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Consumer group claims some letting agencies flout the law on fees

A report from Citizens Advice claims to show that a city’s letting agents charge a complex array of fees - with a minority apparently breaking the law on the display of fee information.


The Citizens Advice organisation in Oxford - where some 30 per cent of residents rent private sector landlords - commissioned a survey of letting agents, conducted by law students from Oxford Legal Advice.



The brief was to find out about the up-front fees that letting agents were charging, and also to investigate how clearly this information was being shared with prospective tenants. 


Citizens Advice claims that the survey found “a jumble of fees so complex that it was almost impossible to compare the charges between different letting agents.” 


For example, there were apparently five ways of calculating a fee for making an inventory, seven ways to work out an administration fee and three methods for calculating a holding deposit. 


Where it was possible to make comparisons, the costs could vary dramatically, says the organisation. 

“One agent charged a flat fee of £15 for checking a tenant’s references; another charged £360. The cheapest flat fee for administration was £120, and the most expensive flat fee was £360.” 

It says that a small number of agents - unnamed by Citizens Advice - were not complying with the Consumer Rights Act 2015 because they did not display information about some of their fees. 

Seven agents didn’t display information about their holding deposit fees. Ten agents gave no indication of how they calculated their inventory fees. However, a spokeswoman for the organisation accepts that “most agents in the city are providing information about their fees, and this is to be welcomed.” 

The organisation says it is now sending a copy of this report to all letting agents in Oxford, and will urge them to ensure that they are complying in full with legislation on displaying information about the fees they charge to renters. 

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    Varied fees are there to provide negotiating points and side track 'punters' from the fact that they are being overcharged.

    My tactic has always been to ignore the lot of them and demand a total. If that is too high then I say so. If I get a reduction then that is great. If I don't then it is a fast but polite exit with perhaps a hint about wasting my time. There may be a price reduction in a few weeks time. You may say,"What if it is a property that you really want?" That is all very fine but if you overspend financial heart break will come your way.

    By far the most dangerous fees are the ones that are charged once you have purchased a service. I suppose the most common is the late payment fee for a tenant. The next could be extra property inspection fees and extortionate fees for serving a section 21. If you are stuck for ideas then have a look at the list of charges and fees for your bank account.

    Fees are a game added on to the basic agency service.

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    Applicants are pretty ignorant as most of them could obtain a return of most of the upfront charges as an agent is unlikely to be able to show any breakdown calculation. An application the the local County Court a year or two ago by an applicant who was told that upfront charges (not fees because there is no client earning event) were non-refundable obtained 100% refund after the court decided the agent couldn't justify having a flat charge when the judge asked how they were calculated, and the agent said they were their "standard" charges and was unable to provide a breakdown.

    Trouble is applicants just go away to the next agent with a reduced bank balance and a poor experience. No wonder the up front charges are a mess!


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