Housing lawyer Tessa Shepperson has called for a total rethink of the way the private rented sector operates.
Shepperson, who supports a ban on letting agent fees charged to landlords, says that the present situation is “grossly unfair” to tenants and should not be allowed to continue.
She said: “Many agents behave honourably, charging modest fees to tenants and providing a proper service to them (albeit often against the interests of their true clients, the landlord).
“However, others appear to be taking advantage of the tenants’ urgent need for accommodation and charging inflated fees not just to tenants but to their landlords too.”
Discussing the rights and wrongs of letting agent fees charged to tenants, Shepperson said that the major issue is a conflict of interest.
“The problem is that if the agents are acting for the landlord, they cannot be acting for the tenant too,” she said.
Shepperson said that home buyers have their interests represented by their own solicitors. There is no equivalent protection for tenants.
She also acknowledges that agents do provide services for tenants, and spend a lot of time doing so.
She said: “The big problem is that if the letting agents are not allowed to help the tenants and put their case to the landlord – who will?
“There is no system in property lettings for separate representation for tenants (as happens when buying a property) – plus it is generally the tenants least able to afford professional help who need it most.
“If letting agents are not allowed to help them, if acting in such a conflict of interest situation were to be made professional misconduct (as it would be for solicitors), then this could be bad for tenants.
“At the recent ARLA conference this issue was raised and it was suggested that tenants should represent themselves. The suggestion raised a huge hollow laugh from the room. Obviously, the negotiations leading up to the signing of a tenancy will be unworkable if agents are not allowed to help tenants.
“How then can this issue be resolved?”
Shepperson said there could be a role for agents to act as an intermediary between tenant and landlord.
Or, she said, there could be scope for a new profession of tenant agents, acting on the tenants’ behalf, and who are paid similar fees to those currently charged to tenants by the landlord’s agent.
Shepperson has called on the forthcoming consultation on the fees ban to raise these issues.