Can I negotiate rental agency tenant-changeover fees?
November 16, 2009 7:12 PM   Subscribe

I live in London in a flat of three, and someone wants to move out. We have someone else ready to move in. The lettings agency wish to charge £150 for swapping a person over, and £100 for admin fees. Can we dispute this, for a more reasonable fee?

The fees were similarly massive when we moved in (and we paid 6 weeks rent as deposit). When I visited the building we ended up saying yes to, the agent actually never came down (the janitor let us in). In fact, the first time I ever actually saw the agent was going into their offices to sign the contract and collect the keys.

While I understand that credit checks must be done, and some phone calls must be made, I fail to see the justification for paying half a months rent to change some names on a piece of paper when I found the other tenant. £100, that's going to sting but it's doable. But £250?

Two options seem to present themselves:

1) Try to negotiate, asking them for an itemised breakdown of these costs and making a case for them to reduce the fees for good tenants who have paid all their bills on time and never broken anything or asked them to do anything or fix anything.

2) Go straight to the Landlord. Do this actually have to be done through the Agency? Problem is in this case the 'Landlord' is a big company and I'd expect they'll just want the agency to handle it and will happily pay whatever they're being extorted for, in turn.

The person moving in is having a hard enough time getting 6 weeks rent, plus one months rent up front together, without high fees adding to the troubles.

posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In this case it's a new contract and a new tenant, so they can rightly claim to be charging for a service provided. The letting agents are able to charge any level of fees they see fit, and as this money goes wholly and directly to them, they're interested in maximizing what they can get from you.

I don't think either of your two options are going to be successful, but a third may be. If the two remaining tenants are not responsible for covering the whole of the rent, but merely two thirds, call the letting agents bluff and tell them to find a new tenant. If the market isn't particularly great, they'll lower the fees so they can have the room occupied without any delay or effort.

Another option would of course be to find a new place to live with for the three of you, and let the market take care of those who charge exorbitant fees.
posted by Sova at 7:38 PM on November 16, 2009

you could offer to provide the credit report yourself. that might bring the fee down.

in my experience, unless it's seriously hard to fill the apartment if you were to move, you are shit out of luck.
posted by nadawi at 7:58 PM on November 16, 2009

In the U.S. what Sova says is rarely true; that is, most times tenants are jointly and severally liable for the rent, which means you and your housemates collectively owe all of the rent; if one or several of the housemates backs out, it is *your* problem, not your landlord's. The landlord can go after any of you for all of the rent.

I'm not sure how common that language is in the U.K. but you should look at your lease to see. A quick google shows it's certainly not uncommon.
posted by nat at 8:20 PM on November 16, 2009

I'm not sure how common that language is in the U.K. but you should look at your lease to see. A quick google shows it's certainly not uncommon.

Joint & Several liability for rent in shared flats is the overwhelming norm in the UK also.
posted by atrazine at 10:54 PM on November 16, 2009

Is the letting agent Foxtons by any chance? If so you might find this useful:
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 1:04 AM on November 17, 2009

The first thing you need to do is read your lease. It may spell out the fees payable in these circumstances. If so, then you are liable for those fees. You can ask for a discount but the agency is under no obligation to offer you one.

The situation becomes more complicated if the lease doesn’t specify the fees payable. Note however that the lease may incorporate the agency’s standard terms and conditions which may well set out the fees.

This question of whether (and at what level) such fees are legitimate is determined by reference by whether they are an actual attempt to quantify the administrative cost to the agent or just an opportunity to price gouge you. You think the latter, they think the former. This vexed question was at the heart of the bank charges case which continues to rumble on.

The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 addresses some of the points that are raised but you’re not going to get a definitive answer from this forum in the absence of sight of the documents in question.

From a commercial point of view, I fear that you’re going to struggle to get the agency to waive or reduce those fees. In ordinary circumstances it would however be uncontroversial for the departing tenant to have to pay all of these fees on the basis that it’s their action in leaving that has caused said fees to be incurred.

Also not wanting to be judgmental but you and your other housemate will almost certainly be joint and severally liable for this incoming tenant. The fact that he’s struggling to pull together the rent and a deposit even before moving in should set alarm bells ringing – however nice a housemate, you really don’t want to end up having to pay his rent.

As for going straight to the landlord, it’s worth a try but don’t get your hopes up. It’s situations like this that they pay the agent for – to deal with administrative headaches such as this.
posted by dmt at 3:05 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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