Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Victoria Roberts Vukmanovic

My Background

I have rented privately since 1999, in and around south London. I married and had one child in 2008, another in 2011, and from 2009 have been renting 3+ bedroom houses. We moved to Orpington in 2011. We’ve been given notice from four separate properties because the landlord/lady was selling.

Letting/Managing Agents’ Fees

The most clear-cut abuse is fees associated with letting, which, in my experience, amount to gouging. Credit checks and reference checks, inventory fees and contract renewal fees are not commensurate with the cost to a letting agency, and represent a real burden on a captive market. With the average age of a FTB without parental help now 37 y.o., that’s a large captive market, and includes children.

Our current letting/managing agents provide a particularly good example, overcharging us and our landlords. Renewal fees (£130 plus VAT) and reference fees (£35 plus VAT, plus whatever fees another agent might choose to levy) show how choice has broken down in this non-market.

These fees, particularly “renewal fees” are an economic burden, and I cannot see any danger of perverse incentives if you were to legislate about this, as I hope you will.

The Letting Process

There is absolutely no security of contract until exchange of contracts. This has caught us twice, first in December 2008, when the (accidental) landlord disliked terms we proposed (removal of furniture), and delayed then simply refused to sign the contract, which would have left us homeless or in breach of our other lease (if we had not had a good relationship with our existing landlady. I must acknowledge that the letting agent appeared mortified).

When we were negotiating for a house in June 2010, the landlords, acting through a letting agency, went silent, while we were exposing ourselves through credit checks and references; then there was still more delay with the actual signing of the contract, until we had to admit that our existing lease was coming fast to a close, and we were in a very weak position but could they hurry up and sign? All this time, we had a non-refundable deposit sitting with the letting agents (and their T&C stated non-refund if contract not completed. No such deposit is ever made on the landlord side). Furthermore, when I was chasing the agency every day for the contract’s signature, the agent told me rudely that the landlords were entitled to decide not to sign the contract, and we would have no recourse. No-recourse losses of deposit, insecurity and casual humiliation are not confined to the “bottom” end of the rental market: this was a £1,300pcm rental!

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013