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Over the last few weeks, I felt so fed up at my current lettings agent that I am aggrieved enough to write this up on my blog. Hopefully it will expose some of the crookedness we’ve seen over the years renting with different agents and landlords, as well as spur some people on to action to improve things as they stand!

To start off, let me just say that we have been renters in England for over 12 years. Over these 12 years, we’ve had 3 kids, and moved a total of 9 times all over UK due to my husband’s job. North, South, East, West. We have had no plans to stay in England the rest of our lives.. just living from day to day, and you know if the right opportunity came along, we would move to another country. But due to our circumstance, I couldn’t help but get to know UK quite well… the different jargon, the regional accents, etc. But also the rental market in different parts.

The rent (and property prices in general) in England are too high for what you get compared to other countries Western countries (because there is no government rent control and house prices are over-inflated), and the standard of rental properties here in general, for the price, are admittingly poor compared to what you can get if you buy. I will never forget this was the exact same comment a German friend made when he came to England to work for 2 years. He had a very high-flying job in the finance industry and could well afford to buy considering what he was happy to pay each month for rent, and this was his and his wife’s “discovery” after viewing several properties when they first arrived. And he is right.

A lot of the rental properties here are buy-to-let investments by people with some money. They don’t intend to live in those homes, but just bought them to rent them out for income purposes, so the lack of personal touch shows through the very very basic barebones standard in their rental properties. Many of the rental properties here, in fact, are inadequate for living in. Mould-infested bathrooms and rooms, old carpets and interiors that look like they haven’t been updated since the 70s, are all quite common in rental properties here if you are not prepared to pay a lot more in rent. According to the government’s English housing survey, private renters in UK spend 40% of their income on their accommodation. After all this expenditure, it would be difficult for renters to save up enough money for a deposit to buy their own home.

And why should they buy their own home?

  • Because lettings agents are sharks, that’s why. They charge renters endless pointless fees to supplement their own income, at the expense of renters.
  • Landlords by law are at a greater liberty to evict, or enter the homes of tenants, whenever they wish. Yes there are laws around this, mainly that landlords have to serve 2 months notice to be rid of a tenant (and they don’t even need to give a valid reason), and they are advised to give tenants a minimum of 24 hours notice before they wish to enter the property. But in reality, it is very hard for landlords to get done for harassment in court by tenants if they are proving to be a bit of a pain and invading their tenants’ privacies. And landlords can always use the fact that they need entry into their properties for the purpose of necessary repair work to enter homes whether their tenants are happy with it or not.
  • Pitiful deposit protection. Far too many landlords make use of their tenants’ deposits to pay for maintenance of property fixtures that got worn down through general wear and tear, even though they shouldn’t be doing this. Tenancy Deposit Schemes claim to give tenants’ deposits protection against that. However, there are so many loopholes in the scheme. Let me list some of them :(a) If the landlord wishes to make a deduction off the deposit for some repair work to damages to the property that they allege the ex-tenant caused, they don’t need to prove the ex-tenant did the damage. They just submit their request for whatever sum of money to be deducted from the deposit for such and such repair work of damages caused by the tenant. No evidence needed. However, it would be up to the ex-tenant to then prove to the Tenancy Deposit Scheme adjudicators that it wasn’t them who caused the damage, in order to safeguard their deposit from the deductions!(b) If the dispute between landlord and ex-tenant cannot be resolved in the Tenancy Deposit Scheme’s adjudicating scheme, then the amount of money in dispute gets retained by the scheme, without it being released to either the landlord or the tenant. The money stays in limbo! And who loses out the most on all this? The ex-tenant, of course, who probably cannot afford to buy a house of his/her own and still has to continue renting and hope they have a better landlord or agent next time..  good luck!(c) There is no official guideline in law that stipulates the amount of time landlords should take to return any deposit money back to their ex-tenants. So that means landlords can really take their time to do so. In our experience, the longest it took for our deposit money to be returned in the past was 3 months! Imagine that! If a person was a low-wage earner and finds it hard to save up money for a new deposit, the unpredictability of the time frame in which he/she can expect to get their old deposit back from the previous landlord would make it really hard for him/her to chalk together the new deposit for the new property. What if he/she really had to move out because the property was very unsuitable (too small because of new baby; ex-landlord being a pain; ASBO neighbours causing trouble; etc.)??

And then you get to the issue of letting agents or landlords. Well a good landlord is worth his/her weight in gold. The good landlords we have met maintain contact with their tenants, get to know them face to face, care about their rental property and are quick to respond to any problems that may arise. Letting agents however, well, I have to say that most of them are dishonest crooks and what’s more, even if you met one of the rare good ones, if the landlord is bad, there is nothing that the good agent can do to change that. And you know these days, agents are charging ever more preposterous fees outside London. Yes in the old days (in the early 2000s when I lived in London), the agents in London already do charge all sorts of silly fees like check in/check out, tenancy renewals, etc. But I am seeing this happening to agents across the country in recent years. And I’ve recently been a victim of this.

A new agent I’m with, has served me a Section 21 Notice 2 months before my initial 6-month Assured Shorthold Tenancy ends. But they don’t really want to get rid of us. We are good renters, never miss rent, didn’t trash the house. What they want is to milk us for more money – they said if I wanted to extend my tenancy I would have to pay them extra fees, regardless of whether I was going to allow my tenancy to lapse into a Statutory Periodic Tenancy or to have it become another 6-month Assured Shorthold Tenancy.

Now this is cheeky, I thought. So I wrote the agent a letter to remind them that the conversion of an initial 6-month Assured Shorthold Tenancy to a Statutory Periodic Tenancy is automatic and a statutory right enshrined in law. (See Section 5 of the Housing Act 1988) They replied with a letter saying well, this law doesn’t apply anymore since they’ve served us a Section 21 Notice. Which is, well, bullshit. Because a Section 21 Notice is just a precursor for the landlord to start the process of eviction. It is a warning, not an ultimatum that you leave. If the landlord really really wants you to go, they have to go to court to seek a possession order after the notice period stated on the Section 21 Notice has expired. Doing this will take at least 4 weeks if they use the Accelerated Procession Proceedings, or 6-8 weeks if they use the Normal Procession Proceedings.

I am tempted to write back to the agent to correct them on this. That it is not accurate to say that our tenancy cannot be automatically converted by law into a Statutory Periodic Tenancy just because they served us a Section 21 Notice. Unless… they actually really want to evict us, and are waiting for the Section 21 Notice to expire so they can go to court to seek a possession order. And if that is what they really wanted to do, why even bother asking us umpteen times by letter to please contact them if we wish to renew the tenancy so they can arrange it for us? In the letter my agent sent me, he also mentioned to us that in their eyes, we “have been nothing but good tenants to them”. So we are not bad tenants. They don’t really want to evict us. They serve us a Section 21 Notice because that’s how they can then hope to justify their agency fees of charging us a high “renewal fee” so that our tenancy can be converted to a Statutory Periodic Tenancy, which actually should happen by law without a fee or any action from the agent (i.e. no need to redraft a new tenancy agreement or such), if they had just left us alone to well, be good renters …

But I guess I won’t bother. I am already looking for a new property to rent and be done with them. I am aware that this agent charges a “termination fee” if we decide to vacate the property for any reason.  How dumb is that, right? I mean, if a contract terminates, it just… terminates. Why would the tenant need to pay a “termination fee” for this to happen? I intend to refuse to pay this fee unless we need a reference from them.

Sadly, in our property hunt, every single rental property on Rightmove in our area is managed by agents who charge stupidly high “renewal fees” for Assured Shorthold Tenancies to become Statutory Periodic Tenancies, for example. Some of them even charge £210 for drawing up the Tenancy Agreement! Now this is patently a rip off. How can they even justify that? I mean, every agent has a Tenancy Agreement template stored in their computers which they just go into and change the names and addresses to make a new Tenancy Agreement for a new tenant! This surely doesn’t take that much work or effort to do, to even justify charging hundreds of pounds for. I used to work for a London estate agent as a secretary many, many moons ago, and I know the work involved to do all that is not worth the fees they charge.

Unfortunately, we live in a semi-rural area and as such, we know there aren’t that many choices. Only about 25% of households here are renters (according to the Generationrent survey). And out of those rental properties on the market here, private landlords who don’t use letting agents are far and few between.  Every single day, for the past month, we have been scouring Gumtree ads, Openrent ads, various online letting agent sites, Rightmove and letting agents ads to find our new home. It is looking increasingly the case that we would probably be settling for a new property managed by letting agents who charge ridiculous fees again.

I said it before and I’ll say it again. Renting in England sucks.

And let’s not even forget the fact that wages rose 1% but property prices rose by 8% recently. How are the working poor ever going to have a chance at saving up? Our youngsters, the future of the country, are coming out of schools and universities, finding it hard to even land an entry-level job that pays peanuts (or even expects them to work for free while they are still “greenhorns”), and yet property prices keeps soaring above the rate of their wage increases.

The very real consequence looming ahead, if nothing is done to change this situation, is that we are going to end up, about 10 years’ time, with many parts of the country with a majority of renters compared to home owners. This could only mean that eventually… well… the law will have to change. People are not going to suddenly earn more to match the rate of increase of property prices, after all. The law has to change, or we could have another rent strike. The voices of dissent will become too loud for the politicians to ignore. Another revolution, and that won’t always end well. Why wait till the worst happens?

If you too believe that this current rental market is not sustainable and not beneficial for our current and future generations… if you believe that the government should really intervene and regulate the market or/and build more new homes so that supply meets demand and thus property prices will stop being over-inflated, you could do one, or a few, or all of the following :

  1. Time is running out for this one… so do this as soon as possible. Ask your MP to vote on the 28th November 2014 to end the landlords’ rights to revenge evictions.
  2. Sign the petition by Shelter England to end letting agents fees: http://england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns/fixing_private_renting/letting_agencies
  3. Join Generation Rent to campaign and lobby the government for changes to the rental situation in England so that renters can have professionally managed, secure, decent, and affordable privately rented homes. They also have regional groups which meet up to discuss ways of improving the local renting situation.
  4. Ask your MP to stand up for renters and improve the rental market.
  5. Support the creation of a National Register of Landlords to encourage landlords to adhere to better standards and code of conducts. (you will need to sign in to your Facebook, Twitter or register with Generationrent to do this)
  6. Ask your MP to ban rip off letting agent fees.
  7. Make landlords responsible for the electrical safety and wiring in their rental properties.
  8. Ask your local council to sign up to Shelter England’s campaign to evict rogue local landlords