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.