Private renting’s hidden costs revealed

The hidden costs of renting private accommodation in Northern Ireland have been revealed in an undercover survey carried out by the Housing Rights Service (HRS).

Mystery shoppers conducted a survey of 40 lettings agents across the country and found that upfront fees of as much as £100 were demanded by some agents to cover routine services such as credit checks and general administration costs.

This was on top of a deposit – normally one month’s rent – and a month’s rent in advance.

The investigation found that the average cost charged by letting agents for such fees was £48, with the highest cost £100.

The HRS believes such fees can create major financial obstacles for prospective tenants to overcome when they already face paying a month’s rent in advance and a deposit before they even receive the keys to their rented accommodation.

The charity believes that the additional charges are unfair and such business costs should be covered by either the agents themselves or the landlord.

Unlike estate agents, letting agents are unregulated and under no compulsion to hold membership of an ombudsman service, leaving dissatisfied tenants with no access to redress.

The HRS has also called for greater clarity in the law and to rule if the practice of charging such fees is illegal as is the case in Scotland, and is also recommending that there should be a requirement for letting agents to clearly present their fees on their websites, in adverts and in all promotional material.

Nicola McCrudden, HRS policy manager, said: “We are concerned that many local letting agents are not only increasing financial pressures on hard pressed tenants who urgently need a roof over their heads and who, in many cases, have little or no choice but to pay these charges; but they are also undermining the work of those good letting agents who offer a fair deal to tenants.

“The charges are particularly unjustified considering that many landlords are also likely to be paying agents for the same services as tenants. There is a real danger that these fees are preventing some people on low incomes from finding suitable private rented accommodation and could be adding pressure on already over-subscribed social housing waiting list.”

Article courtesy of 24Dash

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