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Written by rosalind renshaw

Consumer watchdog Which? has called for all letting agents to be governed by the same laws as estate agents, with the OFT having the power to ban them.

In a damning report, Which? said consumers were ‘gambling’ whenever they had to choose a letting agent.

It said it had uncovered bad practice, unexpected and unfair fees, and a lack of consumer protection that fails both landlords and tenants.

Which? said it found ‘widespread problems’ in the market, including aggressive sales tactics and poor customer service. It said that of 32 letting agents it had looked at, not one displayed tenant fees on its website.

Which? also said that both tenants and landlords were found to have lost money through agents not passing on rent, unfairly handling deposits or failing to protect deposits.

The Which? report follows hot on the heels of one from the RICS, which last week likened the private rental sector to the Wild West – full of cowboys. The RICS, like Which?, has also called for the mandatory regulation of letting agents.

The Which? study was based on a survey of 1,006 tenants who had rented through an agent in the last two years, and 506 landlords who had used an agent. It also did a mystery shopping exercise of 32 agents in Nottingham, London, Birmingham and Leeds.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is currently inquiring into the private rental sector. On its agenda is the question of licensing both letting agents and private landlords, and whether rent controls should be implemented.

The Which? report also follows the successful campaign by Shelter in Scotland that has resulted in the explicit legal ban on all tenancy fees. Shelter is currently collecting evidence on fees in England.

The RICS in its ‘Wild West’ report said that in the absence of statutory regulation, consumers should check that their letting agent belongs to a voluntary scheme. But the Which? report said that two-thirds (62%) of tenants and nearly half (45%) of landlords did not know whether their letting agent belonged to a professional body.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “People searching for a rented home through a lettings agent are too often hit by unexpected and unfair fees or unacceptably bad service.

“With the private rented sector now the only option for millions of people, it is vital that more is done to protect both tenants and landlords from rogue lettings agents.”

More on this story on our sister site tomorrow at Letting Agent Today.

Comments

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    SHOCK!! I just did a survey and 100% of my tenants said they would rather not pay any fee's. WOW surprise.

    If these tenants could't just drop in to an office, call about their boiler or light bulbs they would wonder why??Guess what which this all costs money to offer this survice.

    • 27 November 2012 15:19 PM
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    Who watches WhICH? I dont listen to a thing they say anymore.Just a bunch of whingers who think profit is evil...must have been set up by teachers.

    • 27 November 2012 15:15 PM
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    stonehenge, can you be more specific about the breaches of the AA act 1953? What were the forms of non compliance?

    • 27 November 2012 09:58 AM
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    It's all very well blaming "Which" but they have a point.

    What they say is unfortunately true. The technical ability of agents is really, really poor in general.

    I did a random survey about 2 years ago in one town in the West Midlands and covered most of the agents there (about 20 or so) most of whom undertake lettings either as part of their function or solely as letting agents.

    Not one knew the significance of the Accommodation Agencies Act 1953 and not one of them complied with its requirements as far as I could gather. Those I missed might have been the exception but I very much doubt it.
    If this is the benchmark of their knowledge and ability then we have to worry a lot more than we do.

    • 26 November 2012 19:11 PM
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    No doubt as usual they surveyed the back street agents to make a case for a new body...Its always the same...inner city "surveys" that effect the rest of the country. If the agents are poor quality eventually nobody will use them and they will shut down...its called a free market. Tenants and landlords: do you research first, its that easy.

    • 26 November 2012 09:18 AM
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