London Trading Standards (LTS) has issued a stark warning to tenants: understand your rights or you risk being ripped off by rogue letting agents.
This caution comes as new figures published as part of London Trading Standards Week show that letting agents have been fined more than £1.2m for breaking the law so far in 2018-19; either for not displaying fees and charges or for not being members of a redress scheme.
Figures from LTS show that more than 46% of 1,922 agents inspected in the 15 months up to June 2019 by local council trading standards officers were non-compliant with either the Consumer Rights Act and/or the legislation on redress scheme membership.
As well as the fines, London boroughs instigated 14 criminal prosecutions for a range of offences including breaches of unfair trading rules.
The enforcement survey by LTS shows that there were over 6,000 letting agents operating across the capital and over 1,000 complaints about them.
LTS’ Operations Director Stephen Knight said: “London borough trading standards teams have been increasingly active in tackling rogue letting agents in recent years, with over £1.2m of fines issued in the past 15 months and 14 criminal prosecutions, but dodgy agents are far too commonplace across London and private renters need to be very careful not to be ripped off.
“If you need help with a dodgy letting agent, then contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 and they can refer you to your local council trading standards team.”
Two new laws, the Tenant Fees Act and the Client Money Protection Schemes for Property Agents, which have recently come into force, are likely to offer significant new protections to tenants. Until now, trading standards teams had limited powers to tackle rogue letting agents.
Under the Tenant Fees Act, which applies to tenancies signed since June 1, 2019, agents are banned from charging fees for all but a handful of controlled subjects and deposits are strictly limited.
Also, since April 1, 2019, agents must hold any client money in a separate client money account. This must be protected through membership of a client money protection scheme.
London Councils’ Executive Member for Housing and Planning and Leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, said: “Boroughs are cracking down on rogue letting agents to protect tenants from unfair treatment. As the research shows, this poses a serious challenge in London, where housing pressures are so severe and a significant number of letting agents have been breaking the rules.
“Borough trading standards teams are crucial for tackling this issue. Through raising awareness, issuing fines and pursuing prosecutions, we’re determined to support tenants and make clear to rogue letting agents that bad practice is unacceptable.”
Dan Wilson Craw, Director of Generation Rent, a campaign organisation on behalf of private renters, said: “This year’s Tenant Fees Act has the potential to save you hundreds of pounds every time you move. But because so many letting agents have been flouting existing laws, you have to be vigilant when looking for a new home to avoid being ripped off.
“If a letting agent asks for something unusual, like a payment for something that is not rent or a refundable deposit, then you should question this and seek advice if unsure. For example, London Renters Union could help you if you’ve been asked to pay an illegal fee.”
Chief Executive at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Leon Livermore, said: “The fact that London boroughs had to issue over £1.2m in fines and started 14 criminal prosecutions is truly shocking. This kind of enforcement work by trading standards illustrates how big a part the profession is playing in keeping UK consumers safe and holding rogue letting agents to account.”
Residents can find out more by following LTS on Twitter @London_T_S and by checking for the #LTSWeek2019 hashtag.