Tenant Fees Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 2:15 pm, 23rd January 2019

No, I do not agree with that because at the moment we have some flexibility. Under the Bill, we have no flexibility above five weeks. The trouble with that is this. I could charge a tenant five weeks, but what if they have a pet or certain other circumstances that make me less likely to want to rent it to them? I, as a landlord, will be less likely to rent to that person, under this measure, whereas with six weeks I would have some flexibility. We must make sure that this does not deter landlords from renting properties to people with pets. We do not want that, but it could happen. The Minister has promised to keep this measure under review, and I am absolutely sure that she will.

I want to touch on default fees and amendments 42 to 47. I welcome the clarification from the Minister in the letter she sent me a couple of days ago. She assured me that landlords and agents would still be able to charge for things above and beyond their existing obligations, and that is absolutely right, but the Bill itself only makes a couple of provisions on default fees, and one of those is for the replacement of keys. It sounds like a simple process, but it is possible to spend hours and hours chasing the tenant, chasing the keys, and then chasing the tenant to come and collect the keys. Someone has to pay for that work. It is not a question of the keys themselves; it is a question of the time and labour involved in their delivery.

I welcome the Minister’s clarification of the fact that “reasonable charges” can be made, although I think that “reasonable charges”, on an hourly basis, should be defined in the guidance to prevent agents from exploiting that particular opportunity. This is about not making profit, but ensuring that the people doing the work—the letting agents or the landlords—are paid if tenants do not meet their obligations, or breach contracts. In particular, there is currently no provision for a landlord or agent to make reasonable charges for collecting late rent. That too may take many hours, and as a result the charges will go up across the board. As I have said before, in those circumstances, good tenants who do comply will subsidise poor tenants who do not. We often hear about the Scottish example. Deposits in Scotland amount to eight weeks’ rent, and Scottish agents can charge for chasing late rent and chasing keys that need to be replaced. I do not know whether that is covered under “breaches”; perhaps the Minister will provide clarification at some point.

The provision on “variation, assignment or novation” is very important, because it allows for a change of sharer. Someone who has taken on a tenancy agreement and wants to break it early can go to the agent or the landlord, who will consider a change of sharer because it will be possible to make a reasonable charge in connection with the change in the agreement. That is only fair, but I think that an hourly rate should be defined in the guidance.

I believe that the Lords meant well in tabling some of their amendments, but I also believe that some of them are unfair and potentially unworkable, and might have unintended consequences, particularly for tenants in adverse circumstances. I think that we should keep this under review to ensure that the rules are fair for landlords, agents and tenants, and that those who are on the margins when it comes to affordability are not disadvantaged.