Over half of renters (51%) had only been shown their tenancy agreement after they had put down money on the property, revealed Citizens Advice.
A survey carried out by the charity found that more than one-in-three (35%) were only told about additional fees that could be charged during their tenancy after putting down money. The organisation argued that the data highlights the ease with which tenants can be trapped into unfair contracts by agents and landlords, and then face heft penalties when the terms are breached.
Citizens Advice regularly sees unfair tenancy terms cropping up in contracts, ranging from a fine to keep a landlord updated with contact details, to a £50 charge for a written notice if a term is breached.
Furthermore, the survey found that 29% of renters would not feel confident negotiating terms and conditions of their tenancy agreement with their landlord, while almost one in four have received a tenancy contract they felt contained unfair terms, with 57% of them signing the contact anyway. About 33% of renters admitted to signing a tenancy agreement with their landlord without fully understanding it, and 44% of renters with mental health problems signed their agreement without understanding it.
Citizens Advice said the “default fees” clause in the Tenant Fees Bill will mean “unscrupulous” landlords and agents can continue exploiting renters with unfair terms, therefore undermining the government’s aim to end unfair fees and practices.
The clause in the bill, before the House of Lords for its Second Reading today 10 October, would let landlords charge for “reasonable” costs when tenants “default” on a contract term.
Citizens Advice wants the government to significantly tighten this clause to give tenants and landlords greater clarity on what terms landlords can charge reasonable costs.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “In no other consumer market would people be asked to put down hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds before seeing the small print.
“Unscrupulous landlords and letting agents can take advantage of tenants, who lack real bargaining power in the private rented sector.
“Tenants shouldn’t be forced into a game of rental roulette, where they are putting down money on a contract they’ve not seen.
“For the Tenant Fees Bill to truly stamp out unfair fees as intended, the government must close the ‘default fees’ loophole.”
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