It’s good when organizations want to hear what you have to say about renting. Today, the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence are seeking London renters for a focus group, and Which? want to know about your worst rental nightmares. Please contribute, if you can.
There’s learning from the experience of the renters who paid ‘first and last month’s rent’ before moving into their shared house in East London. And news that London Renters’ Union is open to new members.
CaCHE Needs YOU!
The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) want to hear from Londoners living in the private rented sector. To ensure that their of their research remains socially useful, CaCHE are asking residents what we think they should be researching. In August, CaCHE are holding a ‘Residents Voice Focus Group’, here in London, to help inform their research agenda for the coming year.
The Agency That Advertised “No Deposit”
A renter in East London wrote to us, very worried, because it looked as though she and her housemates were about to lose several thousand pounds. The housemates are all Australian school-teachers and their first experience of renting via a letting agency in London has certainly been a learning experience.
The agency advertised “no deposit”, which seemed to be a fair deal. When the group viewed the property, the agent explained that they could pay the first and last months rent only; no deposit or bond.
At some point during the fixed term of their tenancy, their landlord changed her agent. As the end of the tenancy approached, the friends informed the new agent that they did not wish to renew; they would move out at the end of the fixed term. It became apparent that the new agency did not know the friends had already paid the last months rent. Only that they had not paid any deposit, so none was registered. When this agency continued to demand the last months rent, the worried renter contacted Renters’ Rights London.
‘First and last months rent’ looks like a sly way to avoid registering a deposit, in accordance with the law. Your landlord or agent must register your deposit with one of the government backed schemes and give you details (scheme name and reference number) within 30 days of the start of your tenancy. The landlord or agent must also give you copy of the government ‘How To Rent’ booklet, which includes a checklist to remind renters that you should be given a valid gas safety certificate (dated within the previous 12 months) and the Energy Performance Certificate (with rating of E or above), as well as the paperwork related to your deposit.
Unfortunately, Renters’ Rights London research revealed that the agency who had asked for, and received, ‘first and last months rent’ ceased trading; the Limited Company has been closed. So we contacted the Trading Standards team of the Council where the new agency is located. Trading Standards have significant powers in relation to letting agencies.
The Trading Standards team were very quick to respond but before going any further, they wanted confirmation that the renter and her friends would be willing to give evidence in Court, if necessary. The renter confirmed that yes, she would go to Court. This story is still unfolding, then, but there’s a lesson in it.
The big difference between being asked to pay a months rent and the equivalent sum as a deposit, and being asked to pay the first and last months rent, is the level of protection you have as a renter. Your deposit must be protected. The deposit is still your money, even though the landlord or agent is holding it.
At the end of your tenancy, the landlord or agent must justify making any deductions from your deposit. If they try to make deductions you disagree with, you can dispute the deductions with the deposit protection scheme, which is independent. If your dispute is upheld, you will get your money back in full.
Although ‘first and last months rent’ looked like a good deal, it was not. It’s caused the friends a great deal of worry and now, it’s dragging on into legal proceedings. The renters are glad to have the strong support of the excellent Trading Standards department but they would have preferred a more straightforward end to their first year living in London.
WHICH? Needs You, Too
London Renters Union is now open to all renters in London. Whether you rent from a private or social landlord, you’re welcome to join the Union. Homeless people and others excluded from housing are also very welcome.
Homeowners and people living outside London can join as solidarity members but will not be able to participate in Union decision-making. Landlords and people whose jobs involve executing evictions are not eligible to join.