My constituency, Cardiff Central, has the fifth highest proportion of private renters of any constituency in the UK. Almost 37% of Cardiff Central constituents live in private rented accommodation. So the issue of unfair letting agency fees is never far from my mind.
My constituency surgeries are frequently attended by people suffering at the hands of unscrupulous landlords and agents, who hold all the power and use it to rip off and mistreat tenants.
That is why I spoke in a debate on the Government’s Tenant Fees Bill, which would ban letting agents from charging unnecessary fees to tenants. In Wales the Welsh Government is also in the process of bringing similar legislation.
I would like to see fees banned across the whole of the UK, and soon. This unfair practice needs to stop.
You can watch my speech here, or read the transcript below:
Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker for calling me and it’s a pleasure to follow the honourable gentlemen from Harrow East.
Now some members may be wondering why I’m speaking in this debate, as a Welsh Member, because housing is obviously a devolved matter to the National Assembly for Wales.
The Welsh Government will be bringing its own Bill before the Assembly this year which bans letting fees in the private rented sector.
And the Welsh Government consulted widely on the issue and the findings from their consultation have added to the ample evidence, a lot of which we’ve heard here today, that action is needed to address the fees currently charged to tenants.
Just a couple of highlights from it:
56% of all respondents to the consultation agreed with an outright ban on unnecessary fees.
62% of tenants said that fees had affected their ability to move into a rented property.
86% said that fees had affected their decision to use a letting agency.
And astonishingly, 61% of landlords did not know what their tenants were charged by the letting agent.
Now I don’t doubt that the experiences of tenants in Wales differ greatly from those in England, so I welcome this Bill and I’m very pleased to see that those introductory fees will be banned, and I hope will be banned throughout the UK.
My constituency of Cardiff Central has the fifth highest proportion of privately rented accommodation of any constituency in the UK.
This is largely, although not exclusively, due to the fact that it has the third highest proportion of full-time students of any constituency.
Nearly 37% of my constituents live in private rented homes. Many of them are families. Every single week I see constituents in my advice surgeries, just like many members here, who are living in expensive, cramped accommodation for whom tenants’ fees are a constant worry.
And this is yet another worry to add to;
- insecure employment,
- low pay,
- cuts to social security and housing benefits,
- a publicly funded legal advice desert, so when rent arrears have got to the point where eviction is imminent there is no help available and,
- obviously eye watering levels of student debt.
So banning letting agency and landlord fees is very welcome.
I think it’s a cash cow, it’s gone on for too long, some agents are using it as a scam, and it needs to stop.
If there are other university constituency members here in this debate, no doubt they will recognise the picture I am about to paint.
There are some larger streets in my constituency where almost the entire street is family homes converted into student lets.
Streets of about 200 properties. Each of them with 8 or more students living in them.
And as I go down those streets, and I knock doors and speak to constituents in those streets I add up in my head the total amount paid every single year in letting agency fees by those residents.
In a street in Cathays, a ward in my constituency, each resident will pay on average £200 as a letting agency fee. Between them, in just that one street, letting agencies make a minimum of £320,000 every single year.
Never mind Ponzi schemes or PPI scandals. This is the scandal that has lined the pockets of some letting agents who are parasitic, greedy and unscrupulous and it’s gone on for far too long.
And it’s based, like so many other things, on an imbalance of power.
Student tenants and low income families have no power in this relationship.
This is what one constituent wrote to me having had a dreadful experience with a Cardiff letting agency:
“They are LEECHING people for all that they can, and there is nothing to stop them. They are brazen. They know they’re screwing you over, and they know that you know that they’re screwing you over, and THEY DON’T CARE. Because there are no consequences and they hold all the power.”
My experience, representing constituents living in the private rented sector, is that the fees charged are almost always completely arbitrary and unjustifiable.
And here’s another view from a constituent:
“Students and low earners are bled dry by these lizards, to the tune of hundreds of pounds a year all to live in rotting accommodation which can be dangerous to live in.”
And another example. One student said to me:
“In the small print of our contract it said the letting agency will take 65 pounds from each of us in our student house for ‘professional cleaning’ ‘regardless of the condition the house is left in’. So I was then quite annoyed to find they hadn’t bothered with this ‘professional cleaning’ for us when we moved in. The kitchen was leaking and rotting. A ceiling collapsed within a week due to an upstairs leak. The bathrooms reeked and were mouldy. A microwave nearly caught fire and exploded but we were told by the letting agency ‘it wasn’t their problem’.”
So the truth is that these fees are completely arbitrary.
They mean nothing.
At most they constitute a few minutes of basic administration using tenancy agreement templates and the ability to cut and paste. Yet agencies and landlords can just name their price at the moment.
So I welcome the government’s bill. I think this racket needs to end. All of it. And fast.