The Labour Party is campaigning to ban letting agents from charging fees to tenants. The rationale is that estate agents do not charge fees to property buyers.
The lettings industry has been a great success story for twenty years with a doubling in the number of homes available to rent privately. You can go to almost any town or city in the UK and have a choice of quality accommodation which you can secure on a few days notice. This is of enormous benefit for workforce mobility and allows households to form who may not otherwise be able to afford a home of their own.
The people who make this possible, without state subsidy or state planning, are the nations letting agents. The vast majority of the 16,500 agents operating in the UK are self-employed local business people.
Tenant fees are an important part of their income and they can be justified because, unlike an estate agent selling a property, a letting agent will take up references and arrange to draw up a tenancy agreement and inventory of condition. Letting agents are also expected to check on immigration status, and arrange for the tenant's security deposit to be lodged in a Government approved scheme - for the protection of the tenant.
While it's true that landlords pay agents to find tenants, tenants trust agents to make all of the arrangements to permit their entry to the property, and are willing to pay fees for this convenience.
The difference between a buyer and a tenant, apart from the obvious of the amount of money they are risking, is that a buyer is prepared to take a property â€œas seenâ€, a tenant is not. Tenants expect certain minimum standards and agents have a duty of care to tenants to ensure that the properties they rent are fit for purpose and compliant with a raft of legislation. Agreeing a sale is easy in comparison.
There is no parallel industry where small businesses are expected to provide valuable and time consuming services without payment.