/ Home & Energy, Money

Why are letting agent fees so high?

Moving house can be expensive. And for those of us who rent, one of the most significant and annoying costs can be the fees charged by letting agents. It’s even more annoying when it’s hard to find what these are.

I’d love to buy my own place. Sadly I have nowhere near the kind of money needed for a mortgage deposit – especially as I live in what the media loves to describe as ‘house-price-crazy’ London.  So, as I need a roof over my head, I rent.

Which is fine. Except that for many of us it’s hard enough to come up with the deposit to rent a flat – usually six weeks’ rent – let alone cover the admin fees letting agents charge.

We found in 2013 that the average admin and referencing fees (banned in Scotland) you’d have to pay was £310. We also found some tenants could be saddled with check-in and check-out fees, bringing the total closer to an eye watering £600.

A group called Waltham Forest Renters – based in the London borough I’m lucky enough to call home – recently carried out research that found a huge variation in fees. For a two-bedroom flat rented by two people with a guarantor, fees started at £150 and went up to a dizzying £792.

Letting agent fees must now be shown upfront

At least letting agents must now clearly publicise a full tariff of their fees both on their websites and prominently in their offices. But there’s no protection in law for tenants covering what agents can charge.

Since October 2014 letting agents have also been legally required to be a member of one of the three government-approved redress schemes – which have codes of practice agents must follow and act as mediation services. We worked hard to help win this legal change, so we hope tenants (and landlords) will exercise their right to complain about poor service including misleading and unexplained fees.

Any agent who doesn’t display their fees can be fined up to £5,000. The Waltham Forest group’s report claimed that 21 agents in the borough weren’t listing their full fees at the time their research was carried out. They say they’ve passed details of their claims onto the council for further investigation.

But, are the fees reasonable?

This week, the National Housing Federation found that rents in the UK are the highest in Europe and take up the biggest portion of people’s salaries.

And bearing in mind the cost of fees as well, is it any wonder my generation will spend many more years forking out our hard-earned cash in rent rather than saving for a deposit and paying off a mortgage?

Do you think the fees are reasonable? Could fees be levied at landlords as they’re the ones benefitting from the screening of tenants? Or should they be banned like they are in Scotland?

suzie says:
5 August 2019

Hi, I am a landlord and have had to go to court to get an eviction for my tenant. I only rented my house out as I couldn’t sell it, and I need to sell it now, 10 years later. I did not use a scheme for the deposit. She hasn’t paid her rent this month. If I give her full deposit back even though she owes me for rent, can she still take me to court for the 3 x the deposit fine? Thanks.

Suzie – Your position might be compromised by the absence of a deposit protection scheme so I suggest you take professional legal advice as soon as possible. Both you and your tenant would probably benefit from a negotiated settlement.

Estate agents that undertake lettings management are usually well-versed in the intricacies of evictions and will often offer free informal advice even if you are not a client.