If you’re new to renting, or haven’t needed to move in a while, you might be forgiven for assuming that the price in the rental ad, for that gorgeous flat just minutes from the station, is all you’ll need to pay to obtain the keys to your dream home. Oh, and the refundable deposit which, as a model tenant, you know you’ll get back. So it might come as a big surprise when your letting agent introduces their fees.
But since the 1st November CAP has required lettings agents and private landlords to make sure that fees are prominently displayed in ads alongside rental prices.
CAP’s guidance was triggered by an ASA ruling against rental ads on an internet property portal; it reflects wider public concerns about the lack of transparency about fees in the rental sector.
The ASA, when reaching its decision, noted that fees were dependent on consumers’ individual circumstances and were not, therefore, always calculable in advance. It pointed to rule 3.19 of the CAP Code, which states:
"If a tax, duty, fee or charge cannot be calculated in advance, for example, because it depends on the consumer's circumstances, the marketing communication must make clear that it is excluded from the advertised price and state how it is calculated".
Because the ASA considered that a consumer’s transactional decision was likely to be affected by material information such as the existence and cost of an administration fee, it concluded that the ads should have complied with rule 3.19 by indicating clearly that the administration fee was not included in the quoted rental prices and by providing enough information to allow the consumer to establish easily how further charges would be calculated.
Clearly, the ASA ruling creates a new requirement for most residential lettings agents who should by now have made changes to their websites and ads placed on property portals and in other media.
Fees that can be calculated in advance must be quoted beside the asking rent. For example, a fixed admin fee of £100 per tenant should be displayed in ads as "£1500pcm + £100 admin fee per tenant" or similar.
If non-optional fees can't be calculated in advance – because they depend on individual circumstances, for example – then ads must clearly state the nature of the fees and how they will be calculated.
When researching and drafting the guidance, CAP worked closely with the internet property portals and representatives from the lettings industry, including ARLA, the TPO, RICS, UKALA, NALS, NLA & RLA.
ASA chief executive Guy Parker says: "Renting is a big financial commitment and it's simply not fair to hide extra charges. This practice hits tenants in the pocket at a time when they need every penny they've got."
"But this isn't just an important win for them. It will also benefit letting agents and private landlords because their customers will trust them more when they're upfront about non-optional fees."