Something has to be done, though. It is ridiculous.
It is, quite frankly, nothing but exploitative.
People are driven to rent, and to renting for longer. Landlords and letting agents know this, and they know you're desperate for housing. They know you will pay their fees and their hiked up rents because let's face it...it's ten times better than sleeping in a cardboard box or on a park-bench.
Letting agents are un-regulated. There are no laws in the UK governing them. In Scotland, their excessive fees have been addressed. But still...anyone can become a letting agent and no-one is keeping watch on them. Some of them sign up to organisations like ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents) but it is a self-regulating organisation. They have codes of practice, but they probably have no teeth.
There isn't a line of legislation that tells letting agents what they can and can't charge, and there doesn't seem to be much to address their increasingly common laziness and incompetent behaviour.
I am currently involved in a dispute with a letting agent. The firm, Bulmers, is based in North Yorkshire. They pride themselves on their status as Ryedale's only specialist letting agents. They pride themselves on their professional approach and their "refreshing and alternative way to let and manage property."
This is them, here: http://www.bulmersletting.co.uk/
To me, they are NO different to any other letting agent I've had a dispute with.
* * *
My daughter is a kidney transplant patient. In the winter of 2012/2013, we reported rotten and draughty windows to Bulmers. We also reported faulty central heating. During that winter, my daughter fell ill with two separate incidents of e-coli infections and she was hospitalised. These two infections caused damage to her transplanted kidney, which have reduced its function somewhat. And this was a winter that was freezing cold, if anyone recalls. It was a bad one. And our heating situation was rendered diabolical by the rotted-out windows. By the broken radiators.
How did she get the e-coli infections? She wasn't washing properly.
Why wasn't she washing properly? Well, it was fucking freezing and she's a kid.
So what did Bulmers do when we reported the problems? Not a goddamned thing.
Not for a period of FOUR MONTHS. When March came around, the windows were replaced. It was denied that they were rotten, of course. Despite having proof from the window company to the contrary, Bulmers denied that they or the landlord were obligated to replace the windows. They made out that this was done as a means of benefiting the house and its tenants. They'd done us a favour, so to speak.
But they hadn't done us a favour. Not in the slightest. We were running the heating off an LPG tank in the garden. And LPG is expensive. We knew that when moving in, as Bulmers were so frequently keen to remind me. But the fact of the matter is, that whether we knew this or not, it is NOT THE POINT. We had a 600 litre delivery in December 2012, and because of the cold we had to keep the heating (which was faulty remember) turned on so often, we used that 600 litre delivery up by February 2013. When we contacted our LPG provider, they were stunned when we placed another order. They couldn't believe we had used so much LPG in the space of two months.
But here was the problem. They would not allow us to order more. Our credit with them was in danger of escalating to an unmanageable amount. Ordering another 600 litres (which was, by the way, their absolute minimum delivery amount) would render our debt too high, so they refused.
They refused to provide us with LPG.
We tried explaining our situation. The vulnerability of our daughter. But it all fell on deaf ears. And yet we HAD to have gas. What choice did we have? It was still so damn cold. So in the end, we got the specialist hospital staff involved and they pressed upon the LPG provider how urgent the requirement was, and we got the LPG delivery.
They were right of course. It did put us in debt. But what can I say..? Debts can be paid off later. You can't postpone freezing to death.
So the LPG provider comes and fills up the tank and when they're there, they notice that the tank is too close to the house. Too close, as in - hazardously close. As in BREACH OF STATUTORY SAFETY REGULATIONS close. And so they refused to come to the house and deliver LPG until the tank was moved down to the end of the garden.
I let Bulmers know immediately. And this was in February 2013. In the end, the LPG provider said that we needed a newer tank. Our one was old and out of date. Bulmers said they would arrange it.
SEVEN MONTHS LATER the job was finally done. This was after fuck-up, after fuck-up, after fuck-up. First of all, it took from February to August just to persuade the landlord to agree to go ahead with the work. In the meantime, very little was done to move the work forward. The requirement was essentially this: builders would be needed to dig some pipe trenches and to lay a concrete base for the new tank. The LPG provider had been to the house, assessed the garden and drawn up a specific diagram identifying what went where for it all to be legal. Bulmers promised to arrange the builders attendance the day before she arranged for the new tank to be delivered. The reason for this was that the children were breaking up for school holidays and it would ensure they weren't left with a building site for a back-garden.
The builders came. They dug up the garden and made a mess, which was to be expected. But it turned out that Bulmers hadn't arranged for the new tank as promised. She gave me some bullshit about a bunch of paperwork that needed signing and that hadn't been sent out yet. But in the end, we had a dug-up hell-hole of a garden for three weeks.
A few days before the new tank was due to arrive, I realised that something wasn't right with the work the builders had done. I located my copy of the schematic drawn up by the LPG providers, and it turned out the builders had not done A SINGLE THING RIGHT, according to what was required of them from this diagram. I contacted the LPG provider to establish whether this mistake would prevent them from delivering the new tank - they confirmed it would. So I contacted Bulmers to complain. I was told that they would get the builders to return and get the job done correctly.
The builders came back and started digging in the back garden without telling us they were there. We woke up to the sound of shouting and digging, and I watched from my bedroom window as they proceeded to dig and lay out measurements for a new concrete base.
But once again - IT WAS IN THE WRONG PLACE.
I went and spoke to them. Asked them if Bulmers had ever supplied the diagram specifying exactly where they were meant to be working. They said no. They had seen no such document. They were just basically guessing where to dig, and where to lay concrete. When I showed them the document, they were angry. They'd have to start again - for a third time - and they had another job booked to start elsewhere.
Bulmers, when I confronted them about this, said it was the builders' fault. They were meant to liaise with me about where to lay the foundations. This is crap. It was no-one's fault but Bulmers'. THEY were the ones who instructed the builders. THEY were the ones who owed a duty to ensure the job was done right. THEY were the ones responsible for the landlord incurring the cost of the builder's work.
THEY were the ones who fucked it up. No-one else.
But by then it didn’t matter. The tank had run dry. The LPG provider had already made it clear that until the new tank was at a safe distance from the house, no more LPG would be delivered. And by September, we were starting to feel the cold again. I had written several times to Bulmers, notifying them that the tank was now empty. They kept insisting the work would be done.
Their word wasn’t good enough for me. I had a family to look after, and as is my right, I paid for another company to come and install a bypass from the tank. To install a two-bottle LPG changeover valve, so that we could run our heating from separately purchased LPG bottles instead. I warned Bulmers about this numerous times, and I also warned them that I expected to be compensated for my expenses.
They denied that they were responsible, and after numerous attempts to negotiate with them, I was left with no option but to sue the landlord for my considerable expense. The expenses incurred trying to keep our family warm. During the winter of 2012/2013 when they delayed the work of replacing draughty windows. The expenses incurred providing alternative means of heating when Bulmers delayed the work of installing a new bulk-storage tank.
I sued the landlord, because in law, I couldn’t sue Bulmers. And I told Bulmers, quite openly, that if the law allowed me to sue them, I would have.
I calculated that the claim I could make, and which I could prove with documentary evidence, was worth £744.14. Once the claim was issued, the landlord wrote to me within one week. He had written out a cheque for the FULL AMOUNT OF MY CLAIM.
* * *
Many of the issues that we are disputing now, in relation to the deposit, are matters that will probably come down to issues of fair wear and tear. Bulmers aren’t accepting that they’re fair wear and tear issues, of course. But then they’re also claiming that I owe them £144 because the bulk-storage tank is empty, and when we moved in it was 25% full.
This is being constantly rammed down my throat, despite having successfully sued the landlord. And not just having successfully sued him, either - but having successfully sued him DIRECTLY IN RELATION TO THE EMPTY TANK.
This is the kind of stupidity I’m dealing with. The tank was rendered empty because Bulmers fucked up on the switch-over from the hazardously placed old tank, to the safely placed new tank. I had to sue the landlord for the costs we incurred in providing heating for my family in the absence of a competently organised tank switch-over. How can I be liable for the tank being empty on leaving? Not to mention the fact that the landlord didn’t buy the 25% before we moved in…it was left by the previous tenants! What financial loss has he suffered because I didn’t replace the 25% that he didn’t buy, after he himself has paid me all the costs associated with it being empty after his fuck-up made it empty?
* * *
So when it comes to finding a new rented property, I go into it with all the required smiles and pleasantries. But in reality, I know the whole time that getting the Tenancy Agreement signed is the goal. Once we’re in the house, the smiles fade. What you have just done is effectively create a set of circumstances that will inevitably come back to tear chunks out of your arse at a later date.
A Tenancy Agreement may provide a roof over your head. And yes, you may really be throwing money away that isn’t in the long term providing you with any financial stability. But its gets worse. You’re living in someone else’s house, and when push comes to shove, all the smiles in the world won’t save you on the day you hand your notice in. That’s when the letting agents and the landlords start eyeing up your deposit with a cruel and greedy determination.
Obviously, you’ve got to make it into the house in the first place. And the cruel and greedy determination is equally as clear and present at this stage. Admin fees, referencing fees. Tenancy Agreement preparations fees. Checking in fees, checking out fees. Pet license fees. Moving in on Saturday fees, moving out on Saturday fees. Guarantor referencing fees, guarantor agreement fees.
The list just goes on and on. If there’s a way to make money, these bastards will think of it. You can count on that.
Heard of Palmer Snell?
Their tenant fees are so outrageous that in theory, with the first month’s rent and deposit on top, it could cost you nearly £3,000 to move into a house they manage. These here are their fees. Take a look. You can find them on their website anyway.
I calculated that if we wanted to move into one of their properties, we could have found ourselves facing nearly £900 in fees, and I think that's fucking disgusting.
* * *
We popped into a letting agent the other day, enquiring about properties. As I walked through the door with my T-shirt exposing my tattoos, I saw the look in the letting agent’s eye. That sinking feeling. A look that says they thought for a moment they might have had a customer they could take seriously.
Then when you mention Housing Benefit…well. Wheel out the stocks and a fresh supply of rotten tomatoes. The posh voices go into overload. The snooty noses wrinkle, and the aloof distance starts becoming more and more palpable.
But what is a letting agent? They can stand there and look down their noses at you because you aren’t employed, but when push comes to shove, these people are nothing more than pen-pushing salespersons with delusions of grandeur. They’re admin people, and they create a strange and ill-deserved status amongst themselves.
They filter out the benefit scroungers and try to fill houses with the Good Folk who work and will pay their rent, despite the fact that job security is a non-existent concept these days.
Morally, letting agents are NO BETTER THAN TENANTS, and often morally worse. They prey on your desperation. They bend you over a barrel and have their way. You pay out hundreds of pounds in fees, just for a six month agreement that could be brought to an end on the sixth month leaving you in a position where you’ve got to go through it all again. Granted, a lot of tenancies roll onwards with a month-to-month periodic continuance. But the fact is, that after six months, you’re vulnerable. You won’t get a penny back that you paid, and worse, you’ll have to find it all over again if your tenancy is terminated. Then you have to fight to get your deposit back, and I WILL say it how it is…No landlord or letting agent in my experience has EVER said: “Here you go, Mr Leeming. Your deposit back in full, many thanks for your business!”
No, no, no. It doesn’t work like that and I am not the only tenant who knows this. That is why the government approved deposit schemes exist. Rogue landlords and unscrupulous letting agents, all fucking tenants over, positively led to the creation of the deposit protection schemes. Obviously they did! The law very often reacts to unfair treatment, and someone somewhere finally cottoned on to the fact that tenants were actually getting a rough deal over deposits. And letting agents still try it on. They hound you and claim you owe them when the truth is, they have to prove that they have a good enough claim on money that is yours and was never theirs at any point EVER!
I think what happens is a lot of people don’t have the stomach for a legal dispute and just give in. If the landlord wants your money, they mostly know they’ll get it because people don’t know their rights, and don’t have the resources or the balls to learn their rights and take these bastards on.
They should though. And that’s what organisations like SHELTER exist for. There’s a petition going round to have some sort of regulation of letting agent fees introduced. It’s important.
Here’s Shelter’s UK website. Go check them out.
And here’s how to find the petition.
Support them. Sign their petition. Whatever. But it is time that tenants united to fight the unfairness, the high fees. That’s how laws change. They won’t change if we keep silent. We’ll keep getting shafted.
Speaking up and taking action…that’s how people get justice and fairness for themselves.