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Friday, August 12, 2016

Protecting private tenants

A new report by Shelter Cymru has found huge inconsistencies in the amounts private sector tenants are charged by letting agents, a lack of transparency in what they are being charged for and widespread flouting of a new law designed to improve the letting process.

The report is based on a mystery shopping exercise of 85 letting agents across Wales. It found that despite the Consumer Rights Act 2015 requiring agents to display a full list of fees in the office and on a website, if applicable, more than half did not do so in a clear and understandable way. Of the agents that did display fees online, more than half gave out a different fee structure over the phone.

In addition the survey found a wide variation in the fees charged to tenants, ranging from £39.99 to £480. The vast majority of tenants would be required to pay between £100 and £300 just to take up a tenancy. A deposit and rent would be charged on top of this.

This report has highlighted a failure of fairness and transparency in the way that tenants are treated by letting agents. Many letting agents do not follow the legal requirement to display their fees clearly and often contradict published schedules when spoken to over the phone.

With a growing number of people moving into privately rented accommodation, this is a major problem and is driving up the cost of renting for many poorer individuals and families. What is more, whereas a landlord can shop around for a suitable letting agent, a tenant does not have that choice. He or she is focussed on the property and has to deal with the letting agent assigned to it. That is a major breakdown in the market.

Attempts at regulation and improved transparency are not working. The system is being abused and is inadequately policed. It is time for decisive action by the Welsh Government to follow the Scottish example, outlaw these charges altogether and work with letting agents and landlords to design a more satisfactory system that does not penalise tenants.
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