LETTINGS agencies in Edinburgh have come under fire for charging up to £500 in fees to get around strict new Scottish Government regulations designed to protect tenants.
New rules state that deposits in the private rental sector must now be held by an independent firm, instead of by the landlord or letting agent.
The compulsory scheme is intended to prevent occupants being overcharged for repairs and cleaning.
However, a number of firms in Edinburgh have told residents they must now sign up to their own model, which is expected to leave many facing a £500 “checkout charge”.
Shelter Scotland has insisted such charges are illegal and designed to give landlords unwarranted access to their tenants’ funds. The housing charity believes more landlords and firms will turn to such measures to sidestep the government’s third party scheme.
One city firm, Edinburgh Spaces, sent out letters last week informing residents they would have their deposit returned – if they agreed to pay £500 when they departed their flat.
Sean Carmichael, an abseil technician, was told by Edinburgh Spaces that he and his flatmates, Stephen MacDonald and Adam Murray, would be charged for cleaning and carrying out an inventory when they move out next month.
He said: “The place was a complete tip when we moved in last September – and the shower and boiler didn’t work properly – so there’s no way we’re paying £500 to clean the place up. They’re just trying to scam extra cash off us.”
The 22-year-old, who lives in Antigua Street, said he was told the £500 was a flat fee and there would be no discounts, although he said the firm later offered to reduce it when he went to its office.
He said: “I worked out we could have the flat completely cleaned for a fraction of what they were claiming.”
Chris Dickson, office manager at Edinburgh Spaces, said that the arrangement is legal and insisted any change from the checkout fees would be paid back to tenants.
He said: “If the flat doesn’t need cleaning we can look to refund the tenants. It’s not just us who are looking at this, because there’s a hell of a lot of administration to enter into the [Scottish Government] scheme.”
Under the government scheme, introduced last month, all tenants in Scotland will have their deposits held by an independent firm accredited by the Scottish Government, which has pledged to look at loopholes being used by agencies.
A spokesman said: “The schemes will ensure that tenant deposits are safeguarded by an independent third party for the duration of the tenancy.”
By Graeme Brown, Shelter Scotland director
The tenancy deposit scheme was set up to protect tenants and landlords, so to hear that some letting agents are using the regulation to demand checkout fees in place of a deposit is truly shocking.
Shelter Scotland has already been contacted by tenants who have received letters demanding a £500 “checkout charge”. Our concern is that others may hand over money, not realising that they are being charged for something they don’t have to pay.
Tenancy deposit schemes are free for tenants and landlords to use. Therefore it is even more difficult to see the justification for asking tenants like Sean to pay to get their deposits back.
We advise anyone who has received a similar letter not to pay unless and until the agent can explain more clearly what the legal basis is for the charge.
Tenants who have been asked to pay this fee, or have paid it, should call our free helpline on 0808 800 4444 or visit www.shelterscotland.org