Tenants demand ‘unfair’ agency fees withdrawn

David Alexander
David Alexander
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A PRESSURE group is threatening to name and shame letting agencies which impose “unfair” tenancy fees.

Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group (Eptag) is demanding private letting agencies drop additional fees for administration costs or credit checking.

Eptag has compiled a “blacklist” of agencies and advised firms that if they drop the fees, their names will be removed before it is published publicly.

Alyson Macdonald, of Eptag, said: “We don’t think it’s fair that letting agencies should be able to get away with these fees. It states very clearly in the Rent Act 1984 that they can’t make these kind of charges and there have already been some cases of people going to court and getting the charges refunded.

“The letting agencies claim these fees are for administration costs and for credit checking. We also had one where they said they were replacing the deposit with a ‘non- refundable cleaning fee’.”

Eptag claims that among the dozens of Edinburgh letting agencies in the Yellow Pages, the vast majority charge additional fees – of more than £100 per tenant in some instances.

On Tuesday, members of the group are set to tour letting agencies in a bid to convince them to drop the fees.

Ms Macdonald said: “We’ve been contacting agencies, some of whom advertised their fees openly on their website and others who we had to phone up as interested tenants.

“If they don’t drop these fees we will be making this list public, but we wanted to give them the chance to rectify the situation.”

According to current legislation, charges for drawing up a tenancy agreement are prohibited and it is an offence to require any “premium” as a condition of the grant or continuance of tenancy.

The rules on what constitutes a premium are set to be clarified next year.

Last year, Scott Kuzu, 31, from Muirhouse, took a city agency to the small claims court to reclaim £320 he paid for a flat he was never allowed to rent.

Mr Kuzu, who won his case, said: “I would encourage other people to go down the same route because it is your money and you work hard for it.”

David Alexander, proprietor of David J Alexander Lettings, said: “I’ve been in this business for 30 years now and this has been a grey area for as long as I can remember. The problem is the definition of ‘premium’.

“We would not describe the services an agency provides for tenants as a premium. Things like drawing up an inventory are for the benefit of the landlord and the tenant.

“I will be delighted when the Scottish Government finally legislates and makes it clear what you can and cannot charge for.”

LETTER OF THE LAW

Current legislation in Scotland actually prohibits fees for drawing up a tenancy agreement and it is an offence to require any premium as a condition of a tenancy.

According to the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984, a premium includes any fine or other sum in addition to rent.

Shelter Scotland has called for greater clarity in the law.

Due to be implemented next year, part four of the Private Rented (Scotland) Act 2011 aims to make clear the charges that can be made by letting agents and landlords to set up a tenancy.

About 272,653 households in Scotland class the private rented sector as home.