More than half of renters (51%) had only been shown their tenancy agreement after they’d put down money on the property, Citizens Advice can reveal.
A survey carried out by the charity also found that more than one-in-three tenants (35%) were only told about additional fees that could be charged during their tenancy after putting down money.
The charity argues the data highlights the ease with which tenants can be trapped into unfair contracts by agents and landlords, and then face hefty penalties when terms are breached.
Citizens Advice regularly sees unfair tenancy terms cropping up in contracts. These range from a fine for failing to keep a landlord updated with contact details, to a £50 charge for a written notice if a term is breached.
The survey also found:
- Almost one in three renters (29%) would not feel confident negotiating terms and conditions of their tenancy agreement with their landlord.
- Close to one in four tenants (23%) have received a tenancy contract they felt contained unfair terms, but more than half (57%) of them signed the contract anyway.
- One in three renters signed a tenancy agreement with their landlord or letting agent without fully understanding it.
- Forty-four percent of renters with mental health problems signed a tenancy contract without understanding it.
Government must close Tenant Fees Bill loophole
Citizens Advice says the “default fees” clause in the Tenant Fees Bill will mean unscrupulous landlords and agents can keep exploiting renters with unfair terms.
This undermines the government’s aim to end unfair fees and practices.
The clause in the bill – before the House of Lords for its Second Reading today (October 10) – would let landlords charge for “reasonable” costs when tenants “default” on a contract term.
Citizens Advice wants the government to significantly tighten this clause to give tenants and landlords greater clarity on what terms landlords can charge reasonable costs.
The government is also drafting guidance on what landlords and agents could be able to charge for. Potential options include billing to replace lost keys or for their time. Citizens Advice is calling for this guidance to be made public as soon as possible.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“In no other consumer market would people be asked to put down hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds before seeing the small print.
“Unscrupulous landlords and letting agents can take advantage of tenants, who lack real bargaining power in the private rented sector.
“Entering into a rental agreement is such a critical decision, especially for families trying to put down roots.
“Tenants shouldn’t be forced into a game of rental roulette, where they are putting down money on a contract they’ve not seen.
“For the Tenant Fees Bill to truly stamp out unfair fees as intended, the government must close the ‘default fees’ loophole.”