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Tenants warned to beware of rogue letting agents

With new figures showing that almost half of letting agents do not comply with the law, London Trading Standards (LTS) has today issued a stark warning to tenants to better understand their rights or risk being ripped off by rogue operators.

Figures from LTS show that more than 46% of 1,922 agents inspected in the 15 months up to June 2019 by local council trading standards officers were non-compliant with either the Consumer Rights Act and/or the legislation on redress scheme membership. This resulted in fines of more than £1.2m for breaking the law. 

In addition to the fines, London boroughs instigated 14 criminal prosecutions for a range of offences including breaches of unfair trading rules.

The enforcement survey by London Trading Standards reveals that there were more than 6,000 letting agents operating across the capital and over 1,000 complaints about them.

London Trading Standards’ operations director Stephen Knight said: “London borough trading standards teams have been increasingly active in tackling rogue letting agents in recent years, with over £1.2 million of fines issued in the past 15 months and 14 criminal prosecutions, but dodgy agents are far too commonplace across London and private renters need to be very careful not to be ripped off.”

Two new laws, the Tenant Fees Act and the Client Money Protection Schemes for property agents, which have recently come into force are likely to add significant new protections to tenants. Until now, trading standards teams had limited powers to tackle rogue letting agents.

Under the Tenant Fees Act, which applies to tenancies signed since 1 June 2019, agents are banned from charging fees for all but a handful of controlled subjects and deposits are strictly limited.

Also, since 1 April 2019, agents must hold any client money in a separate client money account. This must be protected through membership of a client money protection scheme.

London Councils’ executive member for housing and planning and leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, Cllr Darren Rodwell, said: “Boroughs are cracking down on rogue letting agents to protect tenants from unfair treatment. As the research shows, this poses a serious challenge in London, where housing pressures are so severe and a significant number of letting agents have been breaking the rules. 

“Borough trading standards teams are crucial for tackling this issue. Through raising awareness, issuing fines and pursuing prosecutions, we’re determined to support tenants and make clear to rogue letting agents that bad practice is unacceptable.”

Leon Livermore, chief executive at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, added: “The fact that London boroughs had to issue over £1.2million in fines and started 14 criminal prosecutions is truly shocking. This kind of enforcement work by trading standards illustrates how big a part the profession is playing in keeping UK consumers safe and holding rogue letting agents to account.”

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