor will continue to stand up for London renters by working in partnership with Boroughs and London Trading Standards on improving standards, enforcing transparency around letting agent fees, and helping renters to access information on rogue landlords.”

Isobel Thomson, CEO of the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS), said:

“Professional letting agents who work hard to ensure they adhere to the law have their name tarnished by the agents who fail to comply. Only by reporting these agents can we stamp out rogues, and improve the private rented sector for all. We would also urge consumers to check their agent is a member of a professional regulatory organisation like NALS who will have a strict code of conduct to ensure the highest standards”.

With such a wide breadth of work conducted by trading standards services in the busiest city in Europe, each day of the week-long campaign showcases different areas of trading standards work, including scams and doorstep crime, second-hand goods, housing, and under-age sales.

LTS Week takes place 10 – 14 September 2018. Follow @London_T_S and @CTSI_UK on Twitter for full updates.

The aim of London Trading Standards Week is to promote and raise awareness about the wide range of work carried out by Trading Standards Services across London. Further details about the rest of the campaign can be found on the website, www.londontradingstandards.org.uk. #LTSweek2018 

Ends

Editors notes:

The aim of London Trading Standards Week is to promote and raise awareness about the wide range of work carried out by Trading Standards Services across London. Further details about the rest of the campaign can be found on the website, www.londontradingstandards.org.uk. #LTS Week 

     1.        London Trading Standards (LTS) represents the 33 Local Authority Trading Standards services in the London Region. We share information and awareness campaigns across the capital to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate enterprise. http://www.londontradingstandards.org.uk/

     2.        CTSI is a training and membership organisation that has represented the interests of the Trading Standards profession since 1881 nationally and internationally. We aim to raise the profile of the profession while working towards fairer, better informed and safer consumer and business communities. CTSI’s members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities and in businesses. www.tradingstandards.uk

     3.        Our members advise on and enforce laws that govern the way we buy, sell, rent and hire goods and services. We carry out inspections and monitor or investigate complaints. We endeavour to work with businesses to help achieve compliance but ultimately we can prosecute those who break the law

     4.        Consumers may report London related information on trading standards issues to London Trading Standards, via our online reporting tool http://www.londontradingstandards.org.uk/report-consumer-crime/. The information will be passed on to the relevant authority or organisation. Please note it is a confidential no-reply service. If you need advice or guidance please contact the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline. https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/

     5.        LTS Week (#LTSweek2018) runs from 10 to 14 September 2018 and this press release relates to the first day, which is focusing on product safety. The theme for LTS Week is London Trading Standards - Protecting Consumers; Safeguarding Businesses. The aim is to promote and raise awareness about the wide range of work carried out by Trading Standards Services locally and highlighting the following priorities for London:

  • Day 1: Product Safety, to raise awareness of unsafe goods, such as used tyres
  • Day 2: Scams and Doorstep Sales, to help protect the vulnerable from fraudsters
  • Day 3: Buying a Used Car, to highlight potential pitfalls of purchasing a used car
  • Day 4: Housing, to stop private tenants being ripped off by rogue landlords
  • Day 5: Protecting Young People, dangers of underage sales of restricted goods

     6.        In June 2018, LTS published the results of its research which revealed that many letting agents in London were not being transparent about their fees and how they will protect tenants’ money. Councils checked the websites of 137 letting agents across London and found a significant proportion of the agents were not following the law by not providing the correct information to prospective tenants. http://www.londontradingstandards.org.uk/news/londoners-are-being-let-down-by-letting-agents/

     7.        The Consumer Rights Act 2015 – requires letting agents to clearly publicise their fees and charges and other information. Letting agents must display a list of their “relevant fees” and other required information in their premises in which they deal with customers face to face, and also on their websites. The lists in their premises must be clearly visible to prospective tenants and landlords.

     8.        “Relevant fees” are fees, charges or penalties payable to the letting agent by tenants or landlords. The list of fees must include:

  • a description of each fee, so that customers understand what it is for (e.g. “administration charge” is too vague a term, agents must specify what it covers);
  • for tenants, an indication as to whether the fee is per tenant or per dwelling unit; and
  • the actual amount of each fee, including tax; or, if the fee cannot be worked out in advance, a description of how the fee will be calculated.

     9.        In addition, all letting and/or property management agents must publish with their list of fees:

  • a statement as to whether the agent is a member of a client money-protection scheme; and
  • an indication that the agent is a member of an approved redress scheme, and to which scheme they belong.

  10.        This legislation came in to force on the 27th May 2015 and breaches of the Act carry a penalty of up to £5,000 per breach and government guidance recommends that the full penalty should apply unless there are exceptional circumstances.

For Further information about the Act:

  11.        For information about government approved redress schemes: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/lettings-agents-and-property-managers-redress-schemes

  12.        The National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) has created a toolkit to help local authorities tackle rogue letting agents who fail to comply with the law. http://www.nalscheme.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/NALS-Effective-Enforcement-in-the-PRS-Toolkit-June-2016.pdf

  13.        The government has announced plans to make Client Money Protection compulsory and scrap tenant fees.

  14.        In August 2017, the London Borough of Islington took a landmark prosecution case against a lettings agency which was fined more than £20,000 after the company admitted that it illegally deprived tenants of their housing rights by wrongly issuing “sham licences” designed for live-in nannies or lodgers instead of assured tenancy agreements to two renters in Holloway. This meant they had no legal protection against eviction by their landlords or any guarantee that their deposit would be returned. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/jetset-couple-s-lettings-agency-is-hit-with-20000-bill-over-illegal-rental-practices-a3616371.html 

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