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Written by rosalind renshaw

As from last Friday, letting agents should be displaying their up-front, non-refundable charges to tenants on advertising.

So are they?

An admittedly brief and unscientific survey of LAT’s local letting scene showed that very little has changed. We chose, at random, to look at one rental property on each of some 30 agents’ websites within 20 miles of our office.

We could find only one agent that is doing what the ASA requires, which is to display the rent plus the fee (eg, £1,000 pcm + £300 fee) on the headline price tag.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the only one we did find doing this was Your Move, whose Basingstoke branch was spelling out: “£1,000 pcm + £300 admin fee + other fees may apply”. The “other fees may apply” bit then clicked through to further information.

It was, of course, Your Move that unwittingly provided the Advertising Standards Authority with its test case: an advert for a Your Move rental property on Rightmove showed only the rent and no fees, and was banned.

Our snapshot, which was taken on Sunday, showed that agents were mostly not showing charges at all – either whether they apply, or any detail as to what they are. A Countrywide brand fell into this category.

A number of agents – for example, Romans and haart – were not displaying fees alongside the rents. However, they are providing a click-through to fees information.

Those taking this approach also include Spicerhaart, Leaders and Martin & Co, which also appeared to be one of the relatively few that also showed the actual deposit required (the particular advert we looked at also showed – quite legally – that it would not permit students, pets, smokers, or anyone on benefits).

Belvoir’s approach is different again.

Its website carries this wording: “Important Notice - The price shown on each of the properties listed below are the rental costs only. Tenant application charges and possibly other fees will apply but can vary due to a customer’s individual circumstances so are therefore excluded from the price shown. Full details on applicable charges are available on each office’s individual webpages.”

We found one of our local agents, an independent, not displaying the fees alongside the rent, but not using a click-through either. It carefully lists out all its separate charges on the property’s actual details, so going a lot further than almost all the other agents. But, even so, is this enough?

We would be interested to know what the level of compliance appears to be in your local areas – whether agents are mentioning the existence of applicant fees at all, and whether they are spelling them out.

We would also be interested in your take on how prominently the fees are spelled out when they are: LAT reckons to be a reasonably proficient researcher on agents’ sites – after all, this is a large part of what we do – but we did not always find it easy to spot mentions of fees and their links to further information.

Of course, it is quite likely that some agents still simply do not know about the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) requirements, or the fact that the Advertising Standards Authority is busy sharpening its teeth.

However, it is the case that both Rightmove and Zoopla are simply putting disclaimers on letting adverts in small print that “fees apply”.

While this might appear to be a straightforward breach of the requirement for detail, it is with the full permission of the advertising authorities.

The Advertising Standards Authority has written an exclusive article for LAT readers. It will not tell you anything new if you have been following this issue. However, it could be useful to bring staff up to speed, and does reinforce the warning that letting agents’ adverts will be tightly monitored.

It will be interesting to see how busy the ASA is over the coming weeks and months.

The ASA article appears in our blogs section today.

Comments

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    "If one can not afford the fees how on earth does one expect to pay the rent?"

    And you wonder why everyone thinks estate agents are a bunch of c**ts.

    Palmer Snell rang me back after a week and dropped their fees by £100 because they couldn't let the place, proves you're all just plucking these fee amounts out of thin air. We all know it only costs you £20 for referencing.

    • 12 November 2013 18:58 PM
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    Is it an advantage to not display the fees? It is possible that showing fees could mean that people go elsewhere - it has to be a level playing field doesn't it?

    I have seen a new site called www.findmyabode.com where you can advertise rentals for free. I am fed up of paying such high fees in the first place for advertising properties

    • 06 November 2013 19:36 PM
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    Guidelines came through which we followed to the rule.
    Some agents dont have their own websites - just a link to the relevant portals ( who have a 6 month breathing space to get their house in order ) so think they have got away with it that way and maybe they .

    If Agents market this way then their fees should be advertised as a pop up once the link has uploaded

    • 05 November 2013 17:50 PM
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    If god didn't want tenants to pay for everything then why'd he give them debit cards?

    Join the resistance and keep hiding your fees, it's the reason we started in the first place. Tenants are happy paying and don't let anyone tell you different!

    • 05 November 2013 15:28 PM
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    All this debate....

    The regs are out. How you interpret them is up to you. Agents who have done what they feel is right in order to comply have no fears.

    Agents who have ignored this issue completely will be required to comply and if they fail, will be prosecuted.

    We agents need to make sure tenants are aware of their rights.

    • 05 November 2013 14:58 PM
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    @Fees a problem

    I can afford to stay in a 5 star hotel - but I would be bloody miffed if I arrived and they charged me for the key, towels and to fill out the registration.

    Its not about affordability - its about transparency

    • 05 November 2013 14:05 PM
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    If one can not afford the fees how on earth does one expect to pay the rent?

    Why is it that tenants expect to be treated like teenagers who still live at home; want free advice and someone to pussy foot around them like Mummy does?

    • 05 November 2013 13:07 PM
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    So - if the ASA are right, they are going to be very very busy

    • 05 November 2013 11:40 AM
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    Hang on.

    The ASA say "Non-optional fees that can be calculated in advance should be included with the quoted asking rent. (e.g. a fixed admin fee of £150 per tenant, ads should state “£1500 pcm + £150 admin fee per tenant” or similar)"

    Its hard to find anyone who does that.

    • 05 November 2013 10:49 AM
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    We comply. We just copied Foxtons :)

    The reason was - they wouldn't have done it if it wasn't essential and if they have done it, they will have done it properly as they are usually the first target of TSI and OFT - and Watchdog.

    • 05 November 2013 10:43 AM
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    If you have spent money ensuring you comply and you competitors haven't - tell trading standards. Simples.

    There needs to be a level plating field not just in the interest of fairness, but for the benefit of the tenants - a point which seems to have been forgotten.

    • 05 November 2013 10:23 AM
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    Its not agents who need to know about this - its tenants.

    Authorities will never be able to police it. Tenants complaining when getting stitched up could.

    • 05 November 2013 10:13 AM
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    No one knows what you must do - even trading standards opinions differ in different areas.

    What you SHOULD do is make a sincere effort to show the fees a tenant would expect incur and do so at the earliest possible time.

    A web link with the compulsory fees that would apply to a typical tenancy is the easiest means to achieve this and reinforced by advertising the rent and the words 'fees apply' and the appropriate link.

    Any agent who does not comply should not be able to charge ANY fee and to attempt to do so would be unlawful.

    If tenants were made aware of this in a way simpliar to providing prescribed information as with deposits - then tenants would self police this.

    • 05 November 2013 10:01 AM
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    If you want to know what you SHOULD do, look no further than Foxtons.

    Whatever you may think - they are the most compliant firm around and because they are a target, get the very best legal advice.

    Also remember. these are guidance rules and as yet not tested in Law. Until they are, no one really knows what is really required.

    Agents who have made no effort need to be used as test cases.

    • 05 November 2013 09:51 AM
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    The rules have been muddied.

    Simply an agent must inform the tenant at first contact that fees will apply and a signpost to where those fees can be found.

    Fees do not need to shown next to the rental figure, but the fact there are fees must be shown.

    A tenant must have access to these fees before making a transactional decision. This may include driving down from Scotland to view a property.

    The advice we received from our TSO was simple - where you quute the rent, you must state that fees apply and, in the case or a website, have a link detailing those fees which would apply to a tenant during the normal course of a tenancy. A statement say 'fees apply' or 'excluding fees' without a signpost to the actual charges is insufficient.

    • 05 November 2013 09:47 AM
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    ASA are not the REGULATOR so just what has anything of this got to do with Advertising STANDARDS? Will they soon want to supervise ALL of the content of the adverts!

    • 05 November 2013 09:42 AM
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    ASA et al made such a fuss over this. Many agents have at least made an effort - many have simply done nothing.

    As usual, it will be the corporates who cop it. Also, agents who spend money on compliance, insurances and regulation will appear more expensive by disclosing fees when the small independents will benefit and not be penalised.

    Trading standards dont have the resources to police this - so who will? Agents should whistle-blow on those flouting the rules - perhaps Shelter could make themselves useful and start checking - afterall - they shouted loud enough. Or Which?

    The best way of policing it is to inform the tenants - adverts in the press as they did with HMO's.

    We did a check locally - and 3 in 10 have complied - (excluding the corporates)

    • 05 November 2013 09:39 AM
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    SOOOO many agents in Essex not displaying tenants fees - mainly smaller unregulated ones to be honest. The larger corporates and multi-office agents have done so and some of their fees are AMAZING! It's good to see and may help bring them down now Tenants won't get surprised by fees thrown at them down the line. There seem to be so many add-ons from the larger chain agents. One agent states fees from £0 upwards and if you add it all up at the maximum rate, a tenant could be paying £900 + !!

    We've changed everything from our window cards, online magazine, property lists we hand out, newspaper advert, website, etc.

    I'm amazed that most agents in our area are ignoring this but maybe they feel the same as with the EPC reg's... nobody is policing it so why bother? I hope they get a nasty surprise and that the TSI do jump on them from a great height. Without it being policed, agents will continue to not comply with this and other more serious reg's and continue to add to the bad reputation that blights our industry.

    • 05 November 2013 09:21 AM
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    Dear dear dear - more rogue agents who think they know best. Trading Standards will see this as a quick win.

    • 05 November 2013 09:06 AM
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    We haven't bothered as no one round us has. We do give out fee menus and have no hidden costs, but as it seems no one has a clue whether ASA are right and as lots of agents have different opinion, I caht see how it will be enforced anyway.

    Its like PMA - massive panic from the big boys - then nothing.

    • 05 November 2013 09:04 AM
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    We did a check in our patch. It not just the independents who fail to comply - we have spent money getting compliant and others seem to have an advantage

    Foxtons comply with link
    Selbys - no mention or link
    Savils - comply with link
    Knight Frank - comply with link
    Alex Neil - no mention of fee costs
    O-J - search didn't work
    Hamptons - Nothing obvious (surprising) - no link
    FJ Lord - comply
    Cluttons - Nothing - no mention of fee costs

    I wonder whether it will actually be enforced.

    • 05 November 2013 09:01 AM
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    We have done our research and what stands out is the fact the independent agents are the ones who seem to feel that this only applies to the corporates.

    Its like CMP, regulation, redress - 'We have been trading for years - there is nothing wrong with us"

    At the other end of the scale is Your Move is are terrified of getting done again so go over the top.

    • 05 November 2013 08:43 AM
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    In Foxtons case, the words 'tenant fees apply' IS a click through and has been for ages. No one agreed with ASA on this and they are not a regulator. CAP requires an agent to flag that fees would apply and make it easy and obvious for a customer to find this information.

    There is NO need to have fees on the headline as this fee often varies depending upon the tenant and their situation .

    • 05 November 2013 08:35 AM
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