Charity warned to step back from anti-fees campaign

Shelter should step back and consider the damage it has done in Scotland before trying to bring its campaign on tenancy fees down south.

The warning comes from Sue Hopson,  brand standards director for lettings chain Martin & Co.

Martin & Co has 16 offices in Scotland, and while Hopson said that they themselves had experienced only a handful of tenants going in to their branches to demand money back, they all knew of worse-affected agents.

Hopson said: “Agents cannot provide tenancy referencing and other services for free, so they will have to charge landlords more, and landlords in turn will have to put rents up.

“Shelter may think it has been on the side of tenants, but tenants could well think exactly the opposite and believe that Shelter has done them no favours at all.

“Our biggest concern is that if, and when, rents rise, the Scottish government will be under pressure from Shelter to step in and take control of rents.

“So, on the one hand Shelter will be saying that we must not charge tenants fees, and on the other that rents are unaffordable. You just can’t win.”

Hopson said that the main difficulty for Scottish agents is that the Government has issued no guidance as to whether tenancy fees charged in the past should now be refunded.

She said: “The Government has kept very quiet. We are using a letter that ARLA has prepared for agents to send to tenants, saying that pending clarification about retrospective fees, we will not be making any refunds.

“However, Martin & Co will be stopping taking fees – the writing is on the wall. The question about retrospective refunds remains a grey area.”

She said that some Scottish letting agents are planning to get together to go to court to challenge certain tenants’ claims for refunds, in the hope of establishing a precedent.

Hopson said that Shelter would have far more difficulty in England in achieving a ban on tenancy fees: “Unlike in Scotland, where there was existing legislation, Shelter would have nothing to hang its hat on south of the border.

“It would have to do some extensive lobbying of the Government, and face a huge backlash from agents. We have a new housing minister, but I am sure he has more important things on his plate than looking at letting agents’ fees.”

Hopson confirmed that in Scotland, letting agents, including some well-established firms, are already closing as a result of the twin whammy of the ban on fees and the need to place tenants’ deposits, both new and ongoing, in a custodial scheme by November.

She said: “The ones who are closing now are just the tip of the iceberg. Others have their heads in the sand and are hoping ag
Article courtesy of Landlord Today
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