London’s rogue letting agents are — at last — feeling the full weight of the law. The bosses of Key Property, based in Hounslow, have been ordered to pay almost £50,000 in fines and costs for letting a damp, dilapidated and dangerous property. Feltham magistrates court imposed one of the highest-ever penalties against the agent after it found the outfit guilty of 15 separate offences relating to a house in Cromwell Street, Hounslow, following an operation by trading standards officers.
They found seven tenants enduring the freezing cold in a house covered in mould, and damp. Its electrics and plumbing were found to be unsafe, too. Nonetheless the tenants had, collectively, paid out more than £24,000 in rent on the five-bedroom house before complaining to the council about the agents, run by Adibah and Iftikhar Uddin.
Councillor Steve Curran, the council’s housing chief, said: “I’m pleased magistrates have thrown the book at this criminal letting agent, as the conditions the tenants were living in - no fire alarms, dangerous gas and electrics, and some of the worst damp and mould our officers have ever seen - were, frankly, appalling."
Meanwhile the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered that from November all agents (and private landlords) must include information about all non-optional fees when they advertise properties. These include administration fees and charges for inventories and reference checks. A recent study by the Labour Party found that these fees total, on average, £1,000 per tenant.
“Renting is a big financial commitment and it’s simply not fair to hide extra charges,” said Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA. “This practice hits tenants in the pocket at a time when they need every penny they’ve got.”
The news has been welcomed by consumer group Which? Richard Lloyd, the executive director, said: “Renting is now the only housing option for millions so we’ll be watching carefully to ensure all agents and websites are fully transparent about their fees.”
With just over half of all Londoners now living in rented accommodation, better regulation of the sector has become a key housing issue.
Earlier this summer a survey by pressure group The Tenants’ Voice found that more than half (51 per cent) of private sector renters have had bad experiences of letting agents and landlords. In April, the government announced it would require all letting and managing agents to belong to an approved redress scheme but stopped short of introducing full regulation of the sector.