Letting Agency Woes to Be Aware of

A Plea to Be Aware from a Student Tours Scotland Regular

Student Tours Scotland received a request from Elizabeth, a PhD student from Germany who wanted to tell you some things she'd like you to be aware of when it comes to letting agents. 

Elzabeth: There are a lot of things you have to worry about when you try to find a new flat. It has to be in a suitable location and it has to be affordable, of course. Once a flat is found, moving and getting used to the new environment and maybe to new flatmates can take some time. But it can be worse. What if you had to be afraid of landlords or letting agents that have dubious business practices? What if they would charge you money for fees they legally are not allowed to be charging? What if they wouldn’t protect and invest your deposit as they are required to by law?

A lot of letting agents charge illegal fees without hesitation. If questioned about this travesty, they might tell you something like this:

“[...] is correct that we cannot force you to pay fees. However, it does mean that you have to supply all paperwork yourself and this must meet our standards. This includes the references we require plus prepare your own legal paperwork, including a short assured tenancy lease, AT5, forms 1080 & 1081, smoke alarm checklist. Most tenants opt for us to do this for the fee.”

This is a ridiculous claim as a solicitor confirmed to me. Still they feel safe to tell you things like that. Foreigners, especially students, often don’t know about their rights. Even locals might fall for this sham, seriously thinking that they have no other choice than to pay up. See HERE for other things letting agents might say.

Be smart! The best way to be safe is not to get involved with dubious letting agents or landlords to begin with!

Before going into detail about what to do, let me ask you to share this post on Facebook & Twitter, by telling your neighbours and friends. Everyone can become a victim, if they do not know about these frauds. When your letting agency or landlord has charged you illegal fees, when your deposit is not protected and invested, remember you are not alone with this. There are many victims, out there!

Here are some simple rules to give you at least some security:

Only use letting agents that are members of regulatory bodies like ARLA, TPO, NALS or LAS. All reputable letting agencies are registered with a regulatory body! Here is a useful article about this from the viewpoint of a landlord HERE.

Remember, letting agency regulatory bodies are useful for both sides and it should be in the interest of landlord and tenant to have a letting agency that is registered with one.  

If you are in contact with a letting agency about moving into a flat and they ask you to pay extra fees, don’t hesitate to make a complaint to the Citizen Advice Bureau! They can forward it to Trading Standards, which can make the letting agency pay a fine for this. Don’t stay silent! By reporting them you will show them that they cannot get away with this. They should be afraid to break the law instead of openly doing it, just because nobody takes actions against them. You can file a complaint, here.

If you already paid fees, claim them back using Shelter Scotland’s Reclaim Your Fees toolkit. It is very easy to use! See my experience on this on TWITTER.

Most students cannot afford legal aid. This is one of the reasons why letting agencies or landlords with dubious business practices feel safe. You can still get free advice if you cannot afford a solicitor. I had great experiences with Law Clinic, a free law clinic organised by the University of Strathclyde. There are other places to get advice from, too. Check if your University has a law clinic or ask the Citizen Advice Bureau where to go.

Request information about your deposit. Your letting agency / landlord has to provide you with details about the amount paid into the deposit registration scheme, the name of the administrator and the date it was paid in as per Regulation 42 of The Tenancy DepositSchemes (Scotland) Regulations 2011.

Talk to friends, colleagues, your family! Talk to us! Share your experiences!