Guidance from Trading Standards suggests that it is possible, in some cases, to charge tenants to view a property to let - and this would be within the rules of the Tenant Fees Act.
New PropTech platform ViewRabbit provoked controversy last month when it proposed charging would-be tenants and buyers £30 per viewing - or potentially even more - for a so-called “guaranteed viewing” which the agent or landlord could not cancel once it was booked.
This guaranteed feature of the proposal is central to guidance given to Letting Agent Today by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.
A spokesperson tells LAT: “In principle, it is fine for sales viewings as long as agents and traders are transparent and upfront about any terms and conditions or charges applicable to payments and refunds. The business must not make any misleading statements or omissions as these are criminal offences.”
They continue: “Requiring a person to make a payment to view a property to rent is prohibited … Giving no option but to pay the fee is prohibited, but optional fees, like in this instance, are not prohibited.”
LAT originally approached the National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agent Team; however this was passed to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.
The CTSI tells LAT: “If the matter is covered by the Estate Agents Act 1979 or Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, then local trading standards will take responsibility for enforcement. If it is covered by the Tenant Fees Act 2019, then the matter could be enforced by Trading Standards, Housing or Environmental Health.”
What remains unknown, however, is whether agents will actually support the idea - ViewRabbit has declined to say which agencies, if any, have signed up.
There has been substantial scepticism about the idea.
TV property expert Phil Spencer wrote yesterday on our sister publication Estate Agent Today: “I’m a keen fan of innovation in the property industry, especially if it modernises and simplifies our way-too-complicated system of buying and selling. But charging £30 to view a home? The potential for bad publicity, and the confusion of agents acting for sellers yet receiving income from buyers for a viewing, smacks of complication and possible pitfalls.”
Polls and surveys on social media suggest a majority of agents will not be charging buyers and tenants for viewing properties.