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New Row Over Letting Agent's Evil Fees

New Row Over Letting Agent’s Evil Fees

Homeless Charity Wants All
Letting Agent Fees To Be Met By Landlords

The homelessness charity, Shelter have started to campaign to get all letting agent fees currently charged to tenants banned throughout England, and they want landlords to foot the bill for it, a point which has angered the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and caused consternation with the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) and the UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA).

Shelter have launched a new report, “Letting Agencies: the Price you Pay”, claiming that charging landlords is a fairer way of doing business and the charity also claim that tenants are having to go without food or heating to meet increasing housing costs because letting agents’ fees are out of control.

Shelter were instrumental in getting letting agent fees banned in Scotland and now want the practice outlawed by MPs in England and are calling for politicians to take action.

The homelessness charity seem to think that all letting agents are the devil in disguise and recently questioned 58 separate letting agents throughout England, anonymously, asking them about what fees each charged in order to set up a tenancy for a tenant and discovered the average administration fee charged by agents was £350 (GBP) plus upfront rent and tenancy deposits. Less than a third of letting agents questioned charged fees totalling more than £400 and seven charged in excess of £700.

The Shelter research claims that in the last three years,

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Shelter want to see an end to the bad practices of rogue landlords

RLA say bad landlords are not "Rogues" they are "Criminals!"

The UK’s largest homeless charity Shelter and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) have clashed over the issue of bad landlords.

Both organisations have been using very strong words over the last few days, whilst calling for more action by the UK government to stamp out bad landlords.

Shelter is calling on the UK coalition Government to hold a “Rogue’ Landlord” summit, but the wording has angered the Residential Landlords Association.

In particular, the RLA are incensed by Shelter’s use of the word ‘Rogue’, saying it belittles what is really ‘criminal’ activity. The RLA have also accused Shelter of using emotional clichés in their action plan, which could rebound and spell danger for tenants.

The heated exchange began after the homeless charity posted a question on its website asking if the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, is doing enough to evict rogue landlords?

Shelter also launched a ‘5 point’ action plan on its website, saying that the housing minister should stop talking about stamping out rogue landlords and start taking action.

Shelter says its 5 point plan is based on 86,000 complaints by tenants about landlords.

Below are the bullet points Shelter would like to see, with The RLA’s response below:

Tougher sentencing for criminal landlords: increasing the maximum penalty for ignoring a court order to improve conditions from £5,000 to £20,000.
The RLA prefers the word criminal to rogue which has Del-Boy overtones of sympathy. Penalties need to be proportionate to the crime but without better prosecution they are just window-dressing.
The RLA calls for better training and resourcing of enforcement officials in council housing department without charging the good landlords through spurious regulation.

A rogue landlord prosecution fund: earmarking money to help councils get tough on landlords blighting their area
The RLA says, throwing more money at the problem does not produce solutions. It is about priorities. The cost of successful cases can be recovered.

New protection for brave tenants: safeguard tenants from being evicted in retaliation for whistleblowing.
Shelter must not weaken landlords’ rights to evict non-paying or anti-social tenants. Speedy resolution of tenant problems is in everyone’s interests but neither Court procedures nor Council departments work in their favour. RLA says there is scope for fast track procedures such as Alternative Dispute Resolution as used in tenancy deposit schemes.

An online landlord conviction database: a new website listing all convicted landlords to help tenants avoid criminal landlords.
RLA says this is playing to the gallery with all the risks of “Trip Advisor” sites. There is need for tenants to be aware of poor quality property which can often be detected on inspection of the property before signing a tenancy agreement and to examine appropriate certificates for gas and electrical safety and energy performance.
Better landlords are members of associations and local accreditation schemes which set property and management standards. Some councils and university schemes include property inspections. Tenants have little knowledge of their responsibilities for example to reduce humidity and stop condensation.

A rogue landlord summit convened by the Housing Minister to create a clear action plan to protect tenants.
The RLA says landlords must also retain rights to defend themselves from tenants from hell – including cases of malicious damage, false allegations and anti-social behaviour.
But action to protect tenants must be proportionate to the problem. The vast majority of good landlords must be protected from the hassle-factor just to provide statistics which look as though action is being taken. More than 70 laws and regulations exist to control the PRS – they must be used better to protect tenants and good landlords from the criminal minority.

In a statement, the RLA said: “The problem is that local authorities have failed to focus on tracking down bad landlords because of seeking to meet central Government targets to license landlords. With limited resources, they put their effort into the easy-to-check landlords who are the most visible and compliant and do not concentrate instead on those who deliberately seek to evade inspection. That’s why councils brought only 270 prosecutions of landlords last year.”

Instead, the RLA said they would welcome dialogue to produce solutions but condemn spurious regulation that would hurt good landlords but not criminal ones. The idea of a rogue landlord prosecution fund would merely throw money at the problem without producing solutions. In cases where landlords are prosecuted the costs can be recovered.

While supporting safeguards for tenants against retaliatory evictions, the RLA said Shelter must not weaken the landlords’ right to evict non-paying or anti-social tenants. The speedy resolution of tenant problems is in everyone’s interests but neither Court procedures nor Council departments work in their favour. The RLA says there is scope for fast track procedures such as Alternative Dispute Resolution as used in tenancy deposit schemes.

The RLA are calling for constructive dialogue to produce solutions including:

1. A culture change in Town Halls to work with the Private Rented Sector, (PRS), as a responsible supplier of housing. The PRS provides housing for tenants evicted by social housing, yet gets little or no support when problems arise.
2. Wider use of landlord accreditation schemes to promote self-regulation allowing councils to focus on criminal landlords.
3. Fast-track dispute resolution – 135,000 re-possession cases come to the courts a year. The average time for repossession is over 4 months after the tenant has not paid rent for two months.
4. Fair-play for landlords: direct payment of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) through tenant choice. Over 7% of LHA rents (90,000 tenancies ) are not received by landlords within 8 weeks.

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