How to avoid Cowboy Lettings agents

Landlord handing over the keys

So you’re all excited to have a house. No annoying wardens shutting down the party or those kids who study a bit too much on a Friday night asking you to calm down, maybe even a double bed! This is definitely the step up you need after a year in halls, but be wary of rogue lettings agents. One student tells Student Jungle his experience.

After one year of living with good service from a letting agency in Oxford, we were suddenly stung with the letter detailing our deposit takings…

  • Replace the cheap kitchen floor vinyl - £165.
  • Full cleaning costs £145
  • Paint kitchen £60
  • Paint the landing (these guys seemed to love to paint, even the carpet) £30.
  • When we called to discuss, they threatened to slap on a further £250 for an already rickety sofa older than time itself.

What we wish we had known and what you should know now

Photograph everything on arrival – Photograph absolutely every room, small space, nook and cranny. Any wear and tear that they could try pin on you, as they probably will.

“OH DADDY!” - You might feel independent and mature, but to an estate agent you’re just party animals and nocturnal sloths. They won’t take you seriously and often require new trousers if you so much as mention your parents.

Make sure your landlord uses a deposit protection scheme – it will be easier if there is a claim to be made and you’re better protected.

If it seems a bit dodgy, it probably is – seek help from the Citizens advice bureau, you could even email a law professor and they might be able to give you 5 minutes of advice for the price of a cup of coffee.

Purchase a few matching tester pots – small scuffs and classic Blu-tack marks on walls can be covered up and £1 for the pot might save the £60 for the wall as we found.

Sometimes its OK to play the blame game - If the landlord has provided things that might be a source of damage (as we found with the chair), tell them immediately, photograph it and send that in a letter too to cover your own back.

Image of the Floor
Actual photo sent from the letting agents

The photo sent by the lettings agents to illustrate the alleged £165 damage to the floor (caused by the kitchen chair provided by the landlord, bottom right) On recent visits to the house and its new occupants it became apparent, the floor was never replaced despite the invoice we received.

Read and re-read the contract. Know it back to front. Frame it.

What is my responsibility? – Unfortunately the Law currently only loosely describes the wear and tear of domestic rental property as: “Reasonable use of the premises by the Tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces”, leaving somewhat of a grey area. As a general rule of thumb, ask yourself - will it require specialist work or as was the case with our mysterious wall - just a lick of paint.

Good Student Unions should offer help for property problems. Also be sure to attend seminars many universities offer, including the blacklist for local dodgy agencies.

Small claims court won’t cost a fortune and might be a small investment worth considering if you think you’ve been scammed.

Shop around – we were foolish to listen to the agents when they told us houses were going fast. Many of the best places had not even reached the market by the time we signed the contract.

Fellow students, save yourself the bother. Learn from my mistake and don’t get scammed. Be sure to ask other friends and students who they used for the best idea and if the lettings agency offers the "cheapest rates in town" like ours did, there’s usually a reason.