What To Avoid When Signing Your Tenancy
Private vs Letting Agent
I've recently moved house. It’s all settled and done now, even most of the unpacking, but it was such a pain while it lasted. I've been renting flats for over five years, ever since university days and up to now it’s been easy. Sign tenancy and sometimes an inventory, pay rent and deposit = get flat. This time I went through a letting agency.
To start with they needed the deposit to take it off the market and £80 as a fee for checks, credit, references and the like. This I dutifully paid. Then they sent me no less than five forms, three of which I had to fill in, all of them lengthy. They passed the filled in ones to a third party to check up on me. The third party sent me another form and then proceeded to hound my former landlord and current employer to get the information they wanted. Apparently I passed.
Even More Forms
I then toddled along to the agency to fill out two more forms, sign and date four more, including the 30 odd page, double sided tenancy agreement to be initialled on every page, receive forty-three pages of information on flats, non-payment issues, maintenance… all generic with none pertaining specifically to my flat.
Then came the paying over yet more money for the rent and inventory fees. After an hour of form filling and signing by two people who had not the foggiest about the implications of the terms and clauses, I got my keys. With that tenancy agreement, it’s entirely possible I owe the landlord one quarter pound of blue moon cheese every third month and I would have no idea.
Very little of the paperwork, apart from a few clauses in the tenancy agreement protected me! The rest was legalese and clauses that seemed to make me liable for everything that could go wrong with the place, probably up to and including a friendly fire incident from an American F16.
To be honest though, if I wanted the flat there was very little I could do short of hiring a lawyer to go over it, so eventually I just stopped reading and started signing. Fairly excessive for a 6 month contract. In fairness to the agency they do give you an indication of what’s to come - a sheet of A4 notifying you of the costs and "some paperwork" to complete. The cost doesn't hit you until you've forked out over £150 in admin fees and some paperwork was a bit of an understatement.
The letting agent who dealt with my set of forms was cheeky enough to tell me that it must give me peace of mind knowing all these checks have been done - the checks don't benefit me in the slightest and are entirely to ensure I can pay! I did jokingly say that I might want to see legal proof of ownership of the property, but just got an icy stare for my troubles.
I'm in the flat now and it is very nice, which I, of course, expect given the sum I’m paying but there are a few niggles. Perhaps the letting agency should spend a little more time making sure basics in the flat are in working order before spending my money to make sure I can afford the flat.
The cooker has a debatable front hob which doesn't really work, the dimmer switch on the bedroom lights is permanently set on low and on of the dials on the storage heaters is broken - the output dial - typical!
My final note is that unless I have no other choice, I won't be using a letting agency again, the fees are preposterous, the legalese excessive, the forms unending, the service - while mostly very friendly and professional - was pretty useless, they couldn't explain their own clauses in the paperwork and they didn't know vital information such as whether there was a phone line in the property (there isn't and now BT are going to charge me over £120 to reconnect it).
Time spent: give or take 9 hours of form filling, not including the time it's taken me to track all the information they couldn't give me.
Money spent: £350 including fees, checks, increased insurance and reconnecting the phone line (which they'll benefit from when I move out!)
All in all? - although I have a very nice flat I've paid through the nose and more for what is basically a very short term occupancy and a lot of liability.
As an aside note, and specifically referring to leasing and tenancy laws in Scotland, certain excessive charges maybe deemed illegal under sections 82, 83 and 86 to 90 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 whereby it is an offence to require premiums (possibly including excessive amounts for credit checks, inventories, key charges and the likes) before a tenancy can be signed. If you want to know more - and if you're a tenant in Scotland with a private landlord - you should, you can visit the links below for more information.
6 months on...
So its 6 months on and dispite the cost of moving, I've ditched my leasing agent as soon as I possibly could. On moving out I was advised that A) I would have to fill out another form (Suprise!) and that amongst other things, if it was deemed the flat needed cleaning, professional cleaning services would be engaged as a price starting at £120 + vat! If that isn't out and out robbery what is? (I got quote £45 max when I checked). They didn't need to hire a professional cleaner, but the did charge me close to £50 for a broken plastic handle on the bathroom cupboard. In case you think I merely got ripped off by a cowboy outfit, They're one of the bigger UK letting agencies operating in quite a few cities.