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Town hall unveils ambitious plan to scrap letting agents’ fees for Hackney’s 32,000 private renters

PUBLISHED: 09:23 20 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:07 22 September 2017

Hackney Council launched the campaign on Monday alongside Shelter, with a stall on Ridley Road Market promoting the help and advice it can offer private renters. Picture: Sean Pollock/Hackney Council

Hackney Council launched the campaign on Monday alongside Shelter, with a stall on Ridley Road Market promoting the help and advice it can offer private renters. Picture: Sean Pollock/Hackney Council

Sean Pollock Photographer

All 143 of Hackney’s letting agents will today be urged by the town hall to scrap the eye-watering agency fees many charge tenants just for signing contracts.

Cllr Sem Moema in Ridley Road this week promoting the services Hackney Council can offer private tenants. Picture: Sean Pollock/Hackney Council Cllr Sem Moema in Ridley Road this week promoting the services Hackney Council can offer private tenants. Picture: Sean Pollock/Hackney Council

The council’s letter to agencies across the borough, signed by housing chief Cllr Sem Moema, comes during a two-week campaign to support the borough’s 32,000 private rented households – who have seen rents soar by an average of 20 per cent in just five years.

Charges that run into hundreds of pounds are made to check references or guarantors, renew a tenancy on the same terms, or even just change a name, the council says. Research from Shelter found one in seven renters pays £500 or more in letting fees.

In April the government announced it plans to ban unfair letting fees and hidden charges but hasn’t said how or when. So Hackney decided to be the UK’s first council urging agents to act now – in exchange for publicity through the council, and the knowledge they’ll be leading the pack when the new law finally does kick in.

Housing chief Cllr Sem Moema told the Gazette: “Letting agents get away with it. A lot of the time you are past the point where you can get out of it. You see a property you can afford [to rent], and then the fees just keep adding up and up and up, and by that point you just think: ‘I’m this far down the line I’ll go for it.’

"I don’t think any other council has done this. We are testing the water somewhat. We know there are lots of good landlords and letting agents out there. We don’t have any legal jurisdiction, but we can say: ‘This is the right thing to do.’"

Cllr Sem Moema

“Scrapping fees is a fairer way of doing it in that you know straight up what you are going to pay. There are no seemingly random figures attached that don’t correspond to how much things cost to deliver.”

Cllr Moema is “optimistic” letting agents will sign up to the “pioneering” scheme.

“I don’t think any other council has done this,” she said. “We are testing the water somewhat. We know there are lots of good landlords and letting agents out there. We don’t have any legal jurisdiction, but we can say: ‘This is the right thing to do.’”

The council has written to every single letting agent bar Julian Reid in Stoke Newington Church Street – which already charges no fees and is fronting the campaign.

“They think that’s fairer for their tenants and they think the admin that goes with it costs as much or similar to the money they make off it,” said Cllr Moema. “A tenant can see how much it’s going to cost them, and it’s more transparent.”

How have you been affected by letting agency fees in Hackney? Tell us your horror stories: email emma.bartholomew@archant.co.uk, tweet us @HackneyGazette or message us on Facebook.

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