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LettingFocus

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Foxtons case & Letting Renewal Fees (Continued) by Letting Focus

Many people commented on last weeks’ post about Foxtons and repeat letting fees and asked for further advice about what to do now. But before I do that, let’s first be clear about what the case was all about.

Repeat Letting Fees – a Recap
The case was brought by the OFT against Foxtons and is about unfair terms in consumer contracts.
The High Court decided that certain terms in the Foxtons letting contracts with landlords were unfair in that renewal fees charged to landlords (when tenants stayed on) should have been highlighted more prominently, not only in the contract but in other sales literature too.
The OFT argued that these fees were found to be hidden and not properly bought to the landlords’ attention.
The court agreed that in the case of Foxtons, they were indeed buried and therefore were a “trap” for consumers. It was this “hiding of the renewal fee” whch was unfair.

Renewal Fees Will Continue
But landlords must understand that renewal or repeat letting fees have NOT BEEN RULED to be unfair in themselves.
What was wrong was the way they were hidden or rather, not highlighted properly.
Unfortunately, charging percentage based renewal fees where a property has been let to a tenant for a landlord on a “Let Only” basis will probably continue.
Both we at Letting Focus and the National Landlords Association (NLA) still say that repeat renewal commissions are “money for nothing” and should be stopped.
For my let properties, I have only ever paid an agent a one off fee for finding a tenant. I simply won’t entertain an agent who wants renewal fees.
When a tenancy comes to the end of its initial period - and if I like the tenant, I simply ask the tenant if he would like to stay on.
There is no actual work involved for the agent or for me apart from asking the tenants to send an email confirming they would like to stay on. That does not justify a fee of more than £20 – not in my view anyway.

New Sneaky Practices Likely to Emerge
Tessa Shepperson writing in LandlordLaw says she understands from her correspondents that some rogue agents are now trying to get tenants to close existing tenancy agreements at the end of a fixed term and telling them and their landlords that the tenant must sign a a new agreement.
That way the agent gets to charge a fee again! So watch out for this as this is nonsense.
A much better option would be to extend the tenancy in the way I have outlined above. That way, the tenancy continues from month to month on a “periodic basis” until the parties want to end it, at which point they have to give due notice.

What Should Landlords Do About Past Fees?
The ruling says that if both parties - the OFT and Foxtons - cannot agree on the consequences of the ruling, then another hearing will be needed for them to be determined.
It is also still possible for the ruling to be appealed. Let’s hope not (As I write this there is no sign of an appeal yet.)
If you have paid repeat renewal fees in the past, whether you can claim back may depend on whether you are a big or small landlord.
This is because the ruling made a rather weird distinction between “consumer landlords” (smaller landlords with a small number of properties for whom being a landlord is not their main source of income) and “business landlords” (larger or professional landlords with a greater number of properties some of whom operate as a limited company).
It is possible that “business landlords” won’t be considered as “consumers” and may not succeed in claiming back renewal fees.
Also, each claim would have to be judged in court on a case-by-case basis. And whether you win or not would depend on the nature of the contract and whether you were aware of the full implications of what you were signing.
According to the NLA, “The terms of relief following the judgment have not yet been resolved and it may be prudent to await this.”

If You Want to Claim Now….
The NLA advise that if you want to start claiming you could send a Letter of Claim to your letting agent.
This letter should give the letting agent 14 days to return the fees and it should be the first step on the claims process. If you don’t do this a judge may not be especially sympathetic in court, especially when it comes to apportioning costs of any court action. Ouch!
Of course, if the letting agent does not return the fees (which can go back for a maximum of six years), you could issue proceedings against them at your local court or on line at http://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/
If there is an appeal by Foxtons the court could suspend any claim of course.
In summary, we would suggest you get legal advice on this and keep reading this blog and the rest of the press to see which way things are moving.

This blog post has attracted a lot of attention and questions, so thanks for that.
Judging by them, perhaps I just need to spell it out more clearly:
If a letting agent made it clear in a contract with a landlord (and did not hide it away in some hidden sub clause on another document somewhere) that, you the landlord would be charged repeat fees forever, and you signed up to that, then you are kind of stuck.
Put it down to experience - AND IN FUTURE, MAKE SURE YOU READ CONTRACTS BEFORE YOU SIGN!
If you don't like a clause request it be struck out. If the agent won't budge, go and find another lettting agent.
Click on the appropriate categories at the end of this post, if you want toread more on repeat or renewal fees that letting agents charge.

ABOUT LETTINGFOCUS.COM and DAVID LAWRENSON
I’m David Lawrenson of LettingFocus.com - the landlord experts. Read Property Articles.
I’m the author of “Successful Property Letting” which for the last 3 years has been the UK’s top selling property book - buy Property Investment Book. The new edition is for accidental and experienced landlords and is fully up to date with all the recent changes to tenancy deposit schemes, landlord registration and capital gains taxes.
I’m a property expert and property speaker - and I run the well known property blog that you are reading now.
I contribute to newspapers and a host of property websites, write a number of columns in the press and I provide general advice on property letting to anyone looking to buy property for themselves or to let.
What’s unique about lettingfocus.com is that we offer independent unbiased advice on letting property because unlike most people in the buy to let and property “advice” business we are not linked to a property company, developer, agent or bridging loan financier.
For landlords' insurance products such as rent guarantee cover and property insurance click on Ukinsurancenet. Don't forget to quote our reference code, LFOC, to get the best rates from them too. And find out about OTHER great deals we have arranged at our Property Affiliate page.
More will be added over the next month, once we have checked them out.
Copyright: David Lawrenson 2009. This blog is updated roughly once a week.
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Foxtons letting agent renewal fee case - Latest from Lawrenson of LettingFocus

Do you remember the seemingly never ending case of unfair letting agency repeat renewal fees imposed on landlords by letting agents?
Well, landlord law guru Tessa Shepperon recently sent me an update on the ongoing case.
The background to the case that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has against Foxtons Ltd (the letting agents) is about their refusal to agree that certain terms in their letting agency contracts with landlords are unfair under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.
One of these terms relates to repeat fees imposed on landlords where the initial fixed term in the original tenancy has come to an end.
Many a landlord (who never bothered to read the contract they signed with their letting agent properly) has suddenly woken up to the fact that their letting agent is trying to hit them for a further set of fees long after the initial job of finding the tenant has been completed.
One side issue in the case was whether any injunction brought against Foxtons could affect current letting agency contracts as well as future ones.
Initially, the first Judge had accepted Foxtons’ argument that any injunction about unfair terms could only apply to future contracts. Bad news for landlords!
But, we now had some good news because the Court of Appeal (bless their cotton socks) has now overturned this initial ruling, thus confirming the OFT's view that it can take enforcement action under the legislation to protect consumers in relation to existing contracts too.
Indeed, the Court of Appeal stated that the unfair terms legislation’s aim was to protect ALL consumers, never mind when the contract was signed.
LETTING AGENCY RENEWAL FEES AND LANDLORDS
What this means is that if you are a landlord with a letting agency contract with Foxtons, they should not now levy any charges under the disputed clauses on you until after the main action has been heard.
And, as you asked, the main action - i.e. on whether the terms in question are actually unfair or not under the regs – should be heard by the High Court in the week commencing 27 April.
You should be following this case if any letting agency has tried to impose renewal charges on you for finding a tenant long after the tenant’s initial term has ended.
Hundreds of thousands of landlords could be affected and letting agencies could face huge claims and loss of fuure cash flows if the landlords win this one.
We will keep you posted.
Update 10/7/9 - Foxtons has lost the case. Please go to: http://www.lettingfocus.com/2009/07/foxtons-loses-unfair-letting-renewal.html to read more.
ABOUT LETTINGFOCUS.COM and DAVID LAWRENSON
I’m David Lawrenson of LettingFocus.com - the property letting experts. Read Property Letting Articles.
I’m the author of “Successful Property Letting” which for the last 3 years has been the UK’s top selling property book - buy Landlords Book.
The new edition is for accidental and experienced landlords and is fully up to date with all the recent changes to tenancy deposit schemes, HMOs, licensing, capital gains taxes and it has new sections on Letting Agents and Company Lets
I’m an expert property writer and property speaker - and I run the well known landlords blog that you are reading now.
I contribute to newspapers and a host of property websites, write a number of columns in the press and I provide general advice on property letting and consulting to anyone looking to buy property for themselves or to let out. I can help private individuals with any aspect of buying property or buy to let.
What’s unique about lettingfocus.com is that we are independent property investment advisors because unlike most people in the buy to let and property “advice” business we are not linked to a property company, developer, agent or bridging loan financier and do not receive commissions from these sources.
We simply give one to one unbiased advice and are often asked to evaluate other property investments.
Find out about some great deals we have arranged at our Landlords Links page.
Copyright: David Lawrenson 2009. This blog is updated roughly once a week.
WANT TO BE KEPT UPDATED WITH OUR LATEST BLOGS?
It’s easy.
Over on the right hand side under all the previous blog entries and the bit where it says “Links” and “Subscribe” you will see a button saying “Site Feed.”
You simply copy the site feed link into your News Reader or News Aggregator. Even a non techie like me managed to do this.
Please note if you have a website & are thinking of reproducing material here - that’s fine but we DO require the full links shown in each blog to be included, including also the links in this section. The full article including all links must be available to ALL VIEWERS of your site and not restricted to members.
WANT TO ADD A COMMENT
To add a comment, you will need to click on “link to this post” then simply add your comment.
To view past comments you’ll need to click “link to this post” and view the comments which will appear at the bottom of the post.
All comments are moderated.

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