If you’re someone who rents their home for whatever reason you’ll know that you’re vulnerable. The standard rental contract in the UK is 12 months, compared to 4 years in Italy, meaning that you always feel like you’re in temporary accommodation. You don’t have to speak to too many people to come across warnings about dealing with certain agencies, who do their best to ensure tenants are changed every year in order to generate additional income from existing clients – property owners.
But now it seems that a legal loophole which allows landlords to charge outgoing tenants for silly things like leaving a jar of peanut butter in a cupboard could be exploited even further thanks to new laws, at least according to the housing charity Shelter.
Shelter is concerned the Government’s plan to ban letting fees will drive landlords to squeeze money out of tenants in other ways, such as increasingly harsh punishments for relatively minor ‘offences’. The charity says that one tenant was charged £3 after a jar of peanut butter was left in a cupboard after they moved out of their rented home. Presumably the landlord needed to pay a professional to remove it. Other fines include £25 for removing bin bags, £30 for having to move furniture back to its original place and £45 to buy a dustpan and brush. This money is clawed back by landlords through “default fees”, a punishment available when a tenant breaks a clause of the contract – however punitive that clause might be.
The National Landlord Association seem unconcerned by this potential abuse by their members and say that there is a system in place for tenants to challenge any unfair claims.
Shelter Chief Executive Polly Neate welcomed the banning of letting fees, calling it a “much-needed helping hand” for private renters, but warned; “It’s crucial we don’t leave the backdoor open for agents to find new and inventive ways to rip them off. On top of the paying sky-high rents each month, renters have told us they’ve been hit with totally ludicrous charges, like £25 to take a bin bag out or being forced to pay for having a jar of peanut butter removed.”
“With more and more families renting all the time, the government needs to make sure agents don’t use ridiculous charges to make up money they lose from the ban on letting fees. Every detail of this ban needs to be right to give renters the protection they desperately need.”
Some of the charges reported to Shelter include:
- £3 for removing a jar of crunchy peanut butter after tenant had moved out
- £30 to move furniture not in its original place
- £25 for bin bag disposal
- £45 procurement fee for a new dustpan & brush
- Cleaning dust from skirting boards at £3 per board
- £15 to reactivate a key fob
- £60 for each letter or phone call to chase late rent
- £120 for a new key fob
- £80 to remove limescale from the loo
- £90 to change to a lock
The Government recently put forward a Bill to Parliament to start the process of banning letting fees, a move which could save tenants £240million a year. In additon, deposits will be capped at no more than six weeks rent.
Labour’s Clive Betts, Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, praised the Government’s Tenant Fees Bill as “an opportunity to make a difference to millions of people”, but added: “As a Committee we were very clear, during our pre-legislative scrutiny, that bogus charges can often be imposed on tenants and that default fees are open to abuse. The HCLG Committee called on the Government to ensure the type and amount of default fee are better regulated to ensure private renters aren’t exposed to yet further fees by unscrupulous landlords.”
The National Landlords Association accepted property-owners should “attempt to be as reasonable as possible and apply common sense” when it came to triggering default fees, but warned against a ban.
Chris Norris, Director of Policy and Practice at the NLA said: “Most tenants move into their new home and will never encounter a charge of any sort during the tenancy, others seem to lose their keys on fortnightly basis requiring a landlord to change locks multiple times to protect both their investment and, often, other residents. In these cases landlords should be able to recoup their costs – including charging a fair rate for their time. Many charges occur post-tenancy and are already subject to arbitration as a result of tenancy deposit protection legislation – meaning that tenants can challenge any deposit deductions at no cost. Each case should be judged according to its own set of circumstances – £90 to change a lock may well be the cost of a locksmith. An outright ban prevents this from happening.”
A Government source said the Tenant Fees Bill does make provision to stop any default fees which “exceed the landlord’s loss” will be banned.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’re determined to build a housing market fit for the future and protect tenants across the country from being stung by unexpected or unreasonable costs. That is why we are delivering on our promise to ban letting fees to tenants, alongside other measures to make renting fairer and more affordable.”