All letting agency fees should be paid by landlords, rather than tenants, as is the case in Scotland, according to Citizens Advice.
The charity argues that landlords have the advantage of being able to shop around for the best deals, while tenants have no choice over the agent they deal with, or the fees that they are charged, after finding a suitable home.
Citizens Advice said that an increasing number of people, particularly renters, are contacting the charity with questions and complaints about letting agents,
It received 6,500 calls about the sector in the year to the end of June, up from 6,200 in the corresponding month last year, and 5,700 the year before that.
Previously, many tenants had complained about delays in getting basic repairs completed or in fixing properties that were so damp or cold, but increasingly they now relate to agents’ fees, which Citizens Advice report have risen to as high as £700.
At the moment, tenant fees are charged for a range of services including preparing the tenancy agreement, checking references and credit checks, but the charity believes that these services should be paid for by landlords.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Private renters shop around for properties, not for letting agents. Landlords are better able to choose agencies based on performance and cost and it should therefore be landlords paying letting agent fees, not tenants picking up these rising costs.”
David Cox, managing director of Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), insisted that lettings agent have “a fair pricing structure” and do “not make a noticeable profit” on charging for essential items during the lettings agreement process such as credit searches, right to rent checks, the drafting of the tenancy agreement, inventories and the management of tenancy extension or renewal.
He also pointed out that landlords already incur their own costs to the agent, “for services such as advertising the property and arranging viewings, amongst others”.
“Rather than simply transferring the total cost onto the side on the landlord, what is crucial is to provide consumer protection through better regulation of the private rented sector,” he added.