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tennats-fee  Tenant fees for agents – right or wrong?

Like many agents I have been keeping an eye on the increasing publicity that the charitable organisation Shelter have been drumming up regarding the fees that agents are charging to tenants in order to rent a property. Like many people in the industry, I have to say I am amazed that how Shelter have become so involved, i’m guessing that the publicity they received during their protests for change in Scotland have boosted them and therefore it seems obvious to bring the same into England, but are they right or wrong?

From my perspective, the problem here is that Shelter are simply tarnishing every agent with the same brush and forgetting the fact that the vast majority of agents in the UK are decent, honest and trustworthy. These quality businesses (just like ours) do charge tenant fees and make a small profit from it, but then again we are a business and have to charge people for the service. Unlike Shelter, we (nor any of our competitors) receive financial support from donations and hand outs, we have to trade economically and do so in the fairest way we can. Whilst I appreciate that not all UK lettings businesses are quite so ethical in the way they trade, the calculation is simple – if someone wishes to rent their home, the fees have got to be paid from somewhere. We have negotiators who work for us and they do a brilliant job showing tenants around properties and supporting them etc, if Shelter get their way do we simply stop paying them for doing this vital role?

Since the law changed in Scotland and Shelter got their way stopping tenant fees, guess what happened… yep you got it, the rents went up! You don’t need to be Lord Sugar or a Dragon to work out that was going to happen, so the tenant is still paying for it, Shelter call that a victory?

There has been a lot written about the salaries paid to Shelter “execs” and quite frankly i’m not bothered what they are paid, not really, if you want good people you have to pay good money for them, plus I don’t give money to Shelter so I cannot comment. The issue I have is that they are becoming a political voice rather than a charity function. I am aware of many individuals who have now cancelled their monthly payments to Shelter because of this and in my opinion they are focused on the wrong issue. You see the thing here is that its not about banning tenant fees, it’s about ensuring that all agents operate in an ethical way. Shelter released figures stating that from their survey fees ranged up to £700 for a tenant. The reason for this is that because some agents operate a different model whereby the landlord pays very little (sometimes nothing) and the agent makes their profit from the tenant alone – this makes them look very competitive in the market to landlords and it’s a way of trying to increase their market share. In other cases it’s simply agents that are trading unethically and this needs to stop. Shelter need to look at this in a different way – what is fair?

The only way to ensure that agents are trading fairly, ethically and viably is by ensuring they all stick to the same guidelines, which at present they do not need to. Some weeks ago I wrote about SAFEagent which is a self regulating organisation born by quality agents getting together and providing consumers with the confidence they are dealing with a professional company that provides recourse if needed – just like ABTA and ATOL. In my opinion Shelter have got this wrong, treating everyone the same and not tackling the real problem of rogue unregulated companies trading irresponsibly.

I would welcome everyone’s views on this, maybe its time the quality agents in this country fought back rather than waiting for Shelter to get their way. Please feel free to comment using the section below and lets see if our voices can be heard. If we don’t I fear we will all be faced with the same dilemma they have had in Scotland which will only mean increased rents.

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Andy Bushell