The BBC programme Victoria Derbyshire has found that a letting agency has been demanding hundreds of pounds from prospective tenants to view properties for rent. The agency in question is Flintons in London and, so far, they have denied all these allegations, but these practices breach guidelines and could be unlawful.
Despite denying the allegations, several of Flintons clients told the BBC programme they were told by estate agents that they would receive a refund if they did not want to take a tenancy agreement on the property they were viewing, but, when they did request refunds, were told the money was non-refundable.
One client told the programme that an agent at Flintons had told him he needed to pay a deposit to see a room, but the money would be refundable. This client went online to see if this was common practice and found dozens of negative reviews about Flintons estate agency. He said: “I was seeing reviews and horror stories. I was feeling really miserable and defeated. I was really upset. £300 is my rent gone. What can I do? I don’t have the money to sue them. I don’t have legal expertise to deal with it, I’m powerless.”
Flintons said it had given receipts, stating that these fees were non-refundable. Despite this, many clients complained to the BBC and said they had not been given any documents to sign. Instead, they were verbally assured that this money would be refunded to them, but many clients also stated that they felt under pressure to pay the fees imposed by Flintons.
David Smith, a leading specialist in residential landlord and tenant law, told the BBC programme, the practice was legally questionable. “Asking somebody for money, without being able to see what that contract is about, to do a viewing, would quite likely to be seen by professional people in the property sector as unreasonable and unfair behaviour. It is therefore likely to be an offence under the consumer protection from unfair trading regulations.”
Flintons denies any wrongdoing. It said it did not charge any fees for viewings and payment were taken only when someone confirmed they wanted to rent the property. It said these payments were taken as a “holding deposit” – money paid to a landlord or letting agent to reserve a rental property – which were always non-refundable and that it did not believe there would be any purpose in taking deposits if the individual could get their money back. It added that all those featured in the BBC’s report had been made aware that their deposits were not refundable and it did not agree with their version of events.