Tenants win back pre-2012 letting agency fees!

February 19th, 2014 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

letting-fees-illegal-19feb14Tenants in Aberdeen have successfully won a small claims action for a refund of letting agency fees charged before the Scottish Government issued a clarification of the law against such fees in 2012.  This decision is a very positive sign, and is likely to empower more tenants to take their letting agencies to court.

The Court heard that in 2009, Aberdeen Property Leasing had charged the tenants an administration fee of £125, in addition to the rent and deposit. The letting agency tried to argue that before the legal clarification made by the Scottish Government in 2012, such administration fees were legal, and that only fees charged after that date were prohibited.

The tenants, who were representing themselves, argued that the 1984 Rent Scotland Act clearly states that it is illegal for a landlord or letting agent to charge tenants any fees in addition to their rent and deposit, and therefore such fees were illegal even before the clarification. The Sheriff agreed with them. This new judgement published today may mean that letting agents in Scotland can no longer rely on this excuse.

In the judgement, Sheriff Lewis stated:  “In my opinion the definition was not changed – it was improved to make it crystal clear to all involved in residential leasing that administration fees ought not to have been imposed and ought not to be imposed.

“I have concluded that the administration fee imposed by the defender was a prohibited payment and accordingly the pursuers are entitled to the return of it. ”

Sheriff Lewis decided that the the Rent Scotland Act 1984 makes it clear that the charging of administration fees is illegal, and that the clarification made by the Scottish Government in 2012 does not change that fact.

While decisions in a Sheriff Court do not create legal precedents, and so this does not necessarily mean that every Sheriff will make the same judgement, this kind of ruling should give confidence to tenants who have yet to claim back their illegal fees, even ones that were charged several years ago.

This a clear victory for private tenants who have been ripped off by illegal fees, and EPTAG would encourage any tenants who have not done so already, to write to their letting agency, and request a refund. If you have proof such as a receipt or bank statement, you can claim back fees from up to 6 years ago.

Private Tenants Scotland and EPTAG are currently supporting a dozen tenants to claim back fees they have been illegally charged, so if you need any tips or advice, get in touch. Or better still, join us and become part of Scotland’s private tenants movement.

A UN Special Rapporteur who visited the UK in 2013 to assess whether residents have access to adequate housing has described conditions in the private rented sector as a “housing crisis”. Although the UK Government invited planning expert Raquel Rolnik to carry out the research, Ministers have since dismissed her report as a “misleading Marxist diatribe” and she has been subjected to xenophobic abuse in the right-wing press.

The full report, which is written in an accessible style and contains an excellent potted history of UK housing policy, can be downloaded from the UN website (downloads as .doc file). It covers a wide range of issues including the bedroom tax, social housing, and provision for gypsies and travellers, but Rolnik also manages to make some important points about the private rented sector. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing yourself, the edited highlights (from a PRS perspective) are as follows:

 Paragraph 24. The Special Rapporteur considers that the United Kingdom faces a critical situation in terms of availability, affordability and access to adequate housing, particularly in some geographic areas… The lack of housing “is not just a recessionary phenomenon: housing supply has failed to respond adequately to high levels of demand for decades”.

Paragraph 26. … [I]t is clear that social and affordable housing is especially scarce, waiting lists for social rental housing have grown, homelessness rates have increased, and the private rented sector has expanded to become the only option for many despite its insecure tenure. In April 2012, facing a waiting list that had grown by 81 per cent (since 1997) in England, councils noted that they would be compelled to use more private rentals, particularly to provide emergency accommodation. As many as 1.4 million properties — 35 per cent of the private rented sector — do not meet the Decent Homes Standard. In the Special Rapporteur’s view, this can be described as a housing crisis.

Paragraph 34. For many, private tenancy is the only option. However, there are significant problems, such as insecurity of tenure, poor management practices and discrimination against specific population groups by landlords and letting agents. In areas of high demand, like London, these problems can be severe. …

Paragraph 80. …[T]he Special Rapporteur wishes to make the following recommendations to the central Government and devolved administrations, as applicable:

…(g) Increase regulation and enhance information and accountability in relation to the private rented sector; adopt regulatory tenancy protections, including minimum length of contracts, restraints on rent increases and strict limits on eviction; encourage the use of standardized human rights-compliant rental contracts; enhance mechanisms of registration of landlords and letting agents, and establish clear accountability mechanisms to eliminate discrimination in the private rented sector;

 EPTAG isn’t going to argue with any of that.

Planting ACORNs

January 5th, 2014 | Posted by admin in News - (Comments Off)

ACORN logoAt our recent general meeting EPTAG agreed not only to assist in the create of a Scotland-wide private tenant’s organisation, Private Tenants Scotland, but also to join with ACORN Scotland, a broader community organisation based on principles similar to our own.

As private tenants we face many issues, not all of which are exclusive to ourselves. Whilst dodgy landlords and unscrupulous letting agents are exactly the sort of bread and butter issues that EPTAG is built to tackle, issues like rip-off energy prices, service cutbacks and safety on our streets are not the concerns of private tenants alone.

EPTAG demands action against criminal landlords!

December 17th, 2013 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

mf-protest-16dec13Over the last couple of months, dozens of tenants who are being exploited by criminal landlord Mark Fortune have come to us with their concerns and demands for action.

As part of our campaign we staged a successful protest on Monday 16th December to highlight Edinburgh City Council’s lack of action against criminal landlords.

Tenants assembled outside the City Chambers – all disguised as Mark Fortune – and delivered a letter asking council staff to clamp down on dodgy landlords, and to take greater steps to support and protect tenants. (Coverage of the protest in the Daily Record)

The notorious rogue landlord Mark Fortune was banned from renting out property in Edinburgh in February 2013, but he is appealing against the council’s decision and is allowed to continue acting as a landlord until the appeal process has been completed. Ten months later, the council have still not set a date for his appeal hearing. (more…)

Is renting becoming unaffordable in Edinburgh?

December 13th, 2013 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

In the Edinburgh Evening News today there is an article, featuring comments from EPTAG, about how renting privately in Edinburgh is becoming unaffordable for many people. (more…)

Ten months after Edinburgh City Council’s decision to ban Mark Fortune from renting out properties in the city, the millionaire landlord is still in business. Fortune is appealing the council’s decision, and this allows him to continue acting as a landlord until the appeal process has been completed. At the time of writing no date has been set for his appeal hearing. (more…)

A soggy Sunday afternoon saw Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group’s second annual general meeting, which took place at the Macdonald Road library in Leith. (more…)

First action in Glasgow

November 18th, 2013 | Posted by Valeri in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

Today’s action marks another important milestone on EPTAG’s long-term journey to improve private tenancy rights in Scotland. In the first move to reach out to other cities in Scotland EPTAG members and local private tenants met up today to kick-off a campaign against a letting agency in Glasgow. The letting agency charged premiums from tenants and also failed to pay deposits to an approved tenancy deposit scheme. Both these practices are illegal but still common throughout Scotland. The five campaigners knocked at over 100 doors and spoke to many tenants who confirmed and reported similar criminal offences. At a meeting on Tuesday the tenants will get a detailed briefing about their options and how EPTAG can support them in claiming back their fees. With the recently initiated Private Tenants Scotland, the umbrella organisation that hosts local groups like EPTAG or the new Glasgow branch, the foundation for an organised approach has been created. If you want to campaign for private tenancy rights in your area, get in touch!

protest-against-dunparkEPTAG is staging a protest against Dunpark Letting Agency to support student Rosie K to claim back her illegally charged fees. Although she was issued a decree by the Small Claims Court Dunpark Letting Agency refuses to pay up.

Join us outside Dunpark’s Edinburgh office on Tuesday the 19th November at 1pm to support your fellow tenant and EPTAG member. Let’s send a message to letting agents that they can’t ignore the law.

Read Rosie’s full story below. (more…)

Is the new tenancy deposit scheme working?

November 6th, 2013 | Posted by admin in News - (Comments Off)

Has the new Tenancy Deposit Scheme really improved things for tenants? One of our  members shares his negative experiences. (more…)