The rental roulette game millions of tenants are forced to play
A survey by Citizens Advice found that more than one-in-three tenants were only told about additional fees that could be charged during their tenancy after putting down money.
The charity argues the data highlights the ease with which tenants can be trapped into unfair contracts by agents and landlords, and then face hefty penalties when terms are breached.
Citizens Advice said it regularly sees unfair tenancy terms cropping up in contracts. These range from a fine for failing to keep a landlord updated with contact details, to a £50 charge for a written notice if a term is breached.
The survey also found almost one in three renters would not feel confident negotiating terms and conditions of their tenancy agreement with their landlord.
One in four tenants have received a tenancy contract they felt contained unfair terms, but more than half signed the contract anyway.
A third of renters signed a tenancy agreement with their landlord or letting agent without fully understanding it.
And 44% of renters with mental health problems signed a tenancy contract without understanding it.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “In no other consumer market would people be asked to put down hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds before seeing the small print.
“Unscrupulous landlords and letting agents can take advantage of tenants, who lack real bargaining power in the private rented sector.
“Entering into a rental agreement is such a critical decision, especially for families trying to put down roots.
“Tenants shouldn’t be forced into a game of rental roulette, where they are putting down money on a contract they’ve not seen.”