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Make Tenants' Fees Bill even tougher, demands consumer charity

A call has been made for the Tenants’ Fees Bill to be made even stricter following a claim that over a third of tenants are only told about additional fees that could be charged during their tenancy after putting down money.

Citizens Advice claims tenants can easily be “trapped” into unfair contracts by agents and landlords, and then face hefty penalties when terms are breached.

It says the unfair tenancy terms it sees in contracts range from a fine for failing to keep a landlord updated with contact details, to a £50 charge for a written notice if a term is breached.

A survey for the charity also found: 

- some 23 per cent of tenants have received a tenancy contract they felt contained unfair terms, but more than half of them signed the contract anyway;

- one in three renters signed a tenancy agreement with their landlord or letting agent without fully understanding it.

Citizens Advice claims the default fees clause in the Tenants’ Fees Bill will mean unscrupulous landlords and agents can keep exploiting renters with what the charity calls “unfair terms”. 

It says this clause would let landlords charge for “reasonable” costs when tenants “default” on a contract term.

CA wants the government to significantly tighten this clause to give tenants and landlords greater clarity on what terms landlords can charge reasonable costs.

The government is also drafting guidance on what landlords and agents could be able to charge for. Potential options include billing to replace lost keys or for their time. Citizens Advice is calling for this guidance to be made public as soon as possible.

“In no other consumer market would people be asked to put down hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds before seeing the small print. Unscrupulous landlords and letting agents can take advantage of tenants, who lack real bargaining power in the private rented sector” says Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

“Tenants shouldn’t be forced into a game of rental roulette, where they are putting down money on a contract they’ve not seen. For the Tenants’ Fees Bill to truly stamp out unfair fees as intended, the government must close the ‘default fees’ loophole.”

The Bill is on course to become law next spring.

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