Letting Agents: Ensure Deposits & Reference Fees are Lawful
Letting agents charge a number of different types of fees to tenants, under a variety of names such as:
- “holding deposits”,
- “referencing fees”,
- “administration fees”, to name but a few.
The current legal position under the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 is that it is an offence to charge or receive any premium (over and above rent and a security deposit of no more than two months rent) as a condition of the grant, renewal or continuance of a tenancy. Therefore, as it stands, all of the fees mentioned above are unlawful premiums. However, it is common practice for agents to charge such fees, and for tenants to simply pay them to secure the property!
The Scottish Government is proposing to amend the law in relation to premiums and a consultation has been launched. The consultation puts forward three options:-
- To clarify that the definition of a premium as per the 1984 Act is clear, in that anything taken other than rent and a refundable deposit is a premium and therefore unlawful
- To specify categories of sums that are permitted to be charged, with a maximum amount stipulated.
- To specify categories of sums that are permitted to be charged where no maximum amount is provided.
The views regarding premiums vary from agent to agent. Some believe that it is possible to run their business without charging such premiums to tenants, whilst others believe that there are reasonable charges which should be permitted, the most common being fees to cover referencing checks. A common complaint is that some agents don’t just charge the tenant the cost incurred by them in obtaining a reference from a reference agency, but instead inflate the fee without justification. Many tenants feel that this is unfair and that more regulation is needed.
The Scottish Government is now seeking your views on these options and you can view the consultation by clicking here. The consultation is open until Monday, 28 May 2012, with the aim that any changes being brought in will be done so in Summer 2012.
Have you had a bad experience with additional fees, or do you feel strongly that they remain reasonable to enable your business to be viable? Why don’t you take a few moments to give us your thoughts.
Or if you’re just looking for more information regarding tenants, click below to view our landlord legal guide to problem tenants ….