Cllr Paul Gadsby is the Cabinet Member for Housing at Lambeth council, and a councillor for Vassall Ward.
If you speak to any of the thousands of renters in Lambeth I am pretty sure that along with rocketing rents, insecurity in tenancies and in some cases bad conditions, a prominent gripe will be the ridiculous charges many are saddled with by letting agents.
You have to hand it to some letting agents, they are nothing if inventive. Administrative charges – a dreaded term if you are taking out, renewing or leaving a lease – can run into hundreds of pounds without any explanation of what it is. And then there are the move out charges, where whatever you do a portion of your deposit is carved off almost automatically. I remember when I left one flat, the letting agent in a sprightly voice informing me that I “misunderstood” when I asked about why I was going to be charged for “cleaning” when I could do it myself and which I hadn’t been made aware of when I signed the lease. “It’s standard practice mate – you can get a professional company in and we would still ask for the cash.” I can only assume with this kind of logic that my letting agent went on to get a high up job in the Trump administration.
Unfortunately hidden charges have become an accepted part of renting for years. I rented for 14 years in Lambeth and while I was lucky to have many good landlords, I was frankly fleeced on more than one occasion by agents. But this practice is something we are determined to stamp out in Lambeth.
In the last few months, we have started a new crackdown on fining letting agents who introduce hidden charges or fail to sign up to a redress scheme for if disputes emerge with tenants. These are not optional obligations: they are rights renters have. As part of this process our Trading Standards teams have issued ten penalty notices worth up to £50,000 on letting agents who have failed to meet their obligations. Our message is very simply: if you try to pull this stunt in Lambeth, we won’t hesitate to fine you. We’ve also be using new powers from legislation passed this year which bans prohibited landlord fees: we’re currently working with businesses to make sure these are enforced.
This is not an isolated action. Since last year’s local elections, our private renter sector lead Cllr Anna Birley and me have been ensuring that Lambeth beefs up its enforcement rules. We have introduced a separate tougher fining system which has already see a landlord fined £10,000 for failing to provide good conditions for their tenants: and they’ve ended up on the Mayors naming and shaming website. We have also introduced a new licensing scheme for flatshares of five or more people.
And with Cllr Birley at the lead, we introduced a motion at our recent council meeting calling for the abolition of Section 21 evictions, which did thankfully come to pass later in the year.
This though is just the start and very soon we will be launching a new private rented sector consultation asking renters what they want from their council. If you would like to stay up to speed with our plans for the private rented sector do please join our mailing list here.
Cllr Paul Gadsby
Cabinet Member for Housing