Rogue letting agents were fined over £1.2m for breaking the law, either by not displaying fees and charges or for not being members of a redress scheme, figures from London Trading Standards (LTS) have shown.
Almost half (46%) of 1,922 agents inspected in the 15 months up to June 2019 by local council trading standards officers, were non-compliant with either the Consumer Rights Act and/or the legislation on the redress scheme membership.
Stephen Knight, London Trading Standards’ operations director, said: “London borough trading standards teams have been increasingly active in tackling rogue letting agents in recent years, with over £1.2m of fines issued in the past 15 months and 14 criminal prosecutions, but dodgy agents are far too commonplace across London and private renters need to be very careful not to be ripped off.”
Under the Tenant Fees Act, which applies to tenancies signed since 1 June 2019, agents are banned from charging fees for all but a handful of controlled subjects and deposits are strictly limited.
Since 1 April 2019, agents must hold any client money in a separate client money account.
Client funds must be protected through membership of a client money protection scheme.
Councillor Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for housing and planning and leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, added: “Boroughs are cracking down on rogue letting agents to protect tenants from unfair treatment.
“As the research shows, this poses a serious challenge in London, where housing pressures are so severe and a significant number of letting agents have been breaking the rules. Borough trading standards teams are crucial for tackling this issue.
“Through raising awareness, issuing fines and pursuing prosecutions, we’re determined to support tenants and make clear to rogue letting agents that bad practice is unacceptable.”
As well as the fines, London boroughs instigated 14 criminal prosecutions for a range of offences including breaches of unfair trading rules.
There were over 6,000 letting agents operating across the capital and over 1,000 complaints about them.
Dan Wilson Craw, director of Generation Rent, said: “This year’s Tenant Fees Act has the potential to save you hundreds of pounds every time you move.
“But because so many letting agents have been flouting existing laws, you have to be vigilant when looking for a new home to avoid being ripped off.
“If a letting agent asks for something unusual, like a payment for something that is not rent or a refundable deposit, then you should question this and seek advice if unsure.
“For example, London Renters Union could help you if you’ve been asked to pay an illegal fee.”
David Cox, chief executive of ARLA Propertymark, added: “We’re really pleased to see Trading Standards prosecuting bad practice in the industry; it’s the only way to clean up the sector and we’ve been calling for it for a long time.
“People should remember that if they can’t see an agent’s fee template, CMP certificate and redress scheme membership prominently displayed in their office, that’s three laws that they have already broken.
“This raises the question what other laws will that agent break? At that stage, a tenant should walk straight out and choose an ARLA Propertymark member where agents follow a strict code of conduct which puts the tenant first.
“It’s also why we have been calling on the government to regulate letting agents and are pleased that plans are well underway for mandatory registration and training for all letting agents.”