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Solfed Housing Campaign

AGENCY FEES: THEFT MADE LEGAL

Tenancy agreements often include expensive clauses for things such as the inventory of
the property, having the property professionally cleaned when you leave, and for
various ‘administration’ tasks such as setting up your tenancy, renewing your contract,
and ‘checking in’ and ‘checking out’ of your tenancy.

Letting agents should clearly display all of their fees on their website and in their offices,
though they are often hard to find, so it’s worth asking for a breakdown of them early
in the process. To varying degrees, all of these fees can be disputed before you sign
the contract.

As of 2017, the government have said that they will pass a bill that bans agency fees,
but it os not sure when this will became a reality. We think that it’s better for tenants
to empower ourselves to demand an end to things such as agency fees, as this begins
to shift power in our favour in the long run.

Challenging fees before moving

If you are moving into a new place, it can be difficult to know exactly when to
challenge an agency on their fees. The timeline for doing it that we’ve put together
below is not a hard and fast set of rules; it’s just something that we as tenants have
had some success with in the past:
1. Find a place you like and pay your holding deposit/agency fee
2. Ask the agency to send you a draft copy of the tenancy agreement
3. Read through the tenancy agreement looking out for fees
4. Look on the agency's website for their list of fees
5. Pay your deposit and one month’s up-front rent
6. At least a week before you are due to move in and before you have signed the
agreement, challenge the agency to remove the fees

Legally, agency fees are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which states that
agencies must provide tenants with an explanation ‘that is sufficient to enable a person
who is liable to pay it to understand the service or cost that is covered by the fee or
the purpose for which it is imposed’. This means that you can ask an agency to
provide you with a costed, itemised breakdown of each fee. Without these itemised
costs, you are arguably unable ‘to understand the service or cost that is covered by the
fee or the purpose for which it is imposed’, particularly given how significantly fees vary
between agencies.

Challenging fees once moved

If you are already in a tenancy agreement with lots of erroneous fees included, then
any dispute with your letting agency or landlord about these needs to be carefully
considered. Here’s some things you can do to help you through:
1. Find out exactly what fees are included in your tenancy agreement or with your
agency
2. Think about whether the agency has behaved neglectfully in any way over the
course of your tenancy, as you could use this as leverage to argue that certain fees
should be waived to compensate this neglect
3. Think about whether you, or you and your housemates, would feel comfortable to
ask for these fees to be removed when you next renew your contract.

Direct Action and Solidarity

It can be useful to know the law because many letting agencies and landlords don’t
follow basic legal requirements. But we also need to remember that the law is not
going to be on our side most of the time. We shouldn’t rely on it to make sure we’re
treated fairly.

Agencies will almost certainly be resistant to all of these challenges. In our experience,
perseverance is key. At a certain point, the administrative cost of responding to you
becomes greater than the cost of giving in. There’s also no guarantee of success – an
agency may just remain stubborn to your challenge. However, the more of us who do
this, the harder that will be for them. So, beyond challenges and complaints, it
sometimes requires added pressure for a letting agency or landlord to accept their
responsibilities. If the agency refuses to drop the fee you are challenging, one way to
keep the pressure up on them would be to take Direct Action. This could mean:
- Delivering a demand letter to the letting agency, or to the landlord’s home or work address
- Picketing the letting agency
- Contacting the local press about your dispute
- Publicly ‘outing’ the landlord to their neighbours
- Bombarding their telephone or email inbox
- Occupying your letting agency

These are just examples. Anything that gives you leverage over your letting agency or
landlord works; challenging their reputation or hitting them in the pocket is advisable.
As tenants, we know that agencies exercise a lot of power over us and our living
conditions, and that starting such a campaign against your agency could seem risky. If
you were interested in doing this, such a dispute would not need to be directly
associated with you. We could issue the demand letter from Solidarity Federation, and
we could conduct the actions collectively, with you choosing the level of participation in
those that you were comfortable with.

If you’ve rented, you’ve probably discussed with other tenants how best to deal with a
letting agency or landlord or how to survive in a renting market that seems stacked
against us. Perhaps you’ve even gone with one of your fellow tenants to speak to your
letting agency or landlord about a problem in your property or building. These
conversations and actions form the basis of solidarity.

Fighting a legal battle can be costly, take a lot of time and require specialized skills.
Direct action doesn’t. Anyone can take direct action and win. Instead of relying on
courts and lawyers, direct action means that we win through organising ourselves and
confronting landlords collectively. It could be something straightforward, like going down
as a group to demand your letting agency or landlord complete unfinished repairs. Or
it could mean creating a tenants’ union and organising a rent strike. Defending our
rights is just the beginning. Once we achieve this, we can start to take the initiative.
The Solidarity Federation is an organisation that encourages workers’ self-organisation
and collective action. We want to build a strong movement around housing so that
together we can challenge extortionate rents and agency fees, and use direct action,
mutual aid, and solidarity to put a stop to the scams, swindles and tricks of landlords
and letting agents. We are happy to support anyone facing problems with their boss or
their landlord. So if you’re looking to get organised, get in touch!

 

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