Opinion: We need to stop tenants being overcharged

Opinion: We need to stop tenants being overcharged

Those who rent are being treated like cash cows, with unnecessary extra charges by landlords for simple wear and tear.

Felicity Hannah

Mortgages and Home

Felicity Hannah
Updated on 27 September 2018

Tenants are being relentlessly and immorally milked for every single penny that can be wrung out of them and it must stop.

I recently saw a tenant on Twitter complaining that her former letting agent was charging her £30 to provide a reference to her new letting agent.

That’s £30 at a time when she also had to stump up a new deposit, first month’s rent and probably hadn’t yet retrieved her deposit on the last place.

And another tenant shared an image of the costs they had been hit with when they moved out. £156 for a check-out inspection. For an inspection. For the letting agent to do their actual job!

How is it acceptable that the tenant should have to shoulder the cost of the letting agent on top of their rent?

The costs continued; £300 for a professional clean, £75 for scuffing to the walls, £5 for a single bulb, £50 for scuffing to the walls in the utility cupboard, £45 for marking to the door in the living room, £100 for scuffing to the walls in the living room.

Then there was £35 for marking to the flooring of the balcony, £10 for marking to the worktop in the kitchen, another £5 for another bulb above the hob, £75 for marketing to the walls in the bedroom and £50 for scuff marks to the door of the bathroom and more.

Some of those costs may be justified, like the cleaning costs, for example. But some of those costs are simple wear and tear, and it’s outrageous to charge for them. What’s more, those charges seem extraordinarily high.

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What the heck is with those charges?

Look, it’s pretty obvious that those charges are ridiculous. It does not cost £5 to buy a bulb, even when you have to charge a bit extra for the effort of buying, fitting and invoicing.

It just doesn’t cost £5, certainly not £10 to fit two, when you are visiting the property anyway to check it’s cleaned or show new tenants around.

How much does it cost to replace a lightbulb? (image: Shutterstock)

And many of those costs are simple wear and tear. Tenants damage properties just as much as homeowners do; you can’t live in a home without scuffing the walls of the utility room a bit.

What’s more, tenants should not be subsidising the cost of every single action their letting agent carries out.

After all, when I go into a shop I don’t buy an item for a fixed price and then get hit with an extra charge for the running costs of the retailer.

A landlord doesn’t pay their mortgage and then get hit with an extra charge because someone from the bank rang to check in with them.

Tenants should pay their rent on time and pay for any unacceptable damage they cause to the property that isn’t simply wear and tear.

But it’s outrageous to charge tenants hiked up costs for the day-to-day damage inflicted on a home by simply living in it.

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The business of being a landlord

Perhaps you will point out that the tenant will ultimately pay for any work anyway through their rent. After all, landlords are running businesses, they are not meant to be subsidising the expense of renting out a home.

But I think that the cost of doing business as a landlord needs to come out of the landlord’s side of the equation.

Perhaps that means the rent might rise but that would be more affordable for most tenants than hitting them with dozens and dozens of extra costs at the end of their tenancy when they are also having to stump up cash to move.

No landlord or letting agent should be charging their tenant the cost of making everything look brand new for the next tenant, the tenant should not be shouldering the cost of the home getting older and the paint getting shabbier.

That's not the deal.

And as for charging tenants for costs like vetting fees or references, that’s work the landlord needs carrying out so it’s something the landlord should have to pay for.

Tenants should not be treated like cash cows but some landlords and letting agents seem to want to milk them for every single penny they can squeeze out.

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Who should pay for repairing a wall? (image: Shutterstock)

Hang on, haven't we already done something about this?

Sort of. The Government is banning letting agent fees paid by tenants and also capping deposits at a maximum of six weeks’ rent, but this isn’t expected to come into force until after spring next year.

That’s incredibly important for tenants who don’t have a choice to shop around for the best priced letting agent; they simply have to accept whichever one is assigned to the flat or house they want to rent, no matter what the resulting fees.

According to statistics from campaign group Generation Rent, the average fee paid by two tenants at the start of a tenancy is £404, but fees paid to agents can range from £40 to £813.

Fees include paying for a reference check and paying often hundreds of pounds for the tenancy agreement, but they sometimes include a host of other costs that add up to a staggering amount.

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Generation Rent research shows a tenancy renewal fee is an average of £311, the cost of checking out of a property is typically £121, checking in can be charged at an average of £100, and an inventory report at £80.

When these fees add up, tenants are placed in a financially impossible situation.

I’m glad the new regulations will come in next year but I don’t believe they go far enough. 

Many people will rent for the long term and it’s not right they should have extra charges loaded on every time they move in or move out - as if their home is some sort of budget airline that conceals the costs upfront.

The Government needs to go further and better scrutinise the behaviour of a sector that so many rely on to provide a home.

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Are those who rent being treated like cash cows? Should extra charges for wear and tear be shouldered by landlords? Share your thoughts.

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