Prospective tenants are paying agents upfront fees just to register and to look round properties.
The agents, who are calling themselves ‘relocation agents’, are charging upfront for registrations and viewings and claim they receive no payment from landlords.
Apparently this makes them exempt from the normal rules, which ban letting agents from charging prospective tenants for registering with them or providing a list of properties.
If letting agents do this, they are committing a criminal offence and can be reported to Trading Standards.
But is the Observer report factually correct in saying that by calling themselves a different name and not charging landlords, these companies can get round the law?
It seems to us perfectly clear that they are acting as an agent for the landlord, whether paid by them or not, in coming up with properties and booking viewings for tenants.
If this is a point in law which needs testing, let’s hope Shelter steps up to the plate.
For the moment, it looks like en echo of the sort of muddle that ‘for sale by tender’ can be on the sales side of agency, whereby the agency acts for the seller but principally charges the buyer.
Intriguingly, the Observer story also cites a company called Easyletsuk
And no, it’s not that one! (We wonder whether they know.)
Easyletsuk, which lists on Rightmove, charges £79 to see properties over a four-month period.
Another agency, Spacelet which lists on Zoopla, charges £79 simply to register.
Claire Reynolds at Spacelet explained how the service works: “We are not an estate agency or a letting agency, we are ‘property finders’ and we work differently from the former two types of agencies.
“We are not instructed by landlords and therefore do not charge landlords a commission.
“We are absolutely free to landlords and, in return, they give us discounts on their properties.”
An interesting and well researched piece that should give cause for decided unease.