One of the country’s top lettings experts says last year’s law changes concerning the increased transparency of agents’ fees have “missed the target” and portals should be obliged to display agencies’ charges to landlords and tenants.
David Lawrenson, founder of the LettingFocus consultancy, says tenants are as in the dark as ever about fees despite the provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
“Basically, the law is not working because it was designed badly, in that it fails to take account of the way that most tenants now search for rented accommodation – which is by using the portals. The rules on displaying fees only applies to adverts on letting and managing agents’ websites” says Lawrenson.
“They won’t visit the letting agents’ own websites and they won’t go into a branch, until they are about to sign the tenancy contract” he insists.
Lawrenson has done his own investigation to see if the two major portals carried information about the fees of letting agents who advertise.
At Zoopla he found adverts without any fee information, to which Zoopla responded by saying: “We make it very easy for letting agents to display their own fees on the site in a ‘fees apply’ pop-up beside the price. When you do not see a fees apply link on the Zoopla listing you may find the fees details in the body copy of the listing. This is because the software that the agent is using may not directly support sending letting fees in a specific field in their data upload.”
At Rightmove, Lawrenson found a ‘Fees Apply’ box but often carrying only very limited information, other than stating that a range of fees may be charged. “It seems, like Zoopla, they like to leave it up to the letting agents to decide whether to supply them with information on tenant fees or not” he says.
Lawrenson says the new consumer legislation has missed a trick.
“We think there are agents out there who are not exactly busily offering up this information early on in the process to time-starved tenants, who are desperately seeking rented accommodation” he says.
His solution is that the legal responsibility for showing fees should have been placed on anyone connected with letting private rented accommodation to display fees - and that this would include the portals.
He concludes with this: “I don’t blame the portals for their role in this. If one of them was to insist on agents always showing fees, the agents may just stop working with them. New portal, On The Market, has already hugely increased the risk of agents opting to choose from either Zoopla or Rightmove.”