London Renters Union (LRU) mounted a protest outside an Essex letting agents that has left a former potential tenant more than £4,800 out of pocket.
Because LRU member Mary was in receipt of housing benefit, Romford-based Advance Estates insisted on taking six months’ deposit from her up front.
However, after she had signed the contract Mary realised that an addendum required her, six months into the contract, to find another six months' rent in advance or face a Section 21 eviction.
Mary backed out of the contract and never moved into the property. Advance Estates is however refusing to return her money.
During one of the meetings with the lettings agents, Mary suffered a panic attack and a friend that accompanied her said the agents used a number of manipulative tactics to ‘put pressure on her to sign’.
These tactics included saying one of the agents was going on holiday and had a plane to catch and she had just 15 minutes to sign.
An LRU protestor said: “They were not expecting the protest and it took them by surprise. We were there for a couple of hours on a busy Friday afternoon. There were a lot of local people passing and a lot of people stopping to chat and show their support.”
An LRU spokesperson said: “We are standing with our member Mary through the appalling treatment she’s faced at the hands of Advance. We will be demanding that Advance pay back all of the money Mary gave over, and that they end their ‘standard business practice’ of asking people on housing benefits to fork over six months’ rent up front to secure a property, which is impossible for most people, let alone those on low incomes.”
Advance Estates was unavailable for comment.
The London Borough of Havering said its Trading Standards department was not aware of the issue. It said it had placed four families through Advance Estates, operating as Redlaw Management, in the past 12 months and offered a financial assistance payment to cover one month’s rent and one month’s deposit.
From 1 June most upfront fees will be banned and a cap placed on most security deposits at the equivalent of five weeks’ rent, when the Tenant Fees Act comes into force.
A Havering borough spokesperson said: “Our Trading Standards department will be proactively writing to all letting agents in our borough over the course of the next month to draw their attention to the new legislation governing tenancy advance fees, and deposit payment protection.”
Guidance for local authority enforcement officers on the Tenant Fees Act has been issued this week, which specifies that rent should be paid ‘at regular and specified intervals’ and that the amount charged should ‘usually be equally split across the tenancy’.