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Labour slams government over ‘unscrupulous letting agents’

by Sarah Halloran

Letting agent rip offs are under the spotlight once again after new findings from Shelter released this week. In a survey of 5,000 tenants, the organisation found that 23% claimed that they had been unfairly charged by an agent at some point for contract renewals, repeated credit checks and even for viewing a property.

The poll found that the most common complaint was in regard to ‘administration’ – a term which covers a wide range of charges and tends to average at around 14% of the tenant’s property charge. In some cases, this amounted to a non-refundable, one-off fee of up to £540.00.

Typically, a 10% charge would then be applied for an initial credit check and further 8% fees levied for contract renewals. Incredibly, charges for repeated credit checks of up to £150.00 were made while some tenants were even asked to pay £100.00 simply for viewing a property.

“It’s scandalous that some letting agents are creaming off huge profits from the boom in private renting by charging both tenants and landlords fees that are totally out of proportion to the service they provide,” said Kay Boycott, Director of Campaigns, Policy and Communications at Shelter.

Jane Ingram, who is president of the Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA), acknowledged that standards needed to be raised and pointed to her organisation’s repeated requests to the coalition government.

“Standards in the lettings industry do need to be raised. That’s why we have long-called on the Government to act swiftly and introduce a robust licensing system designed to protect consumers,” she said.

The figures have led to an attack on the government by the Labour Party who accused the coalition of standing by and doing nothing while the crisis deepens.

“Unscrupulous lettings agents are ripping off tenants by charging them fees they didn’t know they would face, and exploiting landlords and tenants alike by failing to protect the money they hold for them,” said Jack Dromey MP, the Shadow Housing Minister.

Mr Dromey went on to underline the effect these charges in having at a time when many families are struggling to cope financially.

“As the growing housing crisis and double dip recession put the one million families in the private rented sector under pressure, this is the last thing they need,” he added.

Shelter also found that some agents were double charging their fees to both landlords and tenants while some renters asserted claims that they feel vulnerable in the current climate.

Calls for the government to act are increasing and the only certainty is that this situation will only be repeated until action is taken.

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Landlords Warned of Winter Fire Risks

by Alison Feemantle

As the winter fast approaches more of us are switching on our heating and turning on the fire.  As a result, this time of year is often when the most fires occur in the UK.  As a result, Landlords are being advised to ensure they have sufficient provisions in place within their properties to ensure protection of tenants and the property itself.

Fire and smoke kill and also cause devastating damage to properties and it’s essential that measures are taken to avoid fatalities and protect against damage to rented property and those properties nearby.

Let Insurance Services has recently released figures stating that rented accommodation is seven times more likely to have a fire than owned property.  That’s an astounding statistic and one that can’t be ignored whether you are a tenant or a landlord.

It’s essential that smoke alarms are fitted in all rented properties to ensure quick warning systems are in place should a fire break out.  Whilst some flats and apartments have fire alarms in communal areas, it’s often too late once a fire in a flat reaches these devices to sound the alarm.  Smoke can kill in seconds and it may not reach the communal fire alarm until it has done its worst.

Surprisingly, it’s not mandatory for rented accommodation to be fitted with smoke alarms.  However, as a landlord you have your tenants, your property and your reputation to protect so is it really worth avoiding installation for the sake of a few pounds or a few minutes up a ladder?  Smoke detectors today are affordable and could make the difference between life, death and total devastation of your property.

Michael Portman, MD of Let Insurance Services, said: “Not having a working smoke alarm doubles the risk of death and with over 27,000 fires a year across the UK, there needs to be a change in legislation.

“Out of 50 people killed in house fires in West Yorkshire over the past five years, 48 were in rented accommodation. What’s more, one fire brigade said that they do 60,000 home safety checks a year and find many alarms that are not working.

“Landlords and agents have a ‘common law’ duty to ensure that their properties are kept free from hazards for the health and safety of their tenants, including fire hazards. We urge all landlords and agents to check that every smoke alarm is in working order and there are an adequate number of smoke alarms are installed.

If you are a tenant living in a property without a smoke alarm fitted it’s vital that you address the issue with your landlord.  Produce statistics from this article if you have to, but make sure your landlord fits a suitable device as quickly as possible.  Fire can break out at any time and you want to be sure you have the means to escape quickly when it does.  You should also familiarise yourself with escape routes so you know what to do should a fire start.

We’ve put together a checklist for landlords and agents that will help to protect your properties and tenants and keep them as safe as possible:

  • Fit battery (or mains) operated smoke alarms in your properties. Show your tenants how to test them, and change the batteries between tenancies
  • At the start of the tenancy check that the battery works and demonstrate to the tenant that the alarm works
  • Check whether your tenancy agreement requires the tenant to ensure the smoke alarm is in a working condition
  • At your regular property inspections check the smoke alarms work. If they are not working, produce a new battery at the inspection to fit to the smoke alarm and ask the tenant to pay for the battery there and then
  • Check that any working chimneys have been swept
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Tenants and Landlords Urged to Be ‘Gas Safe’ This Winter

by Sarah Halloran

As the winter months approach, we’ll all be reaching for the heating controls to turn up the heat.  This week marked Gas Safety Week, a drive to remind the public about the importance of safety measures and checks where gas is concerned.

So, what can landlords and tenants do to ensure they keep safe this winter?  The HAS Gas Safety Statistics 09/10 reported that a total of 10 people died due to gas related accidents and incidents across the UK last year and that a further 330 needed hospital treatment.  With that statistic in mind, it hits home how important it is to carry out regular checks and that applies to tenants, landlords and homeowners.  Landlords and building owners are legally responsible to arrange annual safety checks and necessary maintenance and should ensure all works are completed by a Gas Safe registered engineer.

If you are a tenant and think you might have a problem with a gas appliance, get onto your landlord immediately.  They have a legal obligation to arrange emergency assistance and should provide assurances that the matter is in hand as quickly as possible.

These checks will help to ensure that pipes, appliances and flues are in a safe condition, all gas equipment is safe prior to letting, and that gas safety records are maintained for the property.  Checks also ensure that potential problems are spotted and rectified before a major incident can occur.  Leaking gas and unsafe appliances are a very real hazard and can kill it not attended to immediately.

Paul Johnston, chief executive at Gas Safe Register said: “Every year, far too many people suffer from preventable gas related accidents, such as gas leaks, explosions, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. If maintained and installed properly, gas appliances are safe. If neglected, gas appliances can kill.”

It’s so important that you use Gas Safe registered engineers.  These industry experts have undergone rigorous training and assessment and have the skills and expertise to spot problems and deal with them safely and completely.  Before you employ any engineer it is essential that you check their ID and you can also check them out on the Gas Safe website.

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