Have you ever used a letting agent to rent a home? Over half a million in the UK will use one this year alone. And I don't know about you but I've lost count the amount of times people have told me how they're not getting much for their money.
I know from my own experience that letting agents can charge a fortune, and still not provide much of a service. But recently ACORN members in London have been listening to the local community about their experiences, and also doing some research of their own.
We were shocked to find that 2 out of 3 local agents were not displaying their administration fees (which is illegal), and on average, they’re charging renters £560 a time. That’s half a grand paid to someone to print-out a contract and conduct a reference check which costs them just £20. And it isn’t just fees that are the problem - short contracts, ‘No DSS’, lack of repairs, and snap evictions - we’re losing count of the ways letting agents are making life hard for this community.
What can we do about it? Lettings agents don’t have to act like this. Many are, but there’s some that choose not to exploit the housing crisis to make easy profits. That’s why, working with working with Citizens Advice, Shelter and a forward-thinking local council, ACORN has developed the Ethical Lettings Charter As a way of recognising the best, and targeting the worst agents and landlords.
What is the Ethical Lettings Charter? Put simply,it’s a voluntary set of standards that any letting agent or landlord can agree to sign up to. They commit to Bronze, Silver or Gold standard, and the signatories agree to treat their tenants with respect and dignity. Depending on the level, commitments include:
Ending the charging of unfair fees
Equal access to lettings: not discriminating against families with children or those receiving benefits.
Providing longer contracts
Ensuring more energy efficient homes.
How does it work? Its simple: its a way of putting pressure on local agents to change their ways - and make sure they keep their word. And when local agents start signing up, we can let the community know who they should and shouldn't trust.
But, don’t we need to change the law, not a voluntary code of conduct? Lets face it, this government isn’t easily moved to support renters - not surprising when 39% of Tory MPs are landlords. We can and will push local and national authorities to change the law, but until then we have to find ways of taking local action that gets results. With the Ethical Lettings Charter, we can do that right now, right here in London. If you want letting agents to sign up, you can start by signing our petition.