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Tenants warned to beware of rogue letting agents

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

London Trading Standards has issued a stark warning to tenants: understand your rights or you risk being ripped off by rogue letting agents.

This caution comes as figures released as part of London Trading Standards Week show that letting agents were fined more than £1.2m over a 15-month period for breaking the law.

Figures from London Trading Standards show that more than 46 per cent of 1,922 letting 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 London Trading Standards shows that there were more than 6,000 letting agents operating across the capital and more than 1,000 complaints about them.

Stephen Knight, London Trading Standards’ operations director, 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.”

Two new laws, the Tenant Fees Act and the Client Money Protection Schemes for Property Agents, which have recently come into force, give tenants more protection. Before these laws were introduced trading standards teams had limited powers to tackle rogue letting agents.

Under the Tenant Fees Act, most fees charged by landlords and agents, such as fees for references and credit checks, and general administration, have been banned since 1 June 2019.

Before that date, letting agents had to prominently display the fees they charge at each of their offices as well as on their website.

Also, since 1 April 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.

Dan Wilson Craw, director of Generation Rent, 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.”