Tenant Fees Bill

Part of Gaza: Un Human Rights Council Vote – in the House of Commons at 8:57 pm on 21st May 2018.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 8:57 pm, 21st May 2018

On 3 May 2016, I led an Adjournment debate in which I called for a cap on letting agents’ fees, because they were becoming such a big issue in my constituency. I therefore welcome the Bill, which goes even further.

This issue particularly affects London and the south-east. In my constituency, rent for an average property is close to £2,000 a month. I have worked closely with the citizens advice bureau in Lewes, and it has done a lot of work on this issue. It highlighted how letting agents fees in one of the four towns in my constituency can range from £175 to £922. Coupled with an eight-week deposit, which is standard in Lewes, that can leave tenants paying anything from £3,332 to £3,779. It is just not affordable for someone on the average wage. I was therefore pleased to see in schedule 1 that the deposit is going to be limited to six weeks.

I have two key concerns. The first is about the variety of fees listed in schedule 1. Although the Bill covers holding payments and deposits, several fees that letting agents have introduced will get around the legislation. Citizens advice in Lewes found that people can be charged around £450 to add a second tenant to a property. A reference check can cost £100, as can general admin. An “express move”—to move within 10 days—can cost around £200, and it can cost another £200 to keep a pet in a property. If a tenant moves out and someone takes over the lease, that costs £300 on average. Some Members have already mentioned the six-month tenancy. Tenants often want a longer lease, to which they are legally entitled, but are not allowed to contact the landlord to negotiate one, because it is in the letting agents’ interest to keep tenants on a rolling six-month tenancy, paying around £150 to £350 every time they renew their lease.

My other concern is enforcement and schedule 3. It is a legal requirement for letting agents to advertise their fees, but it just does not happen and is not enforced. Citizens advice looked at 25 letting agents in Lewes and Seaford. Only one currently advertises its fees. We have legislation and it is not being enforced. I am not clear from schedule 3 who is responsible for the enforcement of the legislation and what happens if they do not do it. I welcome the Bill, but I have those two concerns—the variety of fees not covered, and enforcement to ensure that the Bill works properly for tenants.