London Trading Standards organise day of action to target rogue letting agents

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 - London Trading Standards

Representatives from 15 Trading Standards departments are today (26 September) visiting letting and managing agents across London in a bid to identify rogue operators and improve the rental experience for consumers.

As previously reported by London Property Licensing, letting agents must display their landlord and tenant fees, redress scheme membership and whether they belong to a client money protection scheme both on their website and in their branches so prospective tenants and landlords know exactly what to expect when entering a rental agreement. (read here)

While most agents fully comply with legal requirements, those that don’t can face a fine of up to £5,000 per offence.

When this information isn’t made available upfront it can lead to a costly and unwelcome surprise for the consumer, tarnishing the reputation of the rented sector as a whole.

Last summer, Jerome from Central London found a Bayswater flat advertised on two property portals. When declaring he wanted to rent the property, he was confronted with unexpected costs from the agent. Jerome explains:

On making an offer I was told that I needed to pay over £400 for letting fees, references and check-in inventory. I felt misled – I’d gone with this agent thinking I’d save money as there were no fees advertised on their website. Overall, it felt like a waste of my time and was very disappointing.

Jerome reported this to his local Trading Standards Department which subsequently fined the agent £10,000 for breaches of the Consumer Rights Act.

In the last three months alone, London Trading Standards departments have issued letting agents with fines of around £370,000.

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

London’s two million renters deserve a better deal, which is why the Mayor has worked closely with partners across the sector to persuade Government to ban letting agent fees and cap rental deposits. These up-front charges pile more pressure on renters who are already struggling with costs, and the Mayor is keen to see Government implement these measures without delay.

We very much welcome London Trading Standards’ crackdown on letting agents who break the law, and we believe Government must ensure this vital work is properly resourced in the future.

Trading Standards is working with the lettings industry, including the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS), to improve standards. NALS has developed an online training course and an Enforcement Toolkit (read here) focusing on effective enforcement against agents who do not display the required information.

Isobel Thomson, NALS CEO said:

Trading Standards play a vital enforcement role in the lettings landscape, ensuring agents trade fairly and consumers are protected. We are delighted that London has taken a lead in increasing their activity and raising awareness so that rogue agents should not simply slip under the radar“.

Martin Harland, lead officer and Chair for London Trading Standards (LTS) Letting Agents Working Group and Principle Officer at Camden Council added:

We won’t allow letting agents flouting the law to get away with it. It’s simply not fair to the consumer or the substantial part of the letting industry who go out of their way to do things right. If you want to be a letting agent the message is clear; you must comply with the law.

London Trading Standards wants to protect London residents and the businesses that trade fairly here. If you know an agent who isn’t publicising their fees or who isn’t complying with the law, let us know about it.

Recent Trading Standards enforcement activity in London has included:

An Islington agent ordered to pay over £20,000 after being prosecuted for issuing tenants with bogus licences instead of tenancy agreements. (read here)

A letting agency ordered to pay £18,000 after the Upper-tier Tribunal ruled advertising ‘administration fee’ was too general a description. (read here)

In the last 18 months, Enfield Trading Standards have served 221 removal notices and 185 fixed penalty notices for Flyboarding – the practice of having a sign outside a property giving the misleading impression that it is for sale or rent when this is not the case, to try and generate new business.

Anyone wanting to report a rogue agent to Trading Standards can contact 03454 040506.

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