OVER 200 private tenants in Edinburgh have lodged complaints on a new website against letting agents charging unlawful fees.
The site was launched two months ago by the housing organisation Shelter which was becoming concerned that many tenants were being ripped off when they tried to rent a property.
The charity said agents had charged for a number of services – even though to do so was illegal in Scotland.
A total of 870 complaints from all parts of Scotland have been received since the site was set up two months ago.
And Shelter says that agents face paying out compensation in excess of £100,000 to those who have been unlawfully charged.
Under the Rent (Scotland Act) 1985, agents can legally charge rent in advance and a reasonable deposit.
But Shelter, which investigated the practices of 29 letting agents, said it had uncovered evidence of tenants asked to pay fees for services including carrying out credit or reference checks, checking and preparing an inventory and for arranging duplicate copies of a lease.
Some charged up to £150 for securing a property prior to a tenant moving in while others charged £200 to reserve a property for a prospective tenant.
Such fees can be illegal under section 82 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 and are a giant obstacle for prospective tenants to overcome when they already face paying rent and a deposit before they even get the keys to their new home.
Among those in Edinburgh challenging their fees was Rachel Smith in Edinburgh, who said: “Moving house is a stressful and expensive business. The last thing you need is letting agents adding extra costs on top.
“I would encourage anyone who has been charged unlawful fees by a letting agent to claim their money back.”
Graeme Brown, Shelter’s Scottish director, said: “That over 800 people sought advice in only two months to try and reclaim £100,998 of unlawful fees further consolidates our belief that some letting agents are routinely ripping off tenants by charging extortionate and unjustified up-front fees.”
Shelter Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to clarify the law.
Mr Brown added: “We want the Scottish Government to explicitly clarify legislation to make it clear to tenants, landlords and their agents that all charges above rent and a reasonable deposit are unlawful.
“Only then will tenants, and indeed landlords, be assured that they are not being exploited.”
The Government is currently consulting on changes to the law, with an announcement expected by the end of August.
The site can be accessed at www.reclaimyourfees.com