Letting agent fees are a constant source of irritation to most tenants and you just have to take a quick glance across our forums to see the anger that they stir up. Every year we see new and more creative ways that letting agents are finding to try and pass their costs on to tenants and boost their profits by creating ‘fees’ for just about everything. The latest fee to make waves is the up front cash fee that’s being charged by ‘relocation’ agents.
What is it?
Relocation agents have been around for years but in the past have generally only been used by the very wealthy who don’t have enough time to flat hunt. The up front cash fee is charged for agents to find the properties that are viewed – and to allow access to them. In the past, the service would probably have included finding the property, negotiating the tenancy documents and even helping to relocate children to new schools.
How does this affect tenants now?
Agents are starting to try and apply this formula, not to the wealthiest property hunters, but to those looking for the very cheapest properties. These businesses call themselves ‘relocation agents’ and they will charge a fee for making appointments to view properties. As many UK tenants are savvy to the fact that this isn’t normal procedure, relocation agents often target overseas tenants. The worry is that this might become standard practice across the board.
What kind of properties are we talking about?
Generally, these are smaller properties, studios or even tiny semi-studios. They have normally been created when a landlord has divided a larger building into these self-contained spaces. However, some of these businesses also search for one and two bed flats.
How much are the fees?
These tend to vary but they can be anything from £60 for a single person looking for a studio up to £200 for a search for a two bed flat. The fees are – of course –non-refundable.
Is it legal?
It’s not actually legal for letting agents to charge a tenant to register with them or to see lists of available properties. Of course the ‘relocation agents’ who are pioneering this pretty mercenary practice claim that they are not influenced by payment or commission from landlords but that’s not always clear.
So how do they get around the law?
That’s where the name comes in – by calling themselves relocation agents instead of letting agents these unscrupulous businesses can circumvent the various requirements for letting agents and charge these fees. They can also claim to be working for the tenants, rather than for the landlords who own the properties. It’s a trickster’s solution to the problem that letting agents constantly seem to face: how to make more money from tenants.
What should you do if you’re asked for an up front cash fee?
As our own Glenn Nickolls was recently quoted as saying in The Guardian: “Looking for ways to fleece already cash-strapped tenants is only going to damage the industry’s reputation further, and tenants have had enough. A tenant should never accept this type of fee and should immediately walk away.”